Hillsborough farm and winery fuels local agritourism
At Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm and their cidery and winery, Botanist & Barrel, the Smith family has created an agritourism destination just outside of Hillsborough. Both operations offer blueberry picking, cider and wine tastings, and a number special events with a local twist.Posted — Updated
The agricultural sector in North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast, has a major impact on the economy. In fact, farms around the state contribute around $76 billion annually and cover about 8.4 million acres of land.
A significant portion of the farmland in North Carolina is located around Orange and Chatham County, with more than 60 farms calling the 398 square miles of land home.
With such a strong emphasis on agriculture, agritourism has taken off in the Triangle region, particularly around the town of Hillsborough, drawing thousands of visitors to the farms, dairies and orchards in the area.
For siblings Lyndon and Kether Smith, farming has always run in the family, and fond memories of picking blueberries on their grandparents' land inspired them to pursue an agricultural future of their own. Now, the Smiths and their spouses have added to their family legacy, managing Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm and Botanist & Barrel, the only natural cidery in the southern United States.
"Our mother and stepfather purchased most of a blueberry farm and the plot had been divided at some point in the past. I was asked to manage it, and then right around the same time of them closing on the property, we looked at buying the rest of it," Kether said. "We ended up purchasing the remainder, then that came with the warehouse, and that's where the winemaking and cidery came in — although we didn't open that until three years after we opened the blueberry farm."
While the farm needed significant improvements after 10 years of no upkeep, the family put in countless hours of work to transform it into the USDA Organic Certified farm it is now. Every season, the farm brings thousands of guests in for blueberry picking, fishing, picnicking and more.
At Botanist & Barrel next door, the team uses a portion of the blueberries for cider and winemaking.
Lyndon's wife Amie has an impressive background in wine, being one of the 10 certified sommeliers for cider in the world, and boasting 15 years in selling and importing wine into the United States. Kether brought her own experience with cider and fermentation to the mix. Combining the skills of the two, the family experiments with locally sourced ingredients to create a unique variety of ciders and wine.
"We like combining old-world techniques with new-world ways of thinking about wine and cider," Amie said. "One of my favorite ciders is actually made with muscadine grapes from just down the street that are some of the only organic grapes you can find in the south. It's 50 percent muscadine grapes blended and aged in a red wine barrel, then 50 percent our house-blend cider aged in a chardonnay barrel, all blended together and bottle conditioned like champagne."
Added Lyndon, "It's the South in a bottle."
In addition to the muscadine grapes and farm-fresh blueberries, a good portion of the ingredients used for Botanist & Barrel products come from within a few miles of the farm's front door. One of the primary missions of Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm and Botanist & Barrel is food waste reduction, so the team often uses the "ugly" fruits from nearby farms that would otherwise end up in the compost pile. By crafting this produce into ciders and wines, they're able to significantly reduce not only their own food waste, but also the food waste of other local farms.
The farm practices additional sustainable measures that include no irrigation and no spray or fertilizer of any kind. While these methods may decrease their yield, they also ensure only the best crop possible is produced, both for you-pick customers and for batches of their carefully crafted cider and wine.
For those looking to get a peak behind the curtains of the fermentation process, the team offers ticketed tours of the cidery — although they recommend stopping over at the Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm first.
Once you've had your fill of fresh pickings, you can cool off on the cidery tour and get an inside look at Botanist & Barrel, including the growing and sourcing process, the intricacies behind barrel aging, and the history of the farm. It's all capped off with a flight of carefully selected ciders, each with a flavor profile that compliments the next.
For those interested in just stopping off at the tasting room, the bartender's are well-versed in the offerings, providing guided flights and answers to any and all questions.
"We're a little bit more hands on than other places when it comes to tastings. We don't want you to come in and look at the menu and say, 'I want that, that and that.' We want to offer what we would call a more guided tasting. We can build a flight for you that's going to show you a bunch of different styles, then one of the fun things we do is offer a wild card or dealer's choice," Lyndon said. "We usually keep some bottles, super small batches, in the fridge — if you trust us, we can show you some really interesting combinations."
While there are plenty of other breweries and wineries in North Carolina, none have quite as unique of a process as Botanist & Barrel. As the operations and popularity of the farm and cidery have grown over the past few years, the team has pursued more opportunities to collaborate with local farms and businesses, making Cedar Grove and Botanist & Barrel an agritourism destination in and of itself, while also supporting other local endeavours.
"Our blueberry farm along with Nourishing Acres and Edens Meats, both of which are just down the road, got a collaborative grant to build a farm stand and food trailer. We're hoping sometime soon to actually have a food trailer that makes paired plates with the cidery, using ingredients from those three farms," Lydon said. "We also want to do some nights where people can come pick their own ingredients, then we'll prepare a special plate for them based on that — just having fun with local agriculture and then pairing that to the ciders from the tasting room, as well."
With a number of other projects and events in the works, the team is looking forward to an exciting future for the farm and cidery. For those who aren't able to make a trip out to Cedar Grove, Botanist & Barrel products can be found at a number of bars, bottle shops and grocery stores around the Triangle area and beyond.
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