North East Family Winery in Good Spirits

Posted: October 2, 2017 10:39 am

By Jennie Geisler

Posted Jul 23, 2017 at 2:00 AM

Back in 2006, Mazza Vineyards was just a fixture on the North East wine trail and no one had heard of a craft distillery. Now the family business has grown to include Five & 20 Spirits in Westfield, New York, with something for everyone — even, soon, the fish.

WESTFIELD, N.Y. — Mario Mazza, 37, stood in a steel, 20-foot high warehouse at Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing, dwarfed by stacks of wooden barrels stamped with the names of his family’s wares: wine, beer, bourbon and whiskey.

He seemed immune to the overwhelming aroma of booze, though his guests were suddenly woozy.

“Yes, this is the most expensive breath you might ever take,” he said with a laugh.

They were breathing in what he calls “the angel’s share,” the portion of the alcohol that evaporates through the wooden barrels as alcohol ages.

If you go

Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing

What: Winery/distillery/brewery with tasting room and outdoor cafe Bird with cocktails and light menu.

When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except Sunday, when it’s open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: 8398 Route 20, Westfield, New York. Some have had problems using GPS to find Five & 20. Due to summer road work, Route 20 will be closed west of Five & 20. If you are traveling east on Route 20, take the following detour:

Follow posted detour signs from Route 20 to Route 5.

Turn right on Walker Road in Westfield.

Turn left on Route 20. Mazza Chautauqua Cellars/Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing will be on your left.

For more information: Call 716-793-9463 or visit www.fiveand20.com.

Distiller for a Day

What: Work with Five & 20 distillers to participate in the grain-to-glass craft distillery operation.

When: Aug. 5, 10 a.m., lasts roughly five hours.

Cost: $85 includes hands on & sensory experiences, tasting, lunch and a T-shirt.

For more information: Preregistration is required. Call 716-793-9463 by Aug. 1 to register. For more information about the distillery and brewery, visit www.fiveand20.com.

“It takes 53 gallons of bourbon to fill those barrels and when we open it, it’ll have about 42 gallons left,” Mazza said.

Those 42 gallons will eventually find their way into the company’s 750 mL rectangular glass bottles that line the gleaming tasting room up front. Full bourbon and rye whiskey bottles retail for $49.95, though there are other, cheaper alternatives.

If you would shell out that many clams for that top tier stuff, though, you might be first in line to attend an upcoming event at Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing called Distiller for a Day, in which participants, 10 to 12 at most, will get to see and participate in every step of the process.

Mazza described the Aug. 5 event as being like a cooking show where the chef has prepared a dish up to several points. That way you don’t have to wait 18 months to see the whole process, including milling the grain (some of it actually grown on site, and roughly 50 percent of it grown in New York), the mashing, the fermenting, the distilling and, finally, the tasting.

“They’ll get to see every aspect of it,” Mazza said. “We’ve found people don’t get to go behind the scenes and experience that, but they want to. So there’s a tourism piece to it.”

Not far from the grape vine

The Mazza family is no stranger to fermented beverages. Robert Mazza, Mario’s 67-year-old father, has been making wine for 40 years. He’s now the president of the company with 90 employees that includes Mazza Vineyards, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars/Five & 20 Spirits (both housed in the Westfield location) and the South Shore Wine Co. Mario Mazza is vice president and general manager.

Mario Mazza, actually, (in step with evolving liquor laws in Pennsylvania and New York) was the impetus behind the company’s foray into craft batch distilling and brewing — but that was not his plan.

“I went to Case Western Reserve for chemical engineering,” he said. “Then I worked for DuPont and they sent me to Australia for a few years.”

He said he discovered the corporate life was not for him, but he did marry an Australian woman who came back to the states with him. He also brought back some ideas about the distillation process, having gained a master’s in oenology (wine) and viticulture (growing grapes) at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“I had been distilling,” Mario Mazza said of his time with DuPont. “You couldn’t drink it, but it was distilling.”

His father ordered a 105-gallon still in 2005 from a company in Germany that taught them to use and maintain it. Then it was housed in Mayville, New York. It has now been moved to the Westfield location. The Mazzas added its big brother a few years later. Oh, and 80 acres to grow their own grain to ferment into their own beer, bourbon and whiskey.

Beer brewing came along in 2015, and they have 13 varieties to choose from, some available to take home in bottles or growlers.

Five & 20 was the first winery/distillery/brewery in New York, Robert Mazza said, adding that now he thinks there are a couple of others.

“I never would have thought we would get into something like that,” he said. “I’ve been in the business 40 years, and it was all grapes, grapes, grapes. All of a sudden it’s grain, grain, grain. It’s an exciting diversion from our grapes.”

He said he’s thrilled with the bourbon and rye whiskey (he especially loves the latter — “It’s almost spicy” with ginger ale) they’ve been able to produce, and they’re poking around at the idea of making some gin.

″(Distilling) is an interesting business,” Robert Mazza said. “With grapes and wine, there’s a lot of meaning as to where they come from. But with whiskey and beer, that’s not quite so important. You can grow grain on the shores of Lake Erie or in Central Ohio. That’s kind of cool.”

They are growing their own grains, though, and are buying as much as they can from growers in New York.

“We believe in (locally grown ingredients),” Robert Mazza said. “Our connection to agriculture is our key to success and the success of the industry.”

Since opening the distillery, even in the heart of busy winery country, it became clear that they needed outdoor seating and food to help engage patrons. So they opened a cafe in 2015 with Dan Kearns of Erie’s 1201 Kitchen. It’s called Bird and the menu is light, but delicious.

Try the guacamole with optional bacon and small chunks of pineapple, a sweet/salty mixture that will keep you dipping. An open-faced smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, dill and cilantro sandwich will kill with the fish lovers. A hot Cuban panini-like sandwich will disappear rapidly, as will cocktails made with Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing spirits, such as Throwing Shade, made with bourbon, clementine juice, grapefruit bitters and peach juice.

Mario Mazza points out that now that the family business is making wine, beer and liquor, it has more production options than other craft-sized companies that only do one or two of those.

“We can age beer in our own whiskey barrels,” he said. “We can have different tastes and ingredients and be creative and play with flavors. We know the providence of those barrels. We can fill them when they’re still wet.”

“It’s making us better in all areas than if we thought about just one.”

Fish in a barrel

Every year since starting the distillery, the Mazzas have plowed their success back into the business, including the new site, the warehouses, the stills, the cafe and now, yes, aquaculture. In fact, the project that both Mazzas and biologist Jere Northrop are most excited about has nothing to do with booze.

Northrop has been thinking about this for decades: A system that filters a food company’s wastewater through wood chips and other organic material and uses food waste (in this case spent grain) to feed fish, whose waste is consumed by bacteria and turned into organic material to use on the farm.

And Mario Mazza is not talking about raising just any old fish.

“I don’t mean tilapia,” Mario Mazza said. “I mean char and snapper, trout. Valuable fish.”

TimberFish Technologies is a limited liability company with 75-year-old Northrop at the helm. This is Northrop’s pilot project, and it started with a chance meeting between him and Robert Mazza at a Westfield government meeting four years ago.

“Nobody is doing this exact thing,” Northrop said. “I’ve been working on this since early ’70s. It’s finally coming together.

“We feel that climate change and pollution is jeopardizing the world’s food supply and the only way to solve that problem is to build facilities that use waste products in producing salable, desirable products, such as clean fish.”

The project is taking place inside several white tanks outside on the property near the existing warehouse and the site of another soon to go up. They’ll need to house the aquaculture site soon, because Northrop hopes to introduce up to five species of fish and shrimp this fall.

The Mazzas are behind him all the way.

“Our incentive is to do the right thing,” Mario Mazza said. “Not just make money and go home.

“Someday you’re going to be able to come here and drink rye whiskey made from grain grown here paired with smoked char grown here,” he said. “Those are our aspirations.”

Here’s to them.

Jennie Geisler can be reached at 870-1885 or by email. Follow her on Twitter attwitter.com/ETNgeisler.

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