James Chuck and his business partner, Jacob Israelow, chose Geneva and the Finger Lakes region as their new company home so they could celebrate New York apples and keep their cider as pure as possible. The company is partnering with local expertise from Red Jacket Orchards, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and the Finger Lakes Community College Viticulture and Wine Center.
The company will utilize lab and office space in the Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Park, also known as the “Tech Farm,” in Geneva later this fall.
“It’s really about long-term quality,” Chuck said. “It's about having talent and resources around you, and a group of educated people. We’ve found those people in the Finger Lakes.”
Chuck and Israelow have been in the hard cider business since 2013. Having known each other since pursuing MBAs at Columbia University, the pair realized they both had an interest in sustainable food systems and agriculture.
A few years out of college, Israelow mentioned that there was “something going on in cider.” The two further explored that idea and eventually built up a successful business downstate in the Beacon area, just outside of New York City, where they began producing high-quality, pure hard cider. They’ve introduced a number of hard ciders to the market, including Apples & Honey and Crisp & Dry.
The pair are focusing on educating customers about what goes into quality cider.
“Others may get their concentrate from China, Europe, or even Vermont apples,” he said. “But our quest for quality led us to the Finger Lakes and the New York family-owned orchards that are growing apples in New York state.”
Empire Cider will get its juice from Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, described by Chuck as “great juice makers" who "produce a high-quality product.”
Chuck says not only will the Tech Farm be home to their existing company, but it also will house a new endeavor, Empire Cider Center. The center will allow other cider entrepreneurs to use the lab space as research and development for new cider varieties. That is, cider makers can make their products in small batches.
“Cider is best when it's fresh,” he said. “You don't create one batch for a whole year. The key to a great product every time is to create small batches.”
Hazlitt assistant winemaker Rob Deignan will be the chief cidermaker for Empire Cider Company. His background is in wine, but he has been making cider commercially for the past few years. He says he’s excited about working with the Empire Cider Center