Making Craft Beverages Your Passion

Making Craft Beverages Your Passion

One thing that I love more than my cats, is a good craft beverage. This is especially great when you live in upstate New York where we’re surrounded by amazing breweries and wineries. Maybe you’ve noticed that in the last 10 years, Rochester has had 5 new Cideries open up…one being Blue Barn.

It’s no surprise that Rochester loves a good drink (the stiffer, the better, #IMO), which is the same thought Jill Wolf had a few years ago when she decided to take over the family farm after her father passed away from ALS. This was a huge task since Jill was going to school to become a Physical Therapist. After school, Jill would help her husband on the farm but started to see a bigger picture. With a saturated farming market, she knew she had to make some changes. One day she told her husband she was thinking of working on the farm full time. Jeremy’s famous last words?

                “If you want to be full time, you have to make room for yourself.”

So what did Jill do? Decided she wanted to open up a 15,000 square foot warehouse where they would sell their apples to themselves, and create great tasting hard cider for Rochesterians. After all, they’ve been home brewing (lovingly called basement cider) for a while. Might as well turn a hobby into a full time gig, right?

A lot of people have dreams of doing exactly what Jill did, but might not realize the work that went into creating Blue Barn. Jill and her husband had to take a massive loan out (Like, “I can’t sleep at night” sized loan.) to be able to break ground, saved up every dime they had, and made a lot of sacrifices. They also went to visit hundreds of wineries, breweries and cideries all up and down the North East. The research she did was incredible – every “How To Start Your Own Business” book was read, state building codes were scrutinized, agriculture markets were researched…Jill became close friends with the owners of Leonard Oaks Winery and have them on speed dial to pick their brain. She also sat with the owner of 1911 Hard Cider for 3 hours with a notebook full of questions. Jill was trying to set her business up for success by researching and becoming incredibly knowledgeable in the art of business.

Her original business plan looked like this:

Year 1: Start business, book 10 weddings

Actual Year One: Start business, accidentally become one of the most sought after wedding venues in Rochester, booked 32 weddings.

32 WEDDINGS. She opened up Blue Barn in October of 2017. Yea, that’s right - in one year she booked 32 weddings with the goal of only booking 10. Apparently owning your own business means you become not only the owner, but the wedding planner, the cook (The day I met Jill, her cook was sick with the flu so Jeremy had to step in.), the janitor, and the brewmaster. It’s exhausting having to wear all those hats.

Year 3-5: Continue to grow, and build Ponoma Wedding Venue

…..Okay, well it’s been a year and a month into Blue Barn, and they’ve already built Ponoma. Their first wedding will be held in June 2019. Basically Jill crumpled up her original business plan because she superseded the entire thing.  I asked what her new business plan was, and it’s pretty simple...keep growing the empire she’s built (#jillsempire).

One thing is certain, Jill and her family love Rochester. It was never a question as to where they would settle down – it was always ROC. They love the winters (shocking, I know) and the community they live in. The fact that they are generating business in the small community of Hilton speaks volumes. Keeping revenue in their community is key!

So many people, myself included, dream of working for themselves one day. After meeting Jill, the spark was lit – you can see and hear the passion she has in her voice when she speaks about her plot of earth that she cultivated into a thriving business. Jill’s advice was simple; research until your eyeballs fall out, have your friends and family keep you accountable, have a good mentor to help, and most importantly, when you jump into the unpredictable life of owning your own business – do it with both feet, no hesitations, and all the faith in the world.

Don’t forget to visit Blue Barn, located at 928 Manitou Road.

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