Friday, August 3, 2012

CWT Field Trip: Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield, NY (Part One)

Due to constraints on time, space and attention spans, I'll be talking about Johnson Estate over the next two posts...

Travel is probably one of the few things that still make me feel like a kid at Christmas. The prospect of hitting the road early, feeling the wind rush over the skin of my arm (which I’ve stuck out the window), listening to some carefully chosen tunes and winding up somewhere I’ve never been before always gives me the best kind of butterflies.

This weekend’s trip was no exception. With our overnight bags packed, the cats fed and my iPod loaded with mid-90’s alternative one-hit-wonders, we started the six hour trek to Westfield, NY for our much anticipated visit to Johnson Estate Winery.

We arrived around 3 o’clock and after a good stretch of the arms and legs we met our hosts, winery owners Fred and Jennifer Johnson, who graciously provided us with a restroom and a chilled glass of Riesling—in that order.

Sipping the Johnson Estate Freelings Creek Reserve Riesling (ohhhh, did it hit the spot! Light and fresh, a little fruity and sweet), we were treated to a brief overview of the property before whisking ourselves away to our hotel for a superb evening of steak, scotch, swimming and miniature golf.

The next morning we met Fred (and about 15 other guests) for a walking tour of the vineyard and a light brunch. Johnson Estate hosts events frequently, including their popular seasonal walking tours and themed activities. There are also tastings daily from 10-6. We just missed their "Summer Locavore Wine Pairing Supper," which sounds AMAZING-- food and wine pairings all from local sources (Yummo!)-- but no worries; there's lots of other things to see, do and sign up for

Here's Fred, schooling us on
the geology of making good wine.
Okay, back to the tour. I learned a lot. History, science, viniculture, the whole shebang! Here’s just a taste (get it?) of what I found most interesting:

The farm is third generation, having been purchased in 1911 by Fred’s grandfather (Fred Johnson) and spending it’s first 50 years as a fruit farm. It saw the family through the Depression and was passed down to Fred’s father (another Fred Johnson!). This Fred dug up the orchard and planted a variety of grapes instead. He opened the winery in 1961 (voila—New York’s oldest estate winery). The rest, as they say is history...well, not entirely. There's more to the story, but it's best told by Fred himself...

These babies are right at home
this microclimate. 

Geologically speaking, the vineyard is ideally placed—it sits between a ridge (which was the shore of Lake Erie 15,000 years ago) and Lake Erie’s modern day shore. The retreat of Lake Erie over tens of thousands of years carved out a nice home for the grapes with built-in drainage. The Lake itself acts as a temperature moderator, causing the air around the vineyard to remain warmer late into the fall and saving the grapes from being damaged or killed by freezing temps. Neat!

At the top of the ridge sits
the irrigation pond. Just over the
horizon you can see Lake Erie

If you're interested in more details, well, you'll just have to sign up for the walking tour and get the skinny for yourself!

NEXT TIME: I'll tell you about the tasting room and the wines I tried (drool). So good...

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