In their field: Hilltop Orchards branches out


RICHMOND -- When orchard manager David Martell arrives at Hilltop Orchards early in the morning, he's often hit with a wave of nostalgia.

"Sometimes I will smell the same exact smell from when I was a kid," he said. "That will take me 30 years back, to when I was 5 years old, coming [here] with my father."

While he is not the owner of the 220-acre Richmond farm (that's John Vittore and his family, who also own the Garden Gables Inn in Lenox), Martell is the third generation in his family to work there.

"My grandfather worked on this orchard probably 50 years ago," Martell said. "I've known this farm for a long time."

The orchard has been around a long time, too -- more than 100 years. Since the Vittore family has owned it, it's also become a winery, operating under the name Furnace Brook Winery, importing grapes and distilling on the orchard, and also producing hard cider, mead and ice wine with apples.

You can taste six wines for five dollars there, seven days a week, all year long -- and the orchard also maintains a network of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

"If there's snow on the ground on Christmas, we're here," Martell said.

With the Vittore family, Martell is working to expand Hilltop's business and keep things interesting and diverse.

He's been manager for a year and a half. He's also traveled all over the East Coast as part of his work for a bilding and contracting company that contracted with the federal government, and he once owned a landscaping business, which has since been sold. He has since settled in West Stockbridge, his last stop.

"I was thinking I was going to help in the orchard, help make cider and sweep the floors and stuff," he said, but "I realized how well I fit here."

On a busy weekend, 1,000 people show up to pick apples, taste wine, chomp on cider doughnuts and relax on the row of Adirondack chairs pointed toward a scenic mountain range.

Dogs are allowed if they're on a leash, and when I went with my husband, the woman we bought our apple bag from told us tasting was encouraged.

Martell is working with the orchard's owners to diversify its offerings. Hilltop is available for weddings, events and formal dinners, with catering. He is working with Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, selling preservative-free cider.

"Something we really want to grow is our ice wine," he said.

It is made in a trailer which has been converted into a freezer.

"We're trying to focus on what we're really good at and doing more of that," he said.

Behind the scenes, he sells produce wholesale. Martell works with about 10 smaller farms, from Pennsylvania to Vermont, securing early-season fruit for Hilltop and sending produce to Boston and New York. He said he hopes to expand this end of the business.

It's not lucrative, but that's not the point.

"What I'm building is something local and fresh," he said. He's aiming to cut down on trucking -- lots of orders on one trip -- and hopes to help farmers stay focused on producing.

"We have the tools to sell [the produce]," he said.

However, "first and foremost, before anything, we are a farm," Martell emphasized. "We love what we're doing ... nobody's going to get rich farming, and to be honest with you, it's not about the money. If I could trade somebody apples for my light bill, I would be all right with that."

If you go ...

What: Hilltop Orchards

Cider, apple-picking, wine tastings

Where: 508 Route 295, Richmond

When: Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,

Free hayrides Saturday and Sunday thhis weekend

Information: (413) 698-3301,


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