Chronical News 03282012
by Tena Starr and Bethany M. Dunbar, courtesy of the Chronicle (www.bartonchronicle.com), March 28, 2012
Monday morning in Craftsbury, Cliff LaPoint and his son Eric at Beaver Meadows Farm were psyched to see the new snow. The LaPoints said they had never seen sap run in 85-degree weather and had never seen it run when the nights were not freezing.
"You think you've seen it all," said Cliff Lapoint, who has been sugaring about 45 years.
"My first job was driving my snowmachine to a sugarhouse when I was nine years old."
Their crop so far this year is mostly darker in color than the last two years, but the flavor is superior. And some days the syrup has been light in color as well.
"We brought it up to fancy here the other day," he said.
The LaPoints have 6,000 taps and hope to expand eventually to about 8,000. Their operation is mostly pipeline with vacuum, and they said this was a year when the vacuum made a huge difference. Another thing that has helped tremendously, he said, are clear, low-bacteria spouts. These disposable spouts can only be used for one season, but Mr. LaPoint said in past years they have extended the season by two weeks.
So far this year they have made 1,300 gallons of syrup. The crop last year was 2,300. But it was harder to get last year with four feet of snow.
"We wore out our snowshoes," Mr. LaPoint said.
The LaPoints got some help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy new equipment, including a reverse osmosis machine.
Asked if they believe it affects the flavor to process sap that way, they said it depends on how far you push the reverse osmosis process. Sap needs to be cooked to get the right flavor, and if the water is simply pulled out of it there is no cooking going on.
For instance, if sap comes into the tanks at 2 percent sweetness, and a reverse osmosis machine is used to bring it up to 20 percent, it doesn't develop the rich maple flavor of cooked syrup.
"It goes through the rig so fast," Eric LaPoint said. If the reverse osmosis process is done correctly, to get the sap up to between 7 and 12 percent sweetness, the sugarmaker can make syrup much more quickly and with less energy or fuel costs but still get a high quality product.
Before they got the reverse osmosis machine, they burned wood — a lot of it.
"We burned over 60 cords one year," Cliff LaPoint said. Now they burn oil, but the process is so much more efficient their energy costs have been reduced to an estimated $1.50 per gallon of syrup produced.
"We had sweet sap this year so we expected a short and sweet year," he said.
The LaPoints' sugarhouse is a mile hike into the woods from their house, which is at the end of a long dirt road. They don't always get visitors during the open house weekend — but surprisingly, they regularly get visitors to the sugarhouse and always appreciate them.
If it's a weekend, and the sun is out, Mr. LaPoint said, they will often have someone show up — once they had 13 people in one day.
Although the season might continue for the northernmost sugarmakers in Vermont, it's clearly done further south in the state. Mr. LaPoint said he feels sorry for the producers in the southern parts of the state. He heard that some people only boiled sap twice.
One thing they are finding is that it's important to be ready earlier. The LaPoints started tapping in early February.
"We're going to take whatever nature throws at us," said Eric LaPoint.