Douglas Doetsch’s vision for the Seminary Hill Orchard and Cidery is one that dates back nearly half a century.
He remembers, as a young boy, going down Wagner Lane on a summer night to enjoy the gorgeous view from atop one of the highest hills in Callicoon, looking down at the former St. Joseph’s Seminary, the mighty Upper Delaware River and nearby Pennsylvania.
Now a resident of Evanston, Ill. practicing law in Chicago, Douglas and his family have always kept a special place in their heart for Callicoon, where generations of the family hail from and still live.
He loved the property so much that 12 years ago he and his wife bought the 60-acre site so they could build their retirement home there.
“That was until I got a better idea,” Douglas says with a smile. That idea was a holistic orchard and cidery.
Looking every bit the farmer in his Dickie’s blue overalls, brown flannel shirt and Red Wing work boots, Douglas isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty on the farm.
Two weeks ago, he and several members of his team tried a little experiment – bottling 40 cases of hard cider using the new stainless steel bottling and capping equipment.
While the practice session was strictly for personal consumption – they have a federal license but still need their state Farm Winery License – it was a rousing success.
It took Douglas, Operations Manager Bill Hess, and Chief Cider Maker Chris Negronida most of the morning to bottle the hard cider, paying special attention to the recipe as well as keeping everything sanitized and clean.
“My great grandfather, Barnum, had apple trees at the homestead farm on Kautz Rd.,” Douglas said. “And he was in the apple liquor business back in the day. We were a Prohibition family.
“But I’m a lawyer – I want this to be legal,” he laughed.
Baxter Construction of Poughkeepsie will be the general contractor on the 6,800 square foot, two-story cider production facility and tasting room.
As Douglas surveyed the multicolored flags posted in the ground, he explained how the downstairs of the building was going to be larger than the upstairs and would include a deck where visitors could sit and enjoy the long views.
“Downstairs will be production and upstairs will be our tasting room and event space,” he said. “Our visitors will have the best views in the county
“It’s a much different operation [than the one he first had planned],” Douglas said.
That’s because Seminary Hill Orchard and Cidery applied for – and received – two CFA grants totaling $900,000 from the Regional Economic Development Council and also received assistance from the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency for tax abatements on building materials and property taxes.
With that help, Douglas increased the size and scope of the project, which will take a “substantial investment” to bring to the finish line.
“At the end of 2021 we will have 4 full-time employees and by the end of 2024 we will have 12-14 employees,” he said.
Currently, Bill Hess, who is Douglas’ first cousin, is the operations manager at Seminary Hill.
“Without Bill, none of this would be possible. Bill has done a spectacular job here and without his care and attention, this would not be possible.”
Bill and his helpers have built and fenced in two orchards – one on Kautz Rd. and the other on Wagner Lane, just below the future cidery.
The Kautz Rd. orchard is in its fifth year while the Seminary Hill orchard has three-year-old apple and pear trees.
“It takes six years for trees to bear fruit,” Douglas explained. “Mother Nature grows the trees.”
In the 10-acre Wagner Lane orchard they planted 1,150 trees.
Most of the trees are legacy apple and pear trees, which should live for nearly 100 years.
“This is a multi-generational family venture,” Douglas said. “I only wanted to plant once and then let the Lord take care of them.”
At the bottom of the hill, visitors will see Black Locust posts connected with wires, where semi-dwarf trees are planted. The advantage of semi-dwarf apple trees is that they produce fruit quicker than legacy trees, but the downside is they only last 20 years.
The eight-foot fences which surround both orchards are also “all electrified with two bands of electric,” Douglas explained. “Bears like nothing better than ripe apples.”
Douglas also worked hard to find apple orchard experts to help him with his new project, including Chief Cider Maker Chris Negronida of Ithaca, who manages Black Diamond Farm in Trumansburg.
He has also tapped into the knowledge of cider consultant Ian Merwin, who is a retired Cornell professor, to help him with his orchard as well as the “Godfather of Holistic Orchards,” Michael Phillips, who is Seminary Hill’s chief orchard consultant.
Douglas is now looking forward to the day when guests come for a wedding, staying at one of his other nearby properties, and are upstairs in his tasting room, blending 10 or so ciders to make the perfect drink.
He also envisions a big applewood fired grill, cooking up Rich Winter’s beef with good local cheese “That would go good with cider,” he said.
And as Douglas stopped and looked down the river valley as he had done hundreds of times before, he said, “I’m excited – and nervous.
“When I started this project it was a long way off in the future. Now it’s real.”
And is sure to be a tourist destination beginning next year.
Story and photos by Fred Stabbert III