Susan Manning can trace her family history in Callicoon back to the 1850s. Her husband Douglas Doetsch has roots in town five generations old. “We wanted to reinvest in this community of Callicoon, to revitalize what has been part of a local heritage,” says Manning, who, together with Doetsch, opened Seminary Hill to the public this summer. A tour-de-force orchard-cidery-boarding house, Seminary Hill produces craft ciders that reflect the foodways and history of the Catskills while marking a global milestone in cidery sustainability.
Manning has been planning for Seminary Hill since 2012, when they began cover-cropping the property. Their first planting was in 2014; seven years later, they have 1,500 trees across 12 holistically managed acres, encompassing around 60 heirloom varieties of apples and pears.
The goal is distinctive and artisanal dry cider in alignment with the craft cider boom of the last 10 years– and reflective of cider making’s historical significance to the region. Apples are a cash crop in Sullivan County, where agriculture is one of the biggest economic sectors. For Manning’s forebearers, cider making was simply another part of farming, and Seminary Hill continues that tradition by exclusively using the fruits from their own orchard for their final product.
That’s what differentiates Seminary Hill from New York state’s other 130-odd cideries; they use their own apples. In fact, the whole cider making process––apple growing, crushing, pressing, fermenting, bottling––occurs entirely on the property. Some of the ciders are named for the apple varieties used, such as “Northern Spy” and “Baldwin Pippin,” while others like “Susan’s Semi-Dry,” reflect the makers’ preferences. The varied types of ciders they produce are all dry, each bottled in dark green glass and imprinted with Seminary Hill’s golden octagonal logo.
Central to Seminary Hill’s logo is the wild turkey, which has been abundant in the area since the 1600s, when the Dutch spotted them while hunting beavers. The turkeys, which the Dutch call “kollikoon” gave rise to Callicoon’s name.Callicoon remained secluded until two centuries later, when the advent of the Erie Railroad, which was built through the town in the 1840s, put the small township on the map.
In 1901, Franciscan priests built a Romanesque seminary overlooking the Delaware River Valley, from which Seminary Hill takes its name; the orchard and cidery sit atop a hill overlooking the priests’ work.
In the 20th century, tourism flourished in Callicoon, peaking with the Borscht Belt era of the ’60s, when summer resorts proliferated in the Catskills drawing urban, and often Jewish, guests. With the rise of affordable airfare presenting other getaway options in the late 1950s, most of the hotels and boarding houses closed––but in the past 20 years, Callicoon has seen a revival of its hospitality industry, as well as sustainable agriculture. The creation of Seminary Hill represents a symbiosis of both.
Manning and Doetsch are committed to environmental sustainability—both in their farming and building practices. Their cidery building is carbon neutral, the first in the world designed in compliance with PassivHaus standards for energy efficiency. “We’re part of this whole group of people who are starting new businesses and taking local traditions of hospitality and making them new,” Manning says.
Their orchard is organic and “holistic”, meaning that their fruit growing approach looks at the entire agricultural ecosystem rather than just the tree or the fruit; things like biodiversity and soil biology are taken into account. At Seminary Hill’s orchard, companion plants attract bees and other natural pollinators, while daffodils planted in a ring around each tree keep away voles. The orchard is managed under the guidance of chief orchard consultant Michael Philips, an internationally recognized apple expert and author of The Holistic Orchard, which won the American Horticulture Society Book Award.
The sustainable cidery building consists of a production facility on the ground floor and a 4,000-square-foot tasting room above with a restaurant and general event space, all offering sweeping views of the Delaware River Valley. Built into the hillside, the outer layer of cidery’s first floor is clad in stone, while the second floor is paneled with larch wood reclaimed from the underwater pilings of the original Tappan Zee Bridge. Roof-mounted solar panels generate the facility’s energy. Condé Nast Traveler describes the setting as “James Fenimore Cooper’s America with a dash of Tuscany.”
The whole cidery is open to the public; visitors can witness the entire cider making process from orchard to bottle with tours on Sundays, beginning among the fruit trees and ending with a tasting on the large balcony upstairs. The tasting room has a high cathedral ceiling that frames floor-to-ceiling windows, making it a popular venue for events—there are five weddings scheduled at Seminary Hill in the next three months, and they’ve previously hosted readings and performances by local artists and writers.
The restaurant’s menu is seasonal and locally sourced, tailored towards complementing the tastes of Seminary Hill’s ciders. In winter, the menu will feature hearty comfort foods like chicken pot pie and meatloaf sandwiches, while from spring to fall they highlight venison sausages, fresh baked breads, and vegetables prepared on an outdoor wood-fired grill.
The boarding house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on a ridge adjacent to the cidery, as does a separate 65-acre private property dubbed “the mountain house,” which is also available for rent. The Shaker-style boarding house comprises eight units, with a focus on simplicity, natural materials, and functional design. Period pieces also find their way into the apartments, with restored clawfoot bathtubs, kilim rugs, and tongue-and-groove wood paneling. The mountain house, also simply furnished, was built from timber felled on the property and centers around a two-story stone fireplace. Outside are private hiking trails, a fire pit, and an herb garden.
Manning and Doetsch revitalized the buildings in an effort “to modernize what had been an earlier tradition,” Manning says. During Callicoon’s hospitality heyday, farmers would rent out boarding houses to guests as an extra source of income, often becoming travellers in the process. Seminary Hill takes inspiration from this historical tradition of congeniality and community. “We are inspired by their example,” the website reads, “as we craft distinctive ciders from apples and pears grown in our holistic orchard, welcome guests to our tasting room and boarding house, and share our appreciation for the bounty and beauty of the land.”
Seminary Hill is open for tastings Thursday and Friday 2-9pm, Saturday 12-9pm, and Sunday 12-7pm. Tours take place most Sundays starting at 1pm.
43 Wagner Lane, Callicoon, NY 12723