The Estate Tradition and Winery History
The "Chateau" or Estate Tradition
Wines can be no better than the grapes from which they are made. This concept is the basis of the centuries-old estate or "chateau" wine-making traditions of France and Germany. An estate, or farm winery, uses grapes grown from its own adjacent vineyards. The entire vinification process, including the crushing, pressing, fermentation, aging, and bottling, occurs on site. Since grapes ripen at different times from vineyard to vineyard, an estate winery is better able to harvest the grapes at their perfect ripeness. Grapes start to deteriorate the moment they're picked, and the farther they must be transported and the longer the time until they are crushed, the more their quality is affected. Estate wines are proudly labeled "Erzeuger-Abfullung" in Germany, "Mise En Bouteille Au Chateau" in France, and "Estate Grown and Bottled" in the United States.
The Estate Tradition at Johnson Estate
Grapes have been grown at Johnson Estate for well over a century. The winery, established in 1961, is the oldest estate winery in New York State. All of the European and American grapes used to make the estate wines are grown within 3000 feet of the winery and our grape varieties have been selected for their excellent wine-making quality and suitability for the Lake Erie microclimate.
A Story of Three Generations:
The First Generation: An English Immigrant
The history of Johnson Estate begins with an English orphan named Frederick Johnson (1877-1960). He immigrated to Canada as a teenager and found his way to Cornell at the turn of the century to study entomology. In 1911, Johnson purchased a circa-1822 family home and the adjoining farm along the banks of Freelings Creek in Westfield, N.Y.
The farm, which he named Sunnyslope Fruit Farm, consisted of apple, cherry and peach orchards, along with a number of vineyards, predominately Concord. Fred Johnson also worked as an entomologist with the Department of Agriculture in both Washington, D.C. and in North East, Pennsyvlania, where he met his wife, Nan Scouller. In 1920, he built an apple cold storage facility and it is this building that now serves as the winery tasting room. The facility was said to have been built using timber from an 1860's dairy barn found on the farm. Family lore also credits him with the unofficial start of the winery during Prohibition, when he made wine from his homegrown grapes in the basement of the farmhouse.
Frederick Spencer Johnson (1921-1998), grew up on the farm his father purchased. He served in World War II as a naval aviator and graduated from Cornell University in 1946 and later worked in both Hawaii and in South America for Nelson Rockefeller in various agricultural endeavors. In 1960, after his father died, he returned to Westfield, New York and the farm. He proceeded to remove the aging fruit orchards and a majority of Concord grapes. He replanted the Estate with various French-American hybrid grapes and native American varieties of Ives and Delaware - all suitable for making wine - and opened the winery in 1961, although with plans to sell bulk juice to wineries in the Finger Lakes Frederick Johnson was a true husbandman and also a pioneer, as he was amongst the first in the area to plant wine grapes on a commercial basis. As a result, his winery is the oldest estate winery in New York State.
The Third Generation: A Third Building and a New Tasting Room for the Winery's 50th Anniversary
Mr. Johnson passed away in 1998 and the winery and farm were inherited by his three children, Frederick, Jr., Elizabeth, and Anthony. The three Johnsons continued to operate the winery and farm, planting new vineyards of Traminette and Riesling. Under the guidance of winemaker, Jeff Murphy, they have introduced ten new wines, including fruit, sparkling, and ice wines, and constructed a finished goods warehouse.