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French food, wine experiences at Johnson Estate Winery

Someday we hope to get to France, but until then, we’ll download Ella Fitzgerald's “I Love Paris,” and head to Chautauqua County’s Johnson Estate Winery for spring events with a distinctly Gallic flair.

The French experience begins with a wine and cheese pairing evening on May 20 that features selections from local cheese maker Riko Chandra of Mayville's Reverie Creamery paired with Johnson Estate wines that will bring out each cheese’s distinct flavor. The cost is $30 per person.

“Riko and I are discussing which of his cheeses will be available for us, then we will have them on hand for the French picnics the two following weekends,” said Jennifer Johnson.

The French picnics will coincide with the winery's Iris in Bloom event that will be held May 27-29 and June 3-5. The French picnic will be a self-serve affair. “We lend you a basket. Customers can purchase wine, cheese, baguettes, salami, etc. in the winery and then take it into the garden for their own picnic,” Johnson said. The winery will have tables, chairs and glassware for folks to use.

“A couple of years ago, a guest in our iris gardens said he felt as if he was in France. I told him that was the idea, but then I thought, ‘why can't we give this identity to Chautauqua?’” said Johnson, who admits she is a Francophile.

“I lived with a French family as an au pair during summer of my junior year in college. My language study continued thanks to an inspirational high school French teacher. Then my husband and I were married Memorial Day weekend and coincidentally, spent our honeymoon in the Dordogne Valley in France.”

With help from Mother Nature, the winery’s irises will be in full bloom for picnickers seeking a little springtime in Paris.

"We’re hoping the iris will be at their best, although we are experiencing early spring, so this year might be a little different,” Johnson said. (Did Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh ever have weather issues?)

For those who want to immerse themselves in the experience, May 27 offers a Romance in France dinner ($60 per person). The evening includes sparkling wine cocktails, appetizers, a stroll through the iris gardens and a candlelit dinner featuring wines paired with elegant and traditional French food. It's limited to 40 persons; are reservations required.

“The French fleur-de-lis gets its inspiration from the iris. I love the flower and have planted them in several locations at the farm. It is such a shame not to share them when they are in their glory in the spring, hence the idea for picnics in the gardens,” she said.

IF YOU GO

Johnson Estate Winery

8419 Route 20, Westfield (about an hour ride from Buffalo).

Wine and cheese pairing: 7 p.m. May 20; $30 per person.

Iris in Bloom /French picnics: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 27-29 and June 3-5. Cost depends on items purchased.

Romance in France Dinner: 7 p.m. May 27; limited seats available. Cost is $60.

For information or to purchase tickets, call 326-2191 or visit johnsonwinery.com.

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