In the rolling hills of the southern Schoharie County town of Charlotteville lies more than 90 acres of apples, grapes and Kymar Farms. Owned and operated by Ken and Lori Wortz, along with Christy Dom and Bill Martz, Kymar Farms currently produces two unique products.
Opened in December 2011, the idea began as a direct result of a fateful day in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Ken Wortz worked in communications in the metropolitan area. In the months following 9/11, Wortz worked with his customers rebuilding businesses.
“9/11 was a very bad day for America and a whole lot of people I knew,” he said. “As soon as the dust settled, I told my wife I’m supposed to be on a farm. I am not supposed to be in the city.” The Wortz’s bought the property and started planting. “Then we waited. We were following the farm distillery act in New York state for a long time. I was waiting,” Wortz added. “As soon as it passed in 2007, we began the process.”
From an agricultural family, Wortz was the first generation not born on an apple orchard. Taking what he knew from his family, he expanded his knowledge with courses at Cornell University.
The results are two products produced and sourced with local goods. Schoharie Mapple Jack is a blend of apple brandy with just a touch of maple syrup. According to the Kymar Farm website, “each batch is hand crafted from beginning to end. The apple cider is cool fermented and then distilled. The spirit is aged at 100 Proof in oak casks until the desired taste and aroma profile is achieved. We then blend the spirit with crystal clear Schoharie water and just a touch of locally produced maple syrup. Bottled by hand at 65 Proof.”
Aged in a process known as solera, the brandy maintains a consistency of flavor that is often difficult for small distilleries. The brandy is placed into oak barrels where they aged for a period of time. Eventually the barrels are emptied into lager barrels containing well aged product. Wortz explained, “The larger barrels are never emptied. They will be drained to about 1/3 full and then refilled. This helps to maintain a consistency in the flavor of the brandy. In theory, there is a small percentage of the original batch still in these barrels.”
The drinks are made with apples grown locally at Sharon Orchards, Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont and Ox Farms in Warwick; and supplemented with the orchards on site. “We have apple trees and grape vines. We supplement our production with what is on site,” Wortz commented. “We have already exceeded what we have in the ground. We couldn’t plant fast enough. It takes five to seven years after planting for trees to produce fruit.”
Schoharie Shine is the second product in the Kymar Farm line to date. A specialty spirit made from 100 percent locally sourced sorghum; it is a tribute to Southern moonshiners. Wortz commented that “the Schoharie Shine makes a great summer drink. It is a bit strong straight, but when added to lemonade or iced tea, it is really good.”
Currently housed in a 900-square-foot facility on a picturesque hillside, production has grown more than anyone planned. What was supposed to be a part-time thing for a few years has grown enough to allow Lori to leave her job in Manhattan and assume full-time duties on the farm while Ken continues to work downstate.
“I am still three days a week here, but that is where I make my living,” he said. “The original plan was that I would probably leave my job and Lori would continue to work in Manhattan as a developer. But she fell in love with it and is having a ball. Now she is full time on the farm and I work three days a week here.”
Supplying over 150 retail outlets in New York and Massachusetts, the company looks to expand more in the coming year. Connecticut and New Jersey are on the slate, as well as continuing to locally supply central New York. “We could grow it faster than currently if we had more hours in a day. When we can catch up with production, we hope to produce different flavors of the shine.”
Amongst the expansion plans are new crops and an adventure into wine making. “I am a good wine maker,” Wortz jokes, “there are just not enough hours in the day. Last year we didn’t have enough tanks. Now the stills can’t keep up with the production. We can produce 40 cases in two hours with three of us working; but we need to get more efficient. If you had come in February we were literally climbing over tanks to get from one side of the building to the other.”
With plans to work with local agriculture and the SUNY Cobleskill culinary program to produce locally grown based flavors, lemon balm may be one example. “We want to produce something that we can source here.” After a small test batch was successful, Wortz realized he just didn’t have enough time to explore it fully. But it has not been forgotten.
Along with the plans for expansion, Wortz hopes to be adding employees in the near future. “The farm acts were designed to create jobs, and we are living proof.”
“This year is about never having to say no to a customer. We wanted to make sure we could meet our customers’ needs. Those local retailers have been wonderful to us.”
Wortz enjoys the community of Charlotteville that has become home to his wife, and will someday become his home.
“We have received great support locally. If we fall behind, I make one phone call and a half a dozen people show up. We couldn’t have done it without the neighbors and friends in the Charlotteville community. This area is absolutely wonderful. It is where my heart is.”
The farm-to-table movement is very much alive and well at Kymar Farm. “I think NYS has been very progressive with the farm brewery, distillery and winery act and it truly does promote local agriculture.” One third of what is spent at Kymar Farms is spent with local farmers. “We are proud to do so. And they love supplying us. I think what NYS has done with their farm act has been wonderful I think it is great for the state.”
Kymar Farms is named for the Wortz couple’s children, son Kyle and daughter Marissa. Both adults now, Marissa participates in the business while not in college, while Kyle is studying engineering with the military in Missouri.