Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saratogian (NY): Crown Maple Syrup Aiming to be Largest in North America

Here's a story about our own Mike Bennet, who has been one of the poeple we've worked with to help make syrup here at Hudson-Chatham Winery.

Taking maple up a notch: Glens Falls man involved in NY syrup operation planning to become largest in North America with video

Published: Monday, March 28, 2011
The Saratogian

DOVER PLAINS — Mike Bennett grew up making maple syrup the old-fashioned way, on a wood-fired evaporator with clouds of steam billowing from his sugarhouse.

Even he can’t believe the immensity of the project he’s working on now at a remote, 750-acre parcel of Dutchess County forest and farmland.

Resembling a rich-and-famous celebrity’s country mansion, work is progressing on a 24,000-square-foot sugarhouse where Crown Maple Syrup is sparing no expense to develop the largest maple operation in North America.

“It’s so big I can’t fathom it all right now,” said Bennett, a Glens Falls resident who grew up in Granville, near the Vermont border.

To draw a rough comparison, it’s kind of like dropping the Queen Mary in a lily pond or putting Yankee Stadium on top of a neighborhood Little League field.

The venture is led by farm property owner Robb Turner, a West Point graduate who has a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School. He co-founded ArcLight Capital Partners LLC, one of the world’s leading energy investment firms.

His partners in Crown Maple are Wayne Neckles of Neckles Builders Inc. and Ken Travis, whose business interests run the gamut from excavating to a 3,000-acre aronia berry bush farm and a highly successful Poughkeepsie ice cream café.

Bennett, who has years of hands-on maple experience, was brought in to help get the operation going. Last September he began stringing 350,000 feet — more than 66 miles — of sap collection tubing through the farm’s vast sugarbush. It all runs down — with the help of vacuums — to a collection facility before getting pumped back uphill nearly a mile to the main sugarhouse, where sap is held in huge 9,000-gallon storage tanks.

From there, it goes to a high-tech reverse osmosis machine — the only one of its kind in the U.S. — where most of the sap’s water content is removed to produce syrup.

“We can make 100 gallons per hour,” said Travis, pointing to an ultra-modern evaporator. “That’s a hot rod.”

Since Feb. 18, when the sugaring season began, the farm’s 18,000 taps have produced nearly 300,000 gallons of sap — enough to fill 71 barrels of syrup, at 55 gallons each.

To say the partners think big might be the understatement of the year. Within a decade’s time they hope to be drawing from 500,000 taps, 2-1/2 times more than North America’s current largest operator, in New Brunswick, Canada.

“We’re going to adjoining property owners, asking them to get on board so we can tap on their properties,” Travis said.

This makes land owners eligible for agricultural tax credits and helps preserve open space at the same time. “It gives people more interest in keeping their land,” he said.

The massive three-story main building will have a little of everything — production, bottling and storage, office and meeting space, and even a fine- dining restaurant — making it a true multi-purpose destination.

Plans also call for educational workshops in which people can learn how to get involved in maple sugaring or expand existing operations, which Crown Maple could buy from.

Bennett said Crown Maple won’t hurt existing small firms because it has a different market, including upscale New York City restaurants. One corner of the huge new sugarhouse might have a distillery for making maple vodka.

In contrast, small producers such as Cronin’s Maple Farm in nearby Hopewell Junction sell syrup locally at their own sugarhouses, farmer’s markets and area retail outlets.

Travis said growing Asian markets and America’s push toward healthier eating habits should generate increased demand for maple products, and the industry helps promote agriculture without being so labor intensive.

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News 8 WTNH: Maple syrup season starts at Woodbury Farm

Maple syrup season starts at Woodbury farm

Updated: Saturday, 18 Feb 2012, 12:50 PM EST
Published : Saturday, 18 Feb 2012, 12:50 PM EST
QUANNAH LEONARD,Republican-American of Waterbury
WOODBURY, Conn. (AP) - Drip, drip and drip.

That was the sound of sap flowing into a white plastic bucket hanging from a sugar maple tree at Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust on a recent morning. The rhythmic dripping into the plastic or metal buckets on the trees could have been mini drums beating an old, favorite song.

"It's a great sound," said volunteer Guy Gabrielson, who carried more buckets to a group of three surrounding a sugar maple tree. "This is an excellent day."

Tiny snowflakes flew as the volunteers set out to participate in the Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust's Tapping Day on Feb. 11 — the official kickoff to the 2012 maple season. About 35 volunteers participated, and around 200 trees were tapped for their sap.

Families stuck close to Flanders at its South Field, an enclosed area, to tap about 100 trees, and the seasoned tappers visited about 100 trees downtown that local owners donated to tap. Volunteers arrived promptly at 9:30 a.m., with gloves, a hammer and a drill in hand.

Some had never tapped a tree before, while others came for their third season or more. The newbies didn't have to worry, though.

Harry Gerowe, a volunteer and sugar maker, led a quick demonstration in the process with a sugar maple tree not far from the Sugar House, where the maple syrup is made.

"This is a maple tree," Gerowe announced, patting his hand on the tree. "And that's not."

He nodded to a pine tree close by. He said he knows for sure what a maple tree looks like from the old holes drilled for sap. He said a new hole should be made about a fist away from the old one, and at a slant for the sap to flow.

First-time tappers, Joie Slossar, 13, and Sarah Harris, 12, both of Woodbury, volunteered to help with the first tap. Slossar drilled the hole at a 10-degree angle. Immediately the sap started to flow out.

Harris used a hammer to position a tap, or stile, into the tree. Then a bucket was hung underneath with a lid secured over it.

Gerowe paused and said, "If you listen quietly, you can hear it drip."

The drumming started.

At the start of the season, typically in mid-February, the sugar content is about 4 percent and as it progresses it lowers to 2 percent, he said. It flows clear, but once the sap is collected it is brought to the center's Sugar House, where they put it into an evaporator to boil it, bringing it to a sugar content of 66 percent.

Gerowe said it gets that brown color from the caramelization of the sugar from boiling.

Cold nights below freezing and warm days at 40 degrees are best for tapping, he said. As a tree warms up from the sun, the pressure increases and pushes the sap out. Buckets are mostly put on the south side of the tree to catch the sun's warmth, but this year they will put some on the colder side, too, to see if they can extend the season.

It will take a day or a day and a half for the buckets to fill, he said. The center sends out a crew of volunteers to collect the buckets every other day, and it is always looking for more volunteers to help with that.

Slossar worked along side her grandfather, Ed Keplinger, of Woodbury, and her friend, Harris. All three were newbies to the process.

"I am loving it," Harris said.

The Sugar House will be open for residents to learn about maple syrup on March 3, 4, 10 and 11. Flanders will have its Maple Celebration on March 17.

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Maple Season Starts Early in Maine

Maple sap season starts early in Western Maine
By Terry Karkos, Staff Writer
Published on Sunday, Feb 19, 2012 at 12:12 am
Last updated on Saturday, Feb 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm
Terry Karkos/Sun Journal (Maine)

Jim Thurston of Thurston Family Farm in Peru installs a sap tap in a maple tree along Lovejoy Hill Road on Saturday. Thurston and his older brother, Cliff, expected to finish placing their 1,700 taps by noon. They put in 800 on Friday.

Third-generation maple syrup farmer Cliff Thurston of Thurston Family Farm in Peru connects a sap line to a newly placed tap Saturday morning during the second day of tapping.

After scrambling up a snow- and ice-covered embankment along Lovejoy Hill Road in Peru on Saturday morning, maple sap tapper Jim Thurston talks with his dad, Wayne Thurston, as the elder Thurston set up sap lines for the family's maple syrup operation.

PERU — Punxatawney Phil didn't see his shadow on Groundhog Day, but here in Western Maine, spring is beckoning.

Maple tree sap is starting to run — and several syrup farmers are tapping into it earlier than usual.

“I'm surprised it's running so well,” Cliff Thurston of Peru said Saturday morning.

He and his brother, Jim Thurston, were busy placing the rest of their 1,700 sap taps, after putting in 800 on Friday.

The Thurstons run the syrup operation for their parents, Wayne and Adelia Thurston, who own the 340-acre, multi-generational Thurston Family Farm on Dickvale Road.

Jim Thurston said the sap began flowing Wednesday.

“It's pretty early,” he said. “This is rare. It's probably the earliest I can remember ever starting.”

Cliff Thurston credited the early start to the mild winter.

“Things didn't get a chance to freeze up,” he said.

Eight years ago, Jim Thurston said they began tapping trees by the end of February or the first week in March.

“But we ended up missing a couple of (sap) runs, so we started tapping at February vacation, and this year, we're not even at February vacation,” Jim Thurston said.

Rodney Hall of Hall Farms in East Dixfield, from whom the brothers buy their syrup operation equipment, said Hall Farms began tapping three weeks earlier.

By Friday afternoon, they'd placed about 4,500 taps and had about 2,000 remaining.

Hall said the sap there had yet to start running.

“I think if we continue to have warm weather through the weekend, we could make some syrup by the beginning of the week, which is a couple of weeks early,” he said.

With a mild winter, “it doesn't take as many days for everything to warm up,” Hall said. “We can still have a lot of winter if we have a cold snap and some snow and it certainly could even be a late spring, but the way it looks right now, it's not going to be.”

Syrup farmer Russell Black of Black Acres Farms in Wilton said the early start is frightening.

“I'm not all tapped and I'm not all ready yet, so it's scaring me,” he said. “A lot of people are just starting to tap. It's real early.”

He runs about 1,000 taps and is trying to get ready while building a new sap house.

“I talked to Jimmy Harvell in East Dixfield a couple of days ago and he was turning on his vacuum (sap system) on his taps and he said he'd gathered a couple hundred gallons to boil down,” Black said.

Last year's season was a banner year for Black. He hopes the same holds true this season.

“I made syrup from places I've never made syrup from on the same number of taps,” he said.

Anthony J. and Irene Couture of Maple Valley Farms in Jay said Friday that their 1,900 taps are already in for their vacuum system. The sap is flowing and he's made almost a gallon of syrup.

“Things are loosening up fast this year,” he said. "(The sap's) not running great because the last couple of nights it really didn't freeze, but it will probably run good tomorrow.”

Irene Couture said they began tapping maples at the end of January and finished in two weekends.

“We took advantage of it,” she said. “There was no snow in the woods then.”

They're using new tapping spouts that have a check valve, meaning they can stay in and not dry out from sap returning into the tree by season's end.

“We've done that three years with the new taps and the production is just very high from it,” Irene Couture said.

“Last year was a record year," she said. "Two years ago, he started Feb. 17 and he went 30 days straight with the sap running every day.”

David Violette of Maple Ridge Sugar House in Turner said Friday that his taps are in, but the sap has yet to run.

“I think the ground's still frozen around the base of the trees," he said.

"I think people who are vacuuming are probably doing something, but I run gravity systems and I was hoping it would start this week, but maybe next week," he said. "It is early for everybody."

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Wierd Weather Marks Beginning of 2012 Maple Syrup Season

Maple syrup season begins in 'weird weather year'
Maple syrup season off to sticky start
By Victoria Gray, QMI Agency Niagara
The Standard (Niagagara Region, Canada)

PELHAM - It’s a sticky situation — but boy will it be sweet.

White Meadows Farms started harvesting its maple syrup this week.

“We could have started earlier, but we weren’t ready,” said Richard Bering.

“It’s been such a weird weather year.”

Bering said January usually brings a deep freeze and because it didn’t happen nature might be confused, but as long as March is filled with cold nights and warm days the sap harvest will go well.

But if the weather takes a long-term turn for warmer temperatures, maple syrup could be in short supply this year.

“When the temperature goes up and stays up, all the sap goes up into the trees limbs and it’s game over for the farm.”

Fluctuating temperatures keep sap moving up and down the tree’s trunk. The colder the winter the higher the sap’s sugar content.

“The syrup will taste the same if the sugar content is low. We just have to boil it more, so in the end, we get less,” Bering said.

“Taste depends on a lot of things including the soil and the bush itself. Usually it always tastes the same.”

Although this year’s yield may be low and coming up short is always a worry for Bering, he knows all will work well.

“We haven’t really had the problem in the past, even on poor years we seem to get through,” he said.

White Meadows Farms started its Sugar Bush Adventure Feb. 11 and it continues on weekends. The self-guided tour begins with a wagon ride to the sugar bush where visitors can walk through 2 km of woods and learn about how Native Americans discovered maple syrup, how they processed it and used it, and how pioneers learned from them and began processing it for themselves.

At the end of the walk visitors to the Effingham St. operations will see how maple syrup is harvested and produced today. Throughout the journey visitors will learn about different types of trees, what they are used for and much more. There is also face painting, snow taffy and opportunity to learn to be a lumberjack using a two-man saw.

“Maple syrup is my life, so it’s hard to explain why I love it,” Bering says. “I’ve got the sweetest job in Canada.”

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