Press-Republican

February 11, 2013

Elf's Winery tough as hardy grapevines

By GABE DICKENS
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Fire and then a tropical storm packed a one-two punch than might have rung the death knell for Elf’s Farm Winery and Cider Mill not long ago.

But not only were the vintners the driving force behind the inaugural Adirondack Coast Wine, Cider and Food Festival last fall in Plattsburgh, Tom Frey and his children, Sean, Kevin and Erin rebuilt the business on Route 9 north of the City of Plattsburgh and recently reopened.

”They make things happen,” said Michelle Powers, vice president of marketing for the North Country Chamber of Commerce.

LIKE THE PHOENIX

The fire in July 2011 ravaged the winery and cider mill, destroying a two-story wooden structure used as a tasting room and most of their equipment.

A month later, Tropical Storm Irene struck with wind and rain, bending stalks and knocking berries off the vine, resulting in a yield of only 1,300 pounds of grapes — 1,700 less than the 2010 harvest.

”It was like a double whammy between the fire and the hurricane,” Sean said.

For a time, they weren’t sure they could rebuild, but rebuild they did.

Like “the phoenix out of the smoke and the ashes,” Tom said.

FASTER MILLING

Chief among the improvements is a new 2,400 square-foot concrete production facility made of insulating concrete forms made from interlocking units filled with concrete to create superior energy efficiency and strength. 

To further improve the efficiency of the facility, long-lasting light-emitting diode (LED) lights are used to illuminate the premises, which use about half the power of comparable compact fluorescent lighting.

”Everything we do here is green,” Tom said.

A new cider mill will allow Elf’s to process 10 to 20 bins of apples a day, a significant increase compared to the three daily from the old mill destroyed in the fire. 

Further upping production is a new bottling line that can fill, cork and label 180 cases an hour. Before, it took six workers to bottle eight cases in that amount of time.

It is their hope that the upgrades will allow Elf’s to produce cider all year long, allowing their Adirondack Cider to become a “big thing” across the country.

SALVAGED DOOR

”And all the equipment is second-hand,” Kevin said.

Besides the savings, it also plays into their philosophy of re-purposing, which includes incorporating as much of the old place as possible.

The original production facility, which now serves as the wine-tasting room, has been outfitted with a door salvaged from the burned building. 

The front vestibule is built from planks acquired from an old barn on the Rovers Farm in Chazy. Apple crates stacked along the front wall display the new beer-making and winemaking kits they have for sale, and the current bar was fabricated from whiskey barrels that were used to ferment Elf’s hard cider.

LOST PANELING

One irreplaceable piece of history lost to the fire was the wood paneling that guests scrawled signatures and messages into with a corkscrew — about 1,000 in all — in more than six languages. Kevin said some of the signatures even had unique stories tied to them.

”A Cuban couple escaped Cuba and joined Cirque de Soleil. And while they were performing in Montreal, (they) took a day trip down here and signed the wall.”

It’s Kevin’s hope that they can track down some of those who autographed the paneling “and have them re-graffiti-ize the wall.”

PLANS TO GROW

As their future plans, Elf’s is awaiting finalization of a $20,000 grant awarded by the Town of Plattsburgh to help the business expand. 

The vintners hope to begin planting Marquette and Cayuga white grapes on an 11-acre parcel beginning in the spring, adding to their selection of Frontenac and Geneva Red vines, all of which thrive in the North Country’s cold climate.

”By planting more grapes, it’ll give us the ability to create more local wine, instead of relying on a lot of grapes from the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley,” Kevin said.

They also plan to move a 200-year-old granary building, also from the Rovers Farm, onto the property that will become their new tasting room. 

Elf’s is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. 

A grand re-opening is tentatively scheduled for late spring or early summer, with tours of the new facility.