RUSTIC CHARM & SWEET CIDER: The delicious beauty of Sonoma Falls
Text | Photographs: Erin Vanderberg
Sonoma Falls Cider Mill and Country Market (140 Old Liberty Road, Livingston Manor, NY, 12758, 845/439-4949/store or 607-498-6008/office) sits on an incredible piece of real estate: 127 acres of woods in the Catskill foothills with a seven-tiered waterfall running through it. It’s a roadside attraction, but one that you can’t see from the road. The waterfalls alone make a visit worthwhile, but once you arrive there is so much more to see and do. You can spend a day or a week at this year-round attraction.
A spot for all seasons
In the summer, catch trout in a stocked pond—poles and permits provided, and priced by the pound. In the fall, watch the cider mill pressing fresh juice or take a hayride to a two-acre pumpkin patch. In the winter, hop on a toboggan or put on some ice skates, pick out your holiday tree, or watch the sugar house in full steam. In the spring, hike to the top of the falls along wildflower-lined trails—or, better yet, take a horseback ride. “Sonoma Falls is a year-round resort where people can come spend the day inexpensively and really enjoy what the mountains have to offer,” says co-owner Elvin “Woody” Wood.
Throughout the year, the market stocks produce, preserves, meats and sweets. They recommend you give a call to see what’s on the agenda the day of your visit.
Two real estate developers opened Sonoma Falls last fall. Manhattanite Jerry Turco, who develops properties throughout the United States, comes to Roscoe on the weekends and is also the proprietor of a restaurant there, Live Bait (1987 Old Route 17). Sullivan County native Wood is a businessman turned politician, currently in the position of county legislator representing District 3 around Livingston Manor. Turco and Wood formed Twin Rivers Land Development to develop log cabin homes in the area. When they purchased the Sonoma Falls attraction, they had the resources to get the job done with their own staff. They hired can-do manager Paul Haan this year, a fifth-generation farmer from Callicoon Center.
After several months of tearing down and repairing buildings, Turco, Wood and their soon-to-be-manager Hahn went to pick up the cider mill over Labor Day weekend. Wood knew Wayside Farms mill from his trips through Wolcott, NY, to Lake Ontario. When he couldn’t get cider there, he had the idea to buy the mill. The hardscrabble Catskills foothills are not ideal apple conditions, but orchards in New Paltz (spring) and the Syracuse area (fall) deliver a variety of sweet apples by the crate. Sonoma Falls cider never tastes the same twice, and that is by design.
The cider mill operation is designed to be completely visible to the public. Apples roll into the barn from an outdoor holding bin onto a conveyor belt, where a few hands sort the bad from the bunch before they reach the wash stage. The clean apples enter the grinder to become pumice. The pumice is then pressed. When the batch is complete, the juice runs from a holding tank through the UV processor and into a refrigerated 440-gallon tank where it is gravity-fed straight to the store cider fountain and served fresh or bottled. It takes about 36 apples to produce one gallon of apple cider.
The shop serves small meals and caters to those interested in taking home souvenirs and gifts. Fudge, ice cream, confections, jams, maple syrup, honey and, in the cooler, the bestsellers: sweet cider and pork and beef from Hahn’s farm. The shop is applying for a Pride of New York certification, a seal that would help to drive home the local provenance of its dry goods, assorted sundries, cider and maple syrup.
The maple sugaring season generally begins in late winter, depending on weather and sap flow. The sap is tapped onsite and carried either by bucket or fed by plastic tube. The crew bases the thermostat off of a hydrometer reading and then gets down to steamy business of sugaring. The stove is stainless steel, wood-fired, with cord wood stacked neatly around it. It lives inside a cozy new building adjacent to the store. The sap comes into the stove and separates into drop flues that maximize surface area and increase boiling times. After that, the digital draw-off knows when the syrup is cooked (usually around temperatures of 216 to 219 degrees Farenheit), and automatically opens the valve to the finished product. Then the syrup is filtered and bottled. As the season progresses, the syrup changes grades, starting light and going darker. Forty gallons of sap becomes about one gallon of syrup.
Getting better all the time
Sonoma Falls continues to improve every week. Turco, Wood and Hahn are trail building, fencing and adding finishing touches to what they built last year. They are putting some cookouts on the calendar, and are catering to events. Most importantly, they are finishing the campsites that will make the attraction a one-stop family-fun destination. “This place is about having fun, that’s basically it,” says Turco. “Every week it’s better.”
Sonoma Falls is open year-round, seven days a week. Call ahead for activities and menu options. The website is under construction at http://www.sonomafallsny.com./