The art of winemaking is woven into Conneaut Cellars owner Joal Wolf’s story. Growing up in the 1960s, he spent many days watching his father make wine. That family heritage created the award-winning Conneaut Cellars Winery & Distillery, a piece of Conneaut Lake history that is stitched into the fabric of its homegrown culture.
The Conneaut Cellars story actually begins in 1982 with Joal’s father, Dr. Alan Wolf. Before establishing the winery, Alan worked for the United States State Department in Germany, where he placed political refugees as winery workers. His goal was to make distinctive wines reflecting the northeastern climate of Lake Erie.
Still in the same location near the southern shore of Conneaut Lake, Joal continues that legacy today as president of the winery.
“We have been here 40 years, and we make history just by being present and here this long,” Joal said.
At its founding, Conneaut Cellars was the first winery in Crawford County and one of only a handful in the state. It also has the distinction of being the first distillery in the lake region of northwestern Pennsylvania since Prohibition.
Joal’s story took a detour into business school and the military before he came back to the family business.
“From the time I was young I was a part of it. I’d go downstairs and help my dad, be a runner to get corks, hold tubing. I was very accustomed to it,” Wolf said. Still, by the time he was in college, he was skeptical about his father’s plans for a winery. When people began to show interest, though, he began to take notice as well. Eventually, he came home and took on the business.
As Wine Master, his wine has earned international, national and state competitions.
“For 40 years we have been winning medals, which tells you something,” he said. “We are able to compete, and that provides a good service to the people of Pennsylvania. There’s a gem here. You can get something at a good quality and at a good price point.”
The winery is a “one-stop-shop” with tasting and a wide variety of products. It offers a broad spectrum of wines, ports,, vermouth, ciders and distilled spirits from its artisan approach to winemaking and distilling, all done at its facility. Joal uses local grapes from the Lake Erie region and local grains from western Pennsylvania.
Conneaut Cellars labels its products with names that are a nod to local history and the area. Princess Snowater, for example, is a Catawba wine that pays homage to the Native American word “Conneaut,” which means “snow waters.”
The winery sits at a location rich in history as the site of the French Creek feeder canal in the Erie Canal system. The lake itself was formed from glaciers, and demand for ice from the lake led to a booming ice harvesting industry.
“I look right across the street and can see where the ice houses were. The railroad also used to come right through the area,” Wolf said.
Its natural history is also significant as the location of a woolly mammoth discovery and behind the winery is an eagle nesting site.
Wolf isn’t content to rest just on history, though, and strives to improve and develop new products for people to enjoy. More recently, Joal partnered with Meadville Distilling to bring back Meadville Rye Whiskey, a true Pennsylvania rye made using the original pre-Prohibition recipe.
“I love the history and we’re making history here, but to me what’s special is having a good quality product and having a 40-year-history of a variety of award-winning products,” Wolf said.