Filling a bottle with a dream takes time, and patience is a virtue that it pays to have in reserve. Troy Lehman had a long-held vision for what his ciders could be, but first he had to plant the trees.
In a world of instant everything, it’s a countercultural story of time and terroir. Adams County, on the northern extension of the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Gettysburg, is home for Troy. As a young boy he worked for area fruit producers, pruning apple trees and picking peaches. The early discipline of working this land helped to shape him, his rootedness in this place, and his second-nature knowledge of its soil, microclimate, and potential. But knowing the land and being able to predict anything about a season’s outcome are two completely different things. “I used to be a control freak,” he says with a wry smile, “but now I’m the opposite. Mother nature has broken me.”
The family moved when Troy was a teenager, and he began working in the auto industry. “But I’ve always loved growing things and I always had a garden,” he says. He began making cider and wine as a hobby in the early 2000s, and in 2010 he bought a small 23-acre farm near where he grew up so he could grow his own fruit.
“I knew what kind of hard work was required,” Troy says, “but I love it.” He pulled out some of the farm’s nine and a half acres of orchard and replanted them with heirloom cider apple varieties that would, in time, bear fruit with the kind of tart acidity necessary for the ciders he dreamed of creating. He tended these trees, season after season. And while he waited, he grew produce and berries and worked at the countless tasks a farm requires. In 2013, he was able to make his first ciders and Big Hill Ciderworks was born. “And I’ve been hard at it ever since,” he says.
Rex Farms Orchards, with its well-drained soil on the side of a mountain, is the perfect terroir for producing apples that yield the distinct flavor profiles for which Big Hill Ciderworks is known. Troy and his business partner Ben Kishbaugh work in concert with the land, using traditional methods and creative experimentation to produce award-winning ciders that push the boundaries of the mainstream.
Today, Rex Farms Orchards has 14 acres of apple orchard, two of stone fruit, and an acre of berries. The unpredictability of farming is hard, and like any farmer Troy has his share of nail-biting and heartbreaking stories of lost crops and weather- and pest-related blows, both minor and major. “I used to go to Atlantic City a few times a year,” he says, “but I don’t need to anymore—I get my fix every day. No two seasons are ever the same. You can’t get bored on a farm.”
Troy first came to the Kennett Square Farmers Market with produce in 2012. He drives over two hours to bring his berries, peaches, apples, and cider to market on Fridays, often with wife Maria and six-year-old daughter Emma. Customers can also find him at the West Chester Growers Market on Saturdays. Troy enjoys doing the markets and meeting people. “Customer service in the auto industry is hard—people are never happy to see you,” he says. “But when people are buying produce or cider, they’re happy.”
Photos by Dylan Francis, TroubledGeniusMedia