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Chester County Ag Council

Old Stone Gathers No Moss

A feature from the 2020 Farm Prodcuts Guide.

Old Stone Photo

Old Stone Farm, named for the Revolutionary War era cemetery located in its center, has grown and evolved along with the Gruber family who purchased it in 1991.

Owners Mark and Mary Gruber initially followed in the footsteps of Mark's father Alfred, a longtime Christmas tree grower, with a cut-your-own Christmas tree operation on the property. Over time as their family grew, they had added rows of grapes for the local wine industry, a horse boarding operation, and row crops.

"My family teases me that I never sit down," says Mary Gruber.

However, Mary wasn't looking for more work when she and her college-bound daughter decided to visit a nearby cider conference in 2008. In fact, she didn't even realize the cider being discussed that day was hard (alcoholic) cider. But after an afternoon of learning about the budding cider industry, she was intrigued by this relatively untapped niche in the alcohol market.

Coincidentally around that same time, husband Mark had been traveling to England for work and had grown fond of the English style hard cider. Compared to much of the hard cider mass produced in the United States, English style cider is known for being dryer and less carbonated.

Together the Grubers decided the time was right to launch a new business venture on the farm: producing their own version of English style hard cider.

"Few were making it," recalls Mary. "Alcohol consumption research indicated drinkers were looking for the next new thing and we saw the opportunity."

In order to make the cider, they needed cider apples. Apples used for cider tend to be different than the ones grown for fresh eating because they possess a higher sugar content needed for alcohol production and also possess levels of acidities and tannins necessary for a quality end product. To achieve the refined flavors the Grubers were aiming for, they knew they needed to have a consistent supply of heirloom apples, a difficult task.

"We found that it was next to impossible to source the type and quantity of apples we need so we decided to grow our own," says the Gruber's son Evan, who leads cider fermentation, sales and marketing on the farm.

Cider production didn't come right away, though. Switching out the grape vines for apple trees, and renovating their historic bank barn to serve as a production facility and tasting room took money, time and work. Lots of it.

Everyone in the family pitched in with demolition and reconstruction. In addition, daughter Elise built the wooden tables out of reclaimed barn siding, Mark worked on the finances and equipment, while Mary and Evan took on the challenges of starting an orchard.

"There was a learning curve for sure," says Mary. "Pruning and spraying apples took some study. Some cider apple varieties from a 100 years ago are 'uncooperative' and don't have the same disease resistance as more modern cultivars."

The Grubers currently grow over 20 varieties of Old English and heirloom American apples with evocative names like Roxbury Russett, Harrison, Virginia Crab and Stoke Red, varieties the Founding Fathers would recognize.

"Blending cider is an art," says Mary. "We aim for a nice mouthfeel and just the right amount of dryness."

As their cider business has grown, so has word-of-mouth.

"We have four to five ciders on tap and rotate them every couple of months to keep things new for our customers," says Evan.

In a few short years, Old Stone Cider has become a popular destination for locals and cider enthusiasts from around the region with production consistently selling out by the end of December, one of their busiest months. It turns out their Christmas tree customers love to visit the cider tasting room, incorporating a bit of cider into their holiday traditions.

It's not just the cider and trees that draw visitors to Old Stone Farm. In warmer months, the Grubers partner with local food trucks and area musicians to create a full agritainment experience for their customers.

"People like to sit outside in the loafing area with their cider and food and listen to live music," says Mary. "Our township and the Lewisville community have really embraced us and supported the growth of our farm."