According to writer W.H. Auden, imaginaries of idyllic society fall into two categories – an Arcadian vision of a simple, pastoral past and the Utopian dream for a better future. The former is inspirational and the latter, aspirational. Seminary Hill – the Southern Catskill’s newest sustainable cidery & accommodation – evokes images of both. In Seminary Hill, founders Doug Doetsch and Susan Manning have created a sustainable tourism utopia that pairs modern innovations in sustainability with the simple precept of living off the land.
Manning & Doetsch conceived of Seminary Hill as a demonstration project in Callicoon, New York – the hamlet where the property is located. The goal? To show that in the 21st century, a sustainable agricultural business in the Western Catskills could flourish and thrive. So far, to the great fortune of sustainably-minded travelers, Doetsch & Manning have been met with great success.
Rooted in the heritage of the “Catskills of old,” Seminary Hill has become a model for sustainable travel experiences, as guests are offered the opportunity for a complete sensory experience of the region’s land and heritage. The property’s grounds are a pastoral dream of greenery atop rolling hills, and its terroir-driven ciders, available to taste in the sustainably-built cider house and restaurant, offer visitors the opportunity to taste the fruits of the land and experience a lost American tradition.
Rebuilding American Cider Traditions
Today, beer is the beverage most associated with American leisure and recreation. However, many may not know that during the American Colonial era, variations of cider were the “beverage of choice.” Etymologically stemming from a Hebrew word for strong drink, cider only meant fermented cider until the Prohibition era, at which point it took on the additional meaning of unfiltered apple juice.
Immigration and changes in the agricultural economy initiated the long, drawn out decline in the American cider tradition, and then, the start of Prohibition effectively ended hard cider’s reign as the preeminent alcoholic beverage of the United States. But today, hard cider is making a comeback. Seminary Hill’s work as a sustainable cidery is an important part of this.
As ecomadic learned from the Seminary Hill team, crafting a selection of harvest or terroir-driven ciders in the context of a broken tradition is no easy feat. While winemaking has a long history of intact knowledge regarding grape varietals and their ideal growing conditions, much of this formal knowledge in the cider industry was lost to Prohibition. Part of Seminary Hill’s work as a new, sustainable cidery is discovering just which of the tens of thousands of apple varietals grows best on their little corner of the Earth, a process that may be made more difficult by the unpredictability of climate change.
For the time being, Seminary Hill grows over 60 varietals of apples and pears on their sustainably-managed orchard. Because their orchards have not fully matured yet, they currently source some of their fruit from other regional orchards. When their 1500 trees all bear fruit, they plan to produce 15,000 gallons (60,000 bottles) every year, crafted solely from the property’s harvest. Although they currently only produce around 4,000 gallons per year, these gallons helped them garner the “New York Heritage Cider Producer of the Year” in 2022, awarded by the New York International Cider Competition.
An Ethos of Sustainability
Sustainability at Seminary Hill doesn’t stop at their organic, sustainably-managed orchards. Sustainability at all levels was always at the heart of Doetsch and Manning’s hopes for the property, as following principles of sustainability allows them to stay true to their heritage of connecting to the land.
The land has been in the Doetsch family for over five generations, and his great-grandparents and grandparents all farmed the land sustainably. While it may conjure images of medieval serfdoms, another term for their methods is “subsistence farming.” If there is a lesson to be learned here, it’s that simplicity is not bad, especially when it promotes harmony with nature.
The same principle applies to the cider building itself, which was designed and constructed according to “Passive House” standards. As the name suggests, the building employs maximal energy efficiency with minimal effort, with “an air-tight thermal envelope, triple pane windows, and photovoltaic solar panels.”
In “Passive House” standards, natural terrain, as well as technology, plays an important role in “no frills” energy efficiency. Built into the hillside, the ground-level production space stays naturally cool. Likewise, its cardinal orientation maximizes shade in summer and direct sunlight in winter.
Revitalizing Hospitality & Simplicity
The final signature piece of the Seminary Hill project is hospitality. The Southern Catskills of old were as much a vacation spot as an agricultural region. The past generations of the Seminary Hill homestead took in summer boarders to make ends meet. In keeping with history, Seminary Hill offers two options for stays – the boarding house and the mountain house.
While the Mountain House is a fairly traditional accommodation for large parties, the boarding house is a preeminent example of sustainable design for accommodations. In partnership with the local sustainable design studio Homestedt, the team renovated two historical buildings in the property adjacent to the orchard, redesigning them in keeping with Shaker styles of 19th-century northeast Utopian communities.
With its Shaker-inspired functional elegance, the Boarding House highlights beauty and sustainability in equal measure. Featuring neutral tones, kilim rugs, and luxurious four poster beds, the apartments are simple, historical, and most importantly, cozy. The communal kitchens and living rooms are supplied with Homestedt’s zero-waste home line and all furniture pieces are either recycled from local vintage warehouses or the founders themselves. The result is a vibrant interior with no lack of interesting conversation pieces – one of the libraries is stocked with books from the private collection of the former ambassador to Italy.
The Key to a Stress Free Sustainable Getaway (and Utopia?)
The takeaway is simple – sustainable travelers looking for a responsible getaway with minimal planning need look no further. Booking a tasting and a stay (or both) at Seminary Hill ensures that tourism dollars are spent sustainably, because their standards are simply as high as they come.
Travelers wander the world for many reasons, but for sustainable travelers, it is often driven by the desire to find an alternative way of life, a gentler one that honors people and nature. At Seminary Hill, the team is not only dedicated to creating this vision of living, but also to sharing it with like-minded guests who want to experience a kind of Utopia, even only for a short stay.
ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.
Want to Learn More?
Hudson Valley Magazine – Seminary Hill Pours Cider With Heritage in the Southern Catskills
6 sq ft – The World’s First Passive House Certified Cidery Opens in the Catskills
Inside Hook – In Upstate NY, A New Cidery-Hotel Lets You Stay Well Past Your Tasting
Seminary Hill – Our Story
The Local Palate – The Rise and Fall of American Hard Cider