On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from : New York & Ohio Winery Visits

22 Nov 2019


A quick trip to visit and spend time with friends in Ohio who annually hold a rosé party brought me into contact with three wineries along the road, one in New York and two in Ohio ... what I discovered can best be described as: Good, Very Good and Ugly. Let me recount it for you here:

New York …Johnson Estate 1

Our first visit was to Johnson Estate (established 1961 – “New York’s oldest estate winery") located very close to the Pennsylvania border, so close in fact that as we took back roads to get back onto the interstate highway we missed the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign or the “State Line” marker. Johnson started as a mixed fruit farm in 1911 and in 1929 the family began making wine, the winery officially opened in 1961. They have a 300 acre farm with 110 of it planted to grapes (13 varieties) of which Concord and Riesling are the most planted. We tasted a number of wines, these were my top selections:

click on wine name for full review
2017 Toasted Oak Chardonnay … (*** ½+)
2017 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2017 Bright Steel Chardonnay … (***)

Result: Good

Ohio …

As we cross into Ohio we begin to look for one of the two wineries suggested to us. One came highly recommended and has even been made aware of our arrival – the other also comes with a seal of approval from my Ohio contact, but without the benefit of the introduction. I’ll start this piece with my pop-in visit to M Cellars. M Cellars 1

Owned and operated by husband and wife team Tara and Matt Meineke (no relation to Meineke Mufflers, though Matt comes from an automotive background). They acquired the land where the winery sits in 2007 and planted the vineyard between the years of 2008/2009. Now 31 acres in total of which 19 are planted to grapes, Cabernet Franc being the biggest planting (6 acres), but they are also expanding their Champagne clones for sparkling wine (Chardonnay / Pinot Noir / Pinot Meunier) - and their sparkling was a bright spot in their portfolio, nice to see traditional method being made and tasting so good. They are not ashamed to admit they model themselves after the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario (and have plenty of dealings and visits under their belt to Niagara to gauge where they sit on that bar); what came as a surprise was that they also consult with a Niagara winemaker. Nine varieties are planted on the farm including Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Petit Verdot and Gruner Veltliner – and you can probably guess the rest. We were able to taste through most, if not all of their estate grown wines, many of which were impressive – here’s my list of the best of the best, the good news is there is some length to this list.

click on wine name for full review
2017 Brut Rosé … (*** ½+)
2018 Chardonnay … (*** ½)
2017 Chardonnay Reserve … (*** ½)
2016 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2017 Pinot Noir Reserve … (*** ½+)
2018 Gewurztraminer … (*** ½+)
2017 Meritage … (****)
2018 Rosé … (*** ½+)

Result: Very Good

Buoyed by what we saw and tasted at M Cellars we enthusiastically drove to our next stop, Laurentia Winery – who had been given a heads up about our arrival, but we were not given a name to ask for because, according to my friend and wine club member there "looks like you are on your own" because their tasting room manager was un-helpful setting up a tasting for us ... that said I still identified myself at the tasting bar and yet we were provided terrible service (afraid to find out how others are treated). Our server gave us little to no information about the wines we were trying – at one point she was actually reading the tasting notes out loud to me instead of providing me with the technical information I was asking about (length of time in barrel, type of wood, varieties in the wine, etc.), she also never asked anyone for help in finding out the information I was requesting. Five wines were tasted and no more were offered up due to tasting “guidelines”, rules, and finally, I was not paying their outlandish prices for a tasting, considering I was spitting every drop. I also decided I only wanted to taste wines made with estate grown grapes - my server was not very helpful with that aspect of the tasting either. As I said I as only able to taste 5 wines, I found the concrete aged Chardonnay (ie: Beton) was bland, the Pinot Noir / Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé was not refreshing, the “Lees Chardonnay” had an off-putting finish … there were two bright spots, these two wines were the “best” of a bad lot.

click on wine name for full review
2017 Pinot Noir … (*** ½)
2016 Cabernet Franc … (***+)

Result: Ugly

My contact says that if you are a club member you get the top end wines of the estate, but after the tasting I received I’m not sure you could get me to the point of even talking about wine club membership.  My takeaway here was that this is a classic case of the Emperor having no clothes – the property and drive up are beautiful (reminds me of that late 70's TV show Dallas) with sweeping tree lines and roads through the woods to the “chalet” style winery; it is by surrounding themselves with this vista they are hoping people won’t notice there is nothing underneath the facade, give them a show and we can baffle them with the bullshit we spew. And while the food and the show might be nice (there seemed to be a place to sit and eat), their reason to be there, the wine, was less than impressive and the service matched; in my humble opinion. My friend has given me a bottle of “wine club only” Cabernet Franc, I’ll taste it later, when I don’t have such a bad taste in my mouth, and see if the wine club is actually getting better wines than the public off the street.

But let’s finish this on a high note … when in Ohio I recommend hitting up M Cellars – if it wasn’t for them I am sure my opinion of Ohio wine would be to never go back – but right now I am looking forward to visiting them again and seeing what heights they are able to hit. I also found out they have a back patio, might be nice to crack a bottle of bubbles out there and enjoy a loungy afternoon, and if the Rose is any indication I bet many people do, might be hard to get a seat on a warm summer day, best get there early.


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