This is a story about how I ended up going on sabbatical after 17 years of working at Eve's Cidery. For 2018, I'll be working over on Seneca Lake managing a 7 acre Pinot Noir vineyard for Forge Cellars. It's an amazing opportunity to learn about a parallel world. In the world of wine, the concept of mentorship is still alive and well and I'm getting the opportunity to learn from some true masters. It's an absolute thrill working with Louis Barroul, 13th generation winemaker from Giogandas and partner at Forge. His experience is so deep and his knowledge so innate, it seems that every word that rolls out of his mouth is a treasure of wine wisdom. I also get to work with pioneering FLX growers like Phil Davis who has been growing grapes since he was 5, and high quality vinifera on the shores of Seneca lake for nearly 4 decades. The story of the vineyard at Forge and my adventures there, is a story in itself, so if you are interested in that kind of thing you can follow me on instagram at @myvineyardyear
Want to hear a juicy story about a farmer's midlife crises? Read on....
From my perspective, one thing we don't hear enough in all the great press young farmer's get these days, or on the social media feeds of ambitious new farmers, or in the foodie magazine articles about hip, savvy, start-up farmers, is farmer burnout. In all the romanticizing, nobody seems to be talking about how insanely hard it is to farm, much less make it work financially and find a sustainable work-life balance. Building a business in a field that our society undervalues and under-pays and doing it with a crazy and unpredictable business partner (mother nature) all while trying to stay true to the ideals that brought you here in the first place is a monumental task. Double that if you are a first generation farmer paying down a mortgage and building infrastructure from scratch.
When I started Eve's Cidery on waitressing savings when I was 19, none of these concerns entered my mind. I had a vision: make something insanely beautiful and delicious. Build a farm from the ground up as a way to regenerate the soil, bank carbon, participate in new systems of perennial agriculture, revitalize rural economies and give consumers an authentic taste of the land. If there was any challenge that came along (and there have been many), I knew I could work my way out of it. In fact the ability to work 80 hours a week, year after year, has been one of my greatest assets.
After I had children, I began to really struggle with the concept of work/life balance. The kids really impacted my ability to work. And being a farmer really impacted my ability to be a mom. After a while I felt like I was not doing either very well. And I was having a hard time finding examples of work-life balance to follow. Farm colleagues without children were able to be far more ambitious than I, and parents without farms had so much more to give their kids.
Added to this struggle was the fact that as our business grew, more and more of what I found myself doing was not 'farming.' I find that a lot of people think of farming as a simple and romantic life filled with hard physical outdoor labor. They can't really imagine it when I try to explain that farming is like being the CEO for your own little enterprise; you have all the stress of managing people, solving problems, making decisions, meeting sales goals, balancing finances and generally sitting in front of a computer with a phone glued to your head. And then it hails. Or the blossoms freeze. Or your farm experiences the worst drought in a life time.
About last year I hit a wall. I started out wanting to be a farmer when I grew up, and here I was stuck in the office with my kids in the background telling me I didn't pay enough attention to them and all I ever talked about was "the business". I was having a hard time managing my stress, and I lost my temper easily. It was time to get some perspective. That's right around the time when my friend Rick mentioned to me that he really needed help out at his new vineyard. With a career in wine sales, Rick has traveled the world and seen the breadth of what's possible in vineyards. He wanted to try and grow grapes organically, something which has been considered "impossible" here in New York. The idea of coming up with a holistic grape growing plan for Pinot Noir on shale above Seneca Lake sounded too good to pass up.
I'm so lucky to have the support of my awesome people, Ezra and Celia, who (with the help of our new intern Matt) are feeling ready, willing and able to let me take a break from the biz. Their encouragement means so much to me.
I was recently asking Louis, who is a firm believer in the greatness of Finger Lakes terroir, what it will take to make our region one of the greats of the world. "Cross pollination" Louis told me. "Burgandy, Bordeaux, the greatest wine regions have always been situated in a place where cultures and thus ideas collide. The Finger Lakes needs more of this."
So does cider, and so do I, I thought.
-Autumn Stoscheck 5/24/18