They wanted to find a new job so that they could spend more time together as a family. He had an idea to make it happen, but she wasn’t so sure about it.
His idea eventually came to fruition in 1997 and today Rich and Terry Krupczak are owners of Echo Hill Orchards & Distillery in Monson.
“We’ve lived in Monson since 1987 and owned Four Seasons package store in Hadley. It was a 45-minute commute and from the time one of us left in the morning and returned home in the evening the children would be asleep. We didn’t want to miss seeing them grow up and decided that we needed to do something where we would all be together,” said Rich Krupczak.
Then one day while driving by Echo Hill, Krupczak saw a large “For Sale” sign offering the farmland for commercial use. And he knew that was his answer - to purchase the property where the family could work together.
“We were familiar with the farm and had brought our young children several times to pick apples. I was amazed at how big it was, offering 21 different varieties of apples, and we got lost among the orchards,” Krupczak laughed.
In fact, it was while picking apples one day with their young daughters, Samantha and Ashley, now 30 and 27 respectively, that Rich began to think about purchasing the orchards. Later when he mentioned his idea to Terry, she wasn’t so sure about taking on the responsibility of running a farm, especially since she was pregnant at the time.
However, it wasn’t long before Terry could be persuaded by her husband, who felt it would be a great place for their kids to grow up. She also didn’t want to see the land developed.
“That was her biggest point. She had seen many plots in Hampden on her childhood road developed into homes and was afraid what would happen to Echo Hill,” Krupczak said
It was September 1997 when the Krupczaks met with the owners Fred and Margaret Baxter to look over the property and agree upon a price.
“It was pruning time and the Baxters didn’t want to invest any more money into the orchards by hiring a crew to do the job if they weren’t going to benefit from the harvest. So, even before taking ownership of the property, I found myself in the winter with my own crew pruning the apple, peach and pear trees,” Krupczak said.
“Although they gave us some sage advice from their own experience, there really wasn’t much time for them to give us everything there is to know on how to manage the orchards. So, over the years I had to learn much from reading books, and by trial and error. We are still learning to this day and working on improving what we do,” he added.
As they began to settle in, the Krupczaks soon found that tending to the orchards is a never-ending job. In January through March there is pruning to be done, as well as beginning the wine making process. March and April involve cleaning up after pruning, as well as continuing to make their wines and other by products of the harvest. In April, the trees need to be sprayed about every 10 days to prevent fungus. May and June see the chores of mowing the grass and getting the land ready for planting pumpkin and sunflower seeds in July.
“August is our slow month when we get our store and the rest of our property ready for the “make it or break it” season of September and October. It’s also the last chance for any of us to take a vacation before opening up for picking,” Krupczak said.
Today, Echo Hill Orchards Winery & Distillery is solely a family affair. Currently, the couple’s sons, Greg, 25, and Chris, 22, have taken on most of the responsibility of maintaining the farm land, as well as helping to produce the wines/moonshines/grogs and ports. Ashley, 26, has been responsible for managing their social media platform, bar and tasting area on top of working her full-time job for the USDA in Hadley. Mia, 20, is a full-time Springfield College student and also runs the bar, assisting with anything that needs to be done for the business. Their daughter, Samantha, 30, is married and has moved on to her own career at MassMutual.
It was while visiting Truro Vineyards in 2004 that Rich got the idea to expand their business to include a winery as a way to diversify and bring in additional revenue.
“Terry and I were in North Truro and we took a tour of the vineyards and saw the wine making process. I thought to myself, ‘We can do that,’ but when I shared my thoughts with Terry, she thought I wanted to replace all the trees in our orchard from which we had been making a living. I explained to her my idea was to make fruit wines from the apples and peaches and other fruits we were now growing,” he said.
After obtaining a Massachusetts winery license as well as a Distiller’s license and wine pour permit, the first batch of wines for sale rolled out in 2005. The winery produces sweet and dry wines. Among the varieties of sweet wines include Macoun Dessert Wine, Apricot Chardonnay, Sangria, and Blueberries & Apple. Dry wines include Cranberries & Apples, Crimson Gold Pinot Grigio, Ciderpress Zinfandel, Picking Bucket Pinot Noir, Indian Apple Merlot and others.
“Our most popular wines include our Goblin Grog/Pumpkin Chardonnay made with sweet cinnamon, pumpkin and apple white wine. It sold out last year, so we doubled the amount produced for this year. This batch is a little bit sweeter than the last. Our peach, raspberry, and strawberry apple wines are next in line in popularity,” Krupczak said.
The distillery offers moonshine, ports, grogs and more ranging from 40 to 90 proof including a Cranberry Blackberry Port, Monson Bourbon Whiskey, Monson Apple Vodka and many more including a Christmas Grog Growler of Merlot blended with honey, cider, brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks, oranges, raisins, and brandy that is best served warm, but some even enjoy it chilled, Krupczak noted.
Echo Hill also has a small country style gift shop where visitors can purchase their hand-poured candles, as well as a selection of accessories and apparel.
Visitors planning on visiting Echo Hill Orchards to pick this October will find Macintosh, Cortland, Macoun, Crimson Crisp, Crimson Gold, Golden Delicious, Hampshire Mac’s, Liberty, Royal Crimson and some other varieties grown on the back mountain ripe for picking. Sunflowers will be in bloom for PYO. Bring your own clippers if you are interested in picking them. Pumpkins and pears will also be ripe into October, as well as other later varieties of apples on the farm.
Customers are welcome to bring their own wagons to the orchard where they can pick ½ peck bags for $10, half bushel bags for $25, and bushel bags for $40 each. Sunflowers can be picked for $1 per stem. Payment is by cash only for PYO. No pets are allowed on the premises.
Echo Hill Orchards Winery & Distillery is located on 101 Wilbraham Road in Monson. They are open for picking through October from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays. Saturdays, Sundays and Columbus Day they are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Everyone needs to be out of the orchard by 6 p.m. each day.
The tasting area - with its 47 seats indoors as well as seating outdoors in good weather, is open Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 6 p.m., Fridays from noon to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays and Columbus Day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Flights of five samples, your choice of wines and lower proof moonshines are $10 per flight. They also offer an enticing and creative list of fall signature drinks such as Moonshine Margaritas, Caramel Apple Sangria, Raspberry Mule, Spicy Lemonade and others, including Farmer Richie, fit for a farmer like Rich after a long day made of Monson Apple Vodka, soda water, and lime. Food trucks roll in on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and there is a selection of meats, cheeses and other snacks available for purchase in their store.
More info can be found on www.echohillorchards.com, as well as on their Echo Hill Orchards & Winery Facebook page