South Hill Cider, located on Sandbank Road in the town of Ithaca, has been a thriving cider business for nine years, and this month, it has expanded to include a new tasting room out of its home orchard, attracting cider lovers to the scenic spot for good food, good drinks and good times.
Steve Seplin, owner of South Hill Cider, is a longtime cider-maker and musician. After playing shows at different tasting rooms, he developed quite the pallet for cider, he said.
“Over the years, I started collaborating with some of the winemakers on tasting ciders and making ciders, and my cider-making developed to the point where we realized that we were making cider that was better than most cider we could buy,” Seplin said.
Using his experience, Seplin opened South Hill Cider 2013, and it’s been a success ever since. He said South Hill Cider has found its place in the community, right on the Finger Lakes Trail, as a spot for folks to taste local foods.
“We fit into the county in that we … source a lot of apples from inside the county … and so, we actually glean some of that fruit and make cider out of it,” he said. “We also have been educating the public on local Finger Lakes cider.”
Once South Hill Cider found its place, it didn’t take long before it was creating new cider lovers every day.
“A lot of people are unfamiliar with the styles of cider that we produce and some of the other Finger Lakes makers produce. … And so, it’s been really enjoyable turning people on to how good this tastes,” Seplin said.
One of South Hill Cider’s fans is Meredith Collins, cider lover and blogger on Along Came a Cider. She’s known the business for a few years now, and she’s seen it go through some big changes.
“I know that Steve started being more of a fruit forager because his orchard was still really young,” she said. “But now, as the trees have gotten older, they’re doing a lot more and he’s getting a lot more out of his own orchards. And he has made that pivot really gracefully.”
Part of those changes include making the product more accessible to consumers. Seplin said the idea for the tasting room came about after many years of turning folks on to cider and wanting to bring his customers closer to the production process.
“By having a tasting room at our orchard, we are able to host people and give people that experience,” Seplin said. “It will definitely benefit our business because we’ll be able to connect directly with the people who are drinking our ciders. We’ll be able to connect with our guests in a much more intimate setting.”
Collins sees that benefit, too, as the tasting room provides a way for patrons to see a new side of South Hill Cider in a way that’s loose and fun.
“I think they’ll have a really direct connection to the product, being that they can see the orchard, they can talk to people involved in the production,” she said. “Getting it under one roof and one more accessible to the public will be such a really big boost in terms of accessibility.”
Because of South Hill Cider’s scenic location and placement on the Finger Lakes Trail, it made sense to have the new tasting room reflect that atmosphere, Seplin said.
“The design was really interesting,” he said. “We wanted to build a structure that would fit into the local community.”
Originally, the thought was to make it look like an old barn, but after realizing the cost of such a project, Seplin switched to a more contemporary design with a natural look.
“We chose materials that were very high-quality, natural materials that weather very well,” he said.
The tasting room opened mid-September, and response has been rather positive so far, Seplin said.
“We’ve had great feedback,” Seplin said. “People really love the cider. They love the views. They love the way the whole place looks. It’s going very well.”
Collins was among the first visitors to the tasting room, and she was impressed with the layout, the atmosphere and, of course, the cider.
“What probably stood out the most to me was the beautiful view,” she said. “It’s just a really lovely setting and getting to go outside with a glass of cider and watch the sunset … it was just very pleasant.”
Seplin said he awaits further feedback from the public on the tasting room to see how to evolve it from here. For now, he’s planning more tastings and event hostings, all to bring people closer to each other and to his cider.
“We just hope to be able to host people year-round and give them a place to connect with cider and also with just the natural world,” he said.
Collins said she looks forward to what Seplin has in store.
“There’s just so much you can do once you have your own space, and I think Steve’s going to take full advantage of that,” she said.
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