They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Maria Kretschmann is slowly realizing this to be true as she taps into her roots to create her own brand of hard apple cider.
The self-described city girl grew up on the Kretschmann Family Organic Farm in Rochester, PA, about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh. As soon as she became an adult, she hightailed it to art school in New York City and then spent 15 years bartending in Philadelphia.
Now she’s back, splitting her time between Point Breeze and the 80-acre homestead where she founded After the Fall Cider.
“I had been looking for something of my own I could do on the farm, and I had this a-ha moment with cider,” she says. “I’m making it, so it feels like art.”
Mother Nature is her muse and her boss.
She tends to a four-acre orchard that her parents, Don and Becky, planted in the 1980s. There, she grows a variety of apples, such as Goldrush, Dabinett, Liberty and other kinds you don’t see in a grocery store due to their bitterness, which makes them better for sipping than snacking.
Since apple trees take five to 10 years to produce, she grafts new varieties on top of the existing ones; basically Frankensteining a tree to get the apples she wants to create roughly 550 gallons (or 1,500 bottles) of cider per year.
She launched the business in 2018, hauling thousands of pounds of apples at a time to a cider press in Butler. The liquid ferments in stainless steel tanks until it’s ready to be put into 750-milliliter bottles.
Kretschmann, who is certified by the Cider Institute of North America, is anticipating a good harvest season, which runs from September through November.
The flavors of the apples change from year to year, so each vintage differs from the last, much like grapes affect wine.
The annual Orchard Blend is a mid-season combination of Harry Masters Jersey, Chisel Jersey and Liberty apples and clocks in at 9 % ABV.
Kretschmann is also experimenting with different ingredients, including rhubarb, to create smaller batches of cider.
In June, she opened a small tasting room and event space in the farm’s barn (creating this cider oasis was her dad’s retirement project). It’s open by appointment only on Thursdays from 4 to 7:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visitors get three 4-ounce pours and a lesson in the cider-making process, as well as background about the history of the 50-year-old farm, one of western Pennsylvania’s first organic growers.
This fall, Kretschmann will offer outdoor seating and invite guests to picnic in the orchard. She’s also expanding her brand to include probiotic sodas and apple cider vinegar, which is already being used by Farmer x Baker, a gourmet kitchen located in a converted shipping container in Aspinwall Riverfront Park.
After the Fall ciders are sold at the East Liberty and Squirrel Hill farmers’ markets, as well as at two natural wine shops in Philly. Tina’s in Bloomfield will start pouring them soon. Can’t wait? Order them online. Five percent of all bottle sales goes to Casa San Jose, a community resource center for Latinx in the Pittsburgh area.
Kretschmann still loves the hustle and bustle of the city, but, at her core, she’s just a farm kid.
“I certainly have a set of values that my parents instilled in me to value nature and think about our impact on it,” she says. “I’m the unlikely suspect to be back on the farm. I live a double life.”