by Sally Colby
Hugh McPherson and Matt Posey created a successful winery and cidery in record time, but they weren’t naïve when they delved into the project.
“We had been kicking around the idea for a long time,” said Hugh, whose family has owned and operated Maple Lawn Farms in York County, Pennsylvania, for more than 165 years. “It makes sense with what we do and who we are. We started filling out paperwork in the beginning of February 2015, and by December, we were serving guests. We were full throttle pretty much all of 2016.”
Matt, a long-time friend of the family who started working at Maple Lawn Farms when he was a teenager, works with Hugh. The two had been pressing peach juice for other wineries since 2006, so starting a winery at Maple Lawn Farms was a matter of setting aside juice for themselves.
“We were pressing between 5,000 and 7,000 gallons for other wineries,” said Hugh. “Those wineries kept telling us we needed to do it for ourselves.” The building being used for the winery was built in the 1960s, so they retrofitted it to make it work for the peach juice operation. And like many wine makers, Matt had already been making wine at home, so it was a matter of tweaking recipes to get the results they wanted.
But the first year was dicey as the entrepreneurs waited for permits to go through. “We had peach juice waiting, chilled as far as we could chill it because we didn’t have a permit to start fermenting it,” said Hugh. “Then we had to wait until we had a permit to bottle it, then we waited for another permit to open the tasting room.”
Matt says that peach juice is made from ripe peaches left on the trees too long — after the time they’d be picked for fresh eating. “We let them hang as long as we can,” he said, “then pick and press within two days. Peach juice is very delicate.”
Hugh recalls the winemakers who encouraged them to make wine taunting them when they learned the duo wanted to make a 100 percent peach wine. “We found out why,” he said. “It’s a pain in the neck. Peaches have a lot of pectin, and we have to clear that pectin out. In 2006, in our very first pressing, we thought we’d done a nice job, but it was a mess because we didn’t know how to get it ‘clean.’ Now we have a centrifuge that pulls all the particles out, and it’s critical to the process.” Hugh says that other options to remove pectin included filtration or chemicals, but the centrifuge proved to be the best option for speed and efficiency.
Making apple wine wasn’t nearly as challenging, especially since Hugh and Matt decided to send Maple Lawn apples out to be pressed. Hugh says they will probably eventually press apples on site, but at this point, the goal is to make inventory.
“We like apples that taste like apples, so we’re using varieties similar to those in a sweet cider blend,” said Hugh. “They’re all dessert varieties with a tart component.”
Maple Lawn’s cherry wine is made with a tart cherry base, and blueberry juice is the base for blueberry wine. At this point, there are no blends, just straight one-fruit wines.
Once Matt and Hugh decided to make wine, they fit everything else for the process in that space. Repurposed equipment for washing fruit is in the grading area. One issue that had to be dealt with is pitting peaches, and that was solved with the construction of a pit removal machine. Matt says they knew what it needed to accomplish, so they built what was needed to do the job. Two jacketed tanks are in place for fermentation, one for peach and one for apple. Product is stored and moved in cube tanks until bottling. Semi-automated hand filling, corking and labeling finishes the process.
Matt says that after honing the winemaking process, they experimented with hard cider. They started with small batches, sampled their experiments and deemed it drinkable. Unlike many cideries, Matt and Hugh aren’t particular about apple varieties; at least not yet. “A lot of guys are carefully choosing varieties,” he said, “but we were making cider out of whatever we had. It’s mostly the apple cider blend that’s sold in our market. We fermented that and it turned out well; and it’s on the dry side.”
Matt explains that hard cider is fermented much like wine. “The sugar content in hard cider isn’t the same as it would be in wine to bring the alcohol content up,” he said. “You get to five to six percent alcohol and stop, then carbonate it. It’s basically wine that’s been carbonated at a lower sugar content. If you can make apple wine, you can make apple cider. We don’t have a carbonation tank, and that’s where our friends came in. We sent our apples out to have them crushed because we weren’t set up for that, then brought it back here and then someone carbonated for us.”
Hugh and Matt hope that the tasting room, which is already proving to be popular, will be an easy stop along the way for those who are already coming to the farm for u-pick fruit and other attractions. And the men are more than happy to share their philosophy on why they’ve created the straight fruit flavors for their wines and cider. “When people come in for cider, they’ve predisposed themselves to the big name brands,” said Matt. “I tell them that those taste like a Jolly Rancher candy whereas ours isn’t sweet — it’s dry, with a champagne flavor. But they’ve made up their minds that they’re going to drink candy. Some are pleasantly surprised because they don’t like that type of sweet, and others are shocked because they aren’t used to that kind of cider.”
Hugh believes that they’re hitting the mark when it comes to pricing, packaging and their VIP club. “We’re trying to not do too many things all at once,” he said. “We have four kinds of wine and one kind of cider. We didn’t put it (cider) in kegs, we have it in 12-ounce bottles. We’ve limited the number of areas where we can make mistakes.”
In the future, grape wine will be added to the selections, but for now, the budding winemakers are focusing on getting the four fruit wines ‘right’. “If you love peaches, we have the wine for you,” said Hugh, explaining his philosophy on one-fruit wines. “We’re trying to get it to taste like delicious peaches. We want to stay as close to the fruit as possible — we aren’t trying to trick anyone or be fancy.”
Visit Maple Lawn Winery online at www.maplelawnwinery.com .
Maple Lawn Winery and Cider House : Focus on fruit
by Sally Colby