Star Cider started out in the basement of a young couple’s home. But their dream to turn hard cider-making into a family business quickly outgrew that house in Clifton Springs, Ontario County.
So Cortni and Adam Stahl traded their house for an Airstream trailer parked next to a garage-size building in Clifton Springs, where they’ve been making up to 5,000 gallons a cider a year.
Three years later, the Stahls and their dog are living in a house again — this time in Canandaigua, and selling their cider in approximately 35 bars, restaurants and breweries, mostly in the Finger Lakes area. And the couple is ramping up once more. Star Cider was recently accepted into the state’s Start-Up NY program, which provides tax incentives for startup companies that locate on or adjacent to the 64 public college campuses in New York.
In this case, the Stahls will keep their headquarters in Clifton Springs, but build a production facility on property next to Finger Lakes Community College in the town of Canandaigua.
Partnering with the college and being helpful to the economy on a larger scale attracted the Stahls to the program, said Adam Stahl. They also liked the tax incentives that come with being part of the Start-Up NY program — no income taxes for employees nor sales tax charged to customers.
The company currently consists of three people — the couple and Adam’s brother, Nathan — and all three have day jobs. Though the Stahl brothers grew up on a farm where cider-making was a tradition that survived the Prohibition era, it is Cortni who has the professional connection to their venture. She works for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, performing analysis of wine, cider and beer and spends about half her time leading workshops for producers.
The Stahls are involved in every part of the cider process for their business, “from apple to glass” as Cortni said.
“We have to have that connection,” she said of picking the apples. “We can’t remove ourselves from that part of the equation.” Most of the apples are picked at Seneca Orchards, also in Clifton Springs.
Finger Lakes Community College is hoping for the same hands-on experience for its students, said Kal Wysokowski, director of grants for FLCC.
“We’re looking at some hands-on workshops in things like apple grafting or apple pruning, research projects, internships, studying the composition of the cider, trying out new recipes and having students do new activities.” Wysokowski said.
“This is primarily an education and research operation in the startup program. Although there will be a tasting area at the cidery, she said, “it’s really about the manufacture of cider.” Star Cider will be the fourth Start-Up NY company attached to FLCC and the only one involved in food and beverage processing.
Currently 38 of the state’s 64 public colleges campuses participate in the program, said Jeff Boyce, director of economic development at SUNY Research Foundation.
“If you think about the program, it’s touted as a tax-incentive program. It’s meant to stimulate job creation and investment,” Boyce said. But the benefit to campuses is that faculty, staff and students work with companies in the areas of research and innovation.
Star Cider’s proximity, on the grounds of the former Lincoln Hill Inn, will provide easy access for students, Wysokowski noted.
“They have some big plans. We’re really pleased to be a part of it. I think the students at FLCC are really going to see a benefit here.”
The Stahls are looking forward to having more room to expand operations. They will be seeking financing to build on the leased property soon and are in the process of gaining the necessary town approvals to build a barn-like production facility. If the approvals go according to plan, they’ll start construction in the summer and hope to capture the harvest season so they can produce cider there in the fall, opening for tastings by year’s end.
“I think the Finger Lakes are perfect for cider making,” Cortni said. The wine industry has already led the way, Adam said. “We see this as planting the seed for what we could do for cider.”
Oh, and about that name, Star Cider? Cut open an apple horizontally and you’ll see its genesis.
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