Finger Lakes Maple Syrup: How We Eat Patience for Breakfast

Sheldrake Point Winery founders and co-owners, Chuck Tauck and Fran Littin, with son-in-law Andy, boiling sap at the sugarhouse to make Finger Lakes Maple Syrup.

It is 10pm and we are gathered in a small sugar house, where we’ll be until dawn. Fran and I have been here since 2pm when we delivered a tank of freshly collected maple tree sap, and Andy Clark (our son-in-law) started the wood fire in his evaporator. The sap has been boiling since then, and at 10pm we are finally pouring off the first of what will amount to only eight gallons of maple syrup.

That’s the math folks: 40 gallons of maple sap boils down to just one gallon of syrup. And boiling 320 gallons of sap will take all night and into the next day.

Sipping Riesling by the Fire

In addition to the rolling boil in the evaporator and a large pile of firewood, there is a lantern and a card table, some snacks, a bottle of Sheldrake Point Riesling for Fran and me, and a bottle of Dewar’s for Andy. As the night wears on, the hands are dealt and the bets are placed… but the real focus is on the “boil” – with constant attention on the input channels requiring fresh sap every 15 minutes or so, and on the output channels getting thicker and thicker.

Whatever happens, we have to be ready to draw off the syrup at the perfect temperature and sweetness. But it takes a lot of time, patience, and firewood (not to mention wine!) to boil away 39 gallons to leave just one.

Tapping Finger Lakes Maple Syrup

The Sheldrake Point sugar maple forest.

It all began last fall when Fran and I were up in the far vineyard, watching the excavators grading the new Cabernet Franc block that will be planted this spring. A colorful walk in the forest made us aware of how many mature sugar maples we have, so we marked them with tape for the coming spring. Two weeks ago, we returned to that forest with a drill, taps, and 65 buckets- all bought on eBay from a guy in northern Vermont.

Forty gallons of maple sap boils down to just one gallon of syrup.

Technology is a wonderful tool for learning – a YouTube video taught us to select only the trees larger than 12” in diameter and to drill holes 1.5” into the southern side of the trees. As the days get warm, the sap is pulled from the roots up into the trees. We were promptly blessed with several days of full buckets.

Sap Harvest

Getting all those buckets emptied into a large tank and then moving that tank to the sugar house fifteen miles away was a bit of an effort, but that is a task we are familiar with in the world of grape harvesting. We are also familiar with being patient – wine takes patience, and so does maple syrup! Both crops come but once a year, both crops are influenced by the whims of Mother Nature, and both crops yield a wonderful product.

Eating Patience for Breakfast

Fran tapping trees. We were blessed with several days of full buckets.

So now it is morning; the big tank is empty and the fires are cooling. Eight gallons of maple syrup have been boiled down from 320 gallons of maple sap. We are tired, but very happy, as we enjoy our coffee with pancakes and delicious maple syrup still warm from the sugar house.

Chuck was attracted to the Finger Lakes wine industry during his graduate work at the Cornell Hotel School and was instrumental in the transformation of the old abandoned dairy farm to today’s winery and vineyard. As principle owners, he and his wife Fran assume the risk of the venture and personally see to its priorities and requirements.  Chuck’s focus is on the management and company systems and processes.  When not in the office, he and Fran may also be working with the staff, doing repairs, tending the gardens, or chatting with visitors.