The HVADC Cultivator
Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery
Seminary Hill Orchard and Cidery in Callicoon, Sullivan County, might have just debuted its new line of hard ciders but it’s already a standout in the farm to glass craft beverage market. Owner Douglas Doetsch and his team have cut absolutely no corners to create a world-class organic orchard, production facility, tasting room and event space. He’s also doing it in the same place his family has farmed for generations.
Doetsch is a descendent of two Callicoon farming families. He’s now returned to the farm of his maternal grandparents to grow a new orchard of apples specifically suited for the highest quality of champagne-like cider. Doetsch said that like many farmers in Callicoon, over the generations his family struggled to stay profitable despite their hard work, except once… in the 1920s.
“My family jokes that the only time the farm made money was during prohibition making cider and applejack,” Doetch said. “When I was growing up here 50-60 years ago it was clear that this whole economy built on small dairy farms was passing away.”
Doetsch left home as a young man and has become very successful as a partner at the law firm of Myer Brown but he always came back to the family farm he loved. For decades he mulled over a way to reinvigorate the farm and take advantage of the New York City market. He began seeing more and more in the press about cider’s comeback in popularity and got to thinking about his grandfather’s onetime success as a bootlegger.
Seminary Hill is a far cry from a home-made still hidden in the barn, however. Doetsch’s operation is cutting edge, in-field and in-house. Leaning on the experience of renowned orchard management consultant Michael Phillips, in 2012 Doetsh undertook the extremely complex and specialized task of planting an organic orchard. Apples are one of the most difficult crops to grow organically and it requires a process that starts at planting. Now, after giving the orchard years to mature, Seminary Hill is open for business, with a line of amazing apple and pear ciders crafted by Chief Cider Consultant Chris Negronida and Director of Cider Stuart Madany. Seminary Hill cider is crafted from blends of more than 60 holistically grown American, English and French apple and pear varieties.
“It was all about laying out the right foundation and playing the long game,” said Doetsch. “We are now becoming a destination and also a wedding venue. Sullivan County has a great business ecosystem of good small inns, restaurants and outdoor activities.”
Seminary Hill was a multi-year multimillion-dollar project and Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) was pleased to be able to play a part in assisting Doetsch with Business Technical Assistance (BTA) through its Incubator Without Walls Program (IWW). Through his IWW involvement, Doetsch worked with HVADC business consultant Brian Zweig on Seminary Hill’s business plan and specifically on an application for $900,000 in grants through the New York State Consolidated Funding Application Program to be used to construct their beautiful environmentally passive cidery building. Through joint efforts, Seminary Hill was awarded the grants under the Regional Council Capital Fund Program and the Marketing New York Grant Program through Empire State Development. The funding will create at least 13 new jobs in the next eight years.
The River Architects’ designed two story cidery structure is a marvel of both elegant design and modern green engineering. In 4,000 square feet, the tasting room is clad with larch wood reclaimed from the underwater pilings of the original Tappan Zee Bridge and features views of the orchard and the Delaware River Valley in the distance. The property also includes the eight-apartment Boarding House and the five-bedroom Mountain House & Cottage.
“Seminary Hill is gorgeous and their cider is amazing but the work Doug and his team put in to making it so and doing everything to the highest possible standards is what really makes them stand out,” said Todd Erling, HVADC Executive Director. “We are so happy Doug was able to acquire the grant he needed to push this project over the finish line with help from the Incubator Without Walls program. Sullivan County agriculture now has a bright new beacon to attract visitors to the western side of the county.”
Even though Doetsch is an accomplished attorney, specializing in international banking and finance, he said it would have been incredibly difficult for him to navigate the grant application process without Zweig’s BTA expertise. In fact, Seminary Hill’s first grant application was passed over by the state but Doetsch decided to resubmit the following year, retooling his application with Zweig’s help. Now that the grant was awarded, Doetsch says the process is far from over, as the state requires strict reporting of all usages of grant funding. The strong plan built through the IWW program has provided support for this extremely important reporting process.
“HVADC was very helpful. I could not have done this without Brian (Zweig),” said Doetsch. “The grant application process was not simple. Having professional help was critical.”
To learn more about the BTA services HVADC provides through Incubator Without Walls,