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HVADC Client Spotlight: Seminary Hill Orchards

Sep 1, 2018

Seminary Hill Orchards—so named for neighboring St. Joseph’s Seminary-- is a family-run, holistic cider orchard, tasting room, guest house and wedding venue with 360 degree jaw-dropping views of the Delaware River in Sullivan County.

Seminary Hill Orchards—so named for neighboring St. Joseph’s Seminary-- is a family-run, holistic cider orchard, tasting room, guest house and wedding venue with 360 degree jaw-dropping views of the Delaware River in Sullivan County.  Although the early-times character of the land has been preserved by five generations of family farming, this cidery’s approach to apple-growing is a fascinating sundry blend of both updated and time-honored horticulture practices.  

Twelve hundred fruit trees and thousands more companion plants are strategically—and uniquely-- planted on the ten acre-farm which is one of the only holistically operated cideries in the northeast. Holistic orchard consultant, Michael Phillip, who has authored several books on growing with healthier practices, lays out a plan each year with Seminary Hill CEO & Founder Douglas Doetsch and farm manager, Bill Hess. 

The farm sprays a core holistic recipe, using organic neem, Karanja oil, beneficial microbes and kelp along with comfrey compost tea, adding minerals to the mix certain times of the year.  Doetsch explained that each tree is surrounded by a ring of daffodil bulbs, to ward off critters, and employ parasitic wasps to take care of catepillars and other insect invaders. 

“Both orchards are fenced with deer proof fencing,” added Hess. “We do soil tests and will measure growth this fall to help determine how much organic pro grow fertilizer to spread and what additional soil amendments will be used the following spring.  We also make compost using hardwood chips, sheep manure and whatever leaves or grass we have to include. We leave the clover and other plants go to blossom before mowing so our pollinators have plenty of food throughout the year. We also have planted Russian Comfrey, Mountain Mint, and other perennial flowering plants to attract pollinators.”  

Doetsch refers to the farm as an “ecological paradise, and very colorful and beautiful.” 

Doetsch worked with HVADC to structure, plan and help fund the cidery’s growth into the twenty-first century.  He worked with HVADC business consultant Brian Zweig, principal of Business Opportunities in Rennsaeler County, who helped Seminary Hill acquire tourism-related grants from Empire State Development toward building their cidery and taste room in the 8,000 square foot facility.  Zweig also got a small grant to pay for his own grant-writing fees.

Doestch explained that the Empire State Development grant is a “conditional reimbursement” grant, meaning that they must meet a variety of goals and development including significant employment goals. “I won’t get anything if I don’t create the employment that was promised,” said Doetsch. “There are a lot of strings attached-employment goals; minority and women’s contract goals, environmental goals… You need to show you did everything you said you were going to do.  Based on a schedule they are obligated to reimburse you part of it.  There is no free lunch, right?” Doetsch added that the grants only cover a small portion of expenditures and is conditional on the aforementioned. 

The ciders are currently under experimentation, however Doestch reports that they have roughly 35 different varieties of cider apples; American heirlooms, and both French and English old cider varieties.  Doetsch cited that “the cider culture” is most developed in Normandy France and Summerset, England, which influenced the choice of trees planted. Drawing from both native and foreign lands, Seminary Hill grows American heirloom varieties such as Ashmead’s Kernel, Kingston Black, and Esopus Spitzenburg apples. They also incorporate American crabapples, such as Virginia crabs, which Doetsch said add a tartness that masks sweetness, however are actually sweet underneath. English cider varieties such as Harry Master’s Jersey, and Tremlett’s Bitter, as well as French varieties such as Calville Blanc and Reine de Pomme are used as well.  The farm is also growing 200 cider pear trees to make pear cider, or “Peary.“

“Seminary Hill Orchards is the latest addition to the growing craft beverage movement in the Hudson Valley. As destination tourists who want to experience ‘natural and sustainable’ farming in a beautiful setting adds the tourism economy of the county,” said Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC Deputy Director.  “Agriculture is in a unique position to foster economic development at the farm level as well as other ancillary industries.” 

Seminary Hill Orchards will be breaking ground this fall, and operational summer 2020. For more information about Seminary Hill Orchards, please visit  

Photo source: HVADC

Logo Source: Seminary Hill

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