We’ve heard tales of Doug’s apple scab tattoo. An apple scab is a disease of apple trees that cause scabs on the fruit of the apple. You can imagine that this wouldn’t look much like anything in the form of an arm tattoo. And yet, after meeting Doug, we saw how much it fit his quirky personality and love of apples.
We met with Doug in the Montgomery Place Orchard (MPO) jam room, where all the delicious MPO jams and pestos are made. On the table sat boxes from a hive that hadn’t survived the winter, but was still filled with honey. The hive filled the air in the small room with a faint sweet, flowery smell. Doug encouraged us to poke our fingers into the honey and it tasted amazing! The room was being heated by three burners on the gas stove. We sat around this room for a while and talked about Doug and Talea’s history on the farm.
Doug said his desire to become an apple farmer began on his grandparents farm across the river in the Catskills. He said they had just a few old, gnarly trees there that he loved. He also told us about all the wild apple trees growing up in the hills in the Catskills.
Doug and Talea met at agricultural school in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After graduating, and moving around to a few jobs in the eastern United States, Doug saw an add in a fruit catalog for a position managing the farm at Montgomery Place. Doug and Talea were hired by Historic Hudson Valley in 1987 to work the farm at Montgomery Place. For two years they were hired work for Historic Hudson Valley. During that time important things like their cold storage was built. After two years, Historic Hudson Valley was running out of money and the first thing they were going to do was cut the farm. Doug and Talea had just had their second child and were really determined to stay on at MPO. That was when they proposed that they could run MPO and take full responsibility of orchard operations. Since then, they have been tenant farmers and never quite sure how long they were going to stay. In 2016, Montgomery Place changed hands from Historic Hudson Valley to Bard College. Now that Bard has taken over, it gives them more stability.
Now, Doug and Talea Taylor have been working Montgomery Place Orchards for 29 years following a long line of tenants dating back to the 1700s. Since Doug and Talea receive little financial help because they do not own the land, Doug thought Montgomery Place Orchards was a good case study for determining how a small-scale farm like their can work under current agricultural systems. Doug and Talea have had to do what they can with their own money. Consequently, the are a small, diversified, retail farm. In the past they have tried things like pick your own. Doug said he hated it. It felt invasive and was very wasteful. Because all the pick your own people just pick a scant number of all the good fruit and the rest rots on the bush/tree. With such a small operation, they really cannot afford any waste. They have never tried wholesale, because they would never succeed in such a market where you have to be a huge operation. Doug and Talea have found their niche providing the local area with a diversified product that is uniquely entrenched in the ideas of regional and seasonal flavors. Their farmstand is located on Route 9G at the intersection of Route 199.
When asked about cider, he then ushered us into his cider room, his newest and dearest experiment, to let us taste some of the hard cider he’s been concocting. In his famous Annandale Atomic Hard Cider glasses he poured out for us a Newtown Pippin cider with some tart cherry juice and pitched champagne yeast.
Stepping away from making hard cider for some years, he’s making it again. Hard cider, actually used to be easier to do than sweet cider. For a long time, he said, the cost of pasteurization made sweet cider far too cost prohibitive, but finally after a good year they bought the UV pasteurization equipment they needed to start providing their customers with their delicious sweet cider.
Now hard cider has had its own problems. To do hard cider, Doug told us you needed a strong interest in bio, chem, and law, definitely law. He himself has an attorney he consults on all legal matters having to do with hard cider. For a long time cider has been in a legal grey area, because it doesn’t fit the classification of wine or beer. It is produced more like wine, but has an alcohol content closer to beer.
Doug himself is experimenting with wild yeasts and champagne yeast. He also only does single variety batches. As of now, he does forced carbonation in kegs, but has plans to experiment with bottle conditioning as well.
Now, starting next year, Doug has plans to sell his hard cider at the farm stand again! He has plans to buy a donut maker and have growlers of cider and donuts available!
If you’re looking for an interview with Talea look here!