Apr 7, 2007
Cider Mill Brings Opportunities, Challenges

Jollay Orchards will open Grandpa’s Cider Mill just in time for its fall harvest festival.

The festival begins Sept. 10, the weekend after Labor Day, and ends Oct. 30. In early August, the new cider mill was still under construction, but owner Jay Jollay was confident it would be finished in time for the festival.

“We’re closer than what it looks,” he said. “We’ve been building here since January.”

The orchard, located near Coloma, Mich., gets 40,000 to 45,000 visitors every fall during the harvest festival. Jollay hopes those customers will stop at the cider mill, which is about a mile down the road from the orchard.

Jollay, 32, is the seventh generation of his family to run the farm, which was started in 1847. He manages the business with help from his father and his wife. His two young sons, Jonathan and Jackson, could be the eighth generation to run the farm.

That’s why the family made the large investment to build the cider mill. Preserving the family business is a long-term project, Jollay said.

“It’s part of our business plan,” he said. “We hang on to what we build. We don’t build to sell.”

The new mill is located on his father-in-law’s farm. An existing building was remodeled to house the operation. The principal feature of the mill is a viewing area, separated from the cider press by a glass wall. Customers will be able to observe the entire cider-making process, then buy the cider they watched being made, Jollay said.

“We wanted something nobody’s ever seen before in a cider mill,” he said. “It’s going to be quite a facility.”

The new mill has a large front porch, with room for plenty of activities. School tours will go through the cider-making process, with the kids getting a cider diploma at the end. With about 4,000 school kids visiting the orchard every year, the mill should stay fairly busy, Jollay said.

The challenge will be promoting the orchard and the mill while keeping both separate and distinct. Jollay doesn’t want one branch of the business to dominate the other.

“We have to learn how to balance out each business, and get people to go to both,” he said.

The family has diversified the orchard successfully, so keeping the new mill vital and unique shouldn’t be too difficult.

Almost all the orchard’s fruit is u-pick, except for the tart cherries, the only crop that is still sold wholesale. The sweet cherries, peaches, apples, pumpkins, red and black raspberries, apricots and pears are sold directly to customers, Jollay said.

The Jollays will use as many of their own apples as they can to make cider, but will probably supplement the mill by buying apples as well, he said.

The orchard has a little store and bakery that sells fruit and fruit products like jams, jellies and pies. There’s also plenty of entertainment.

“It’s not just about coming to the farm to get fruit,” Jollay said. “We gear things toward family trips. Everybody brings their camera here.”

Among other activities, the orchard offers hayrides, a sorghum maze, a fishing pond, a volleyball court and a haunted house in an old, one-room schoolhouse on the property.

The company’s Web site, www.jollayorchards.com, is a huge marketing tool. Jollay usually updates the site a couple of times per year, but he’ll soon be able to write weekly updates, he said.

“The orchard reflects our personality,” he said. “I think our customers see that.”

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75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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