Bloomery Plantation celebrating first lemon harvest
CHARLES TOWN – A local distillery has successfully harvested lemons in what they say is the first such commercial harvest in the mid-Atlantic.
Bloomery Plantation Distillery’s success follows an impressive year in which the business racked up medals at several national and international spirit-tasting competitions for its variations of a traditional lemon-flavored after-dinner drink called limoncello.
But there have been growing pains, too. “We were not farmers when we started,” explains owner and limoncello crafter Linda Losey. “Not at all.”
She said a state law requiring distilleries to find local sources for a significant portion of their ingredients forced their hand, leading them to construct a large greenhouse in which they planted Santa Theresa lemon trees grown from northern Italian rootstock as well as a dozen rows of trellises for raspberry plants that now line the steep hill behind the distillery.
And there have been more than a few heart-stoppers along the way in the form of the June derecho, a heat wave and a snowstorm. “The greenhouse temperature, at one point, went from 40 degrees to 100 in one day,” she said, “and [the trees] lost all their leaves.”
Crying, she quickly phoned the experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Fruit Tree Research Center in Kearneysville, where Losey is known as the Lemon Lady. “They explained what I needed to do.”
The trees bounced back with a vengeance. Losey had not expected the young trees to produce any lemons this year, but more than 20 had developed by the time the harvest began Friday. She expects the trees will be producing full crops of the bright yellow citrus fruit within five years.
Rob Losey, the business’s sales director – he also answers to the title “cello pimp” – said the raspberries went through a similar set-back when the derecho hit, with the wind knocking most of the berries right off the plants.
But as the Loseys’ plants battled this year’s extreme weather, the company’s line of fruit-flavored liqueurs were enjoying an explosion in demand from around the world.
“Things have taken off,” Linda Losey said. “It’s been crazy. When we opened on Sept. 17, 2011, we had no idea what to expect, and by Christmas we had lines waiting out the door. We have a really great following – people who like our stuff and promote the product.”
A Baltimore native, Losey fell in love with the sweet, lemon-flavored Italian digestivo called limoncello when she and her husband, Tom Kiefer, were in Italy to attend the canonization of his distant relative.
Though she disliked the bitter taste of the mass-produced varieties seen throughout the country, the home-made batches available at local restaurants were a revelation. When she returned home she sought to replicate the sweet, smooth taste of these hand-made limoncellos.
Now Rob Losey promotes the Cello brand globally, and the distillery’s hand-crafted beverages are sold on five of the world’s seven continents. “We just got a ‘Merry Christmas’ card from Moscow,” he said.
Eight liquor stores in the D.C. metro area sell Cello, and the Jefferson County product soon will be available in New York City as well.
The drinks also have been deemed cream of the crop at competitions including the Spirits International Prestige Awards, the MicroLiquor Spirit Awards and the American Distilling Conference. The Cremma Lemma, described as a “moonshine milkshake,” has been the biggest winner so far, beating out even the renowned French brand of raspberry liqueur, Chambord.
Linda Losey said that as the business vied for its first awards, she was too nervous to be in the room as the winners were called. “I am kind of emotional,” she said. “I had to leave. I couldn’t stay there.”
“I came back, and I was just talking. When they announced that we’d won, I wasn’t paying attention. Somebody said, ‘That’s you!’ and I started screaming and jumping up and down.”
When she checked her email later, she was shocked again. “I had two back-to-back emails and, in two days, we had won 10 world medals.”
“Who knew?” she laughed. “Who knew limoncello from West Virginia was going to do anything?”
Bloomery has recently added two flavors: a Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cello and a Peaches and Cream Cello. “It took me a long time to get that one down, but we’ve finally got it to where we’ve won gold medals with it,” Linda Losey said.
And, as with all the products, Bloomery is making an effort to work with local farmers to gather whatever ingredients they don’t grow themselves. “Those are all local peaches from a farmers market that we used,” she said. “We use all-local and all-fresh as much as we can.”
What’s next for Bloomery? “We’re working on a Ginger Cello,” Linda Losey said, adding that the new drink should be available in about six months, once it has received approval from government regulators. “We hope to keep introducing new fun, flavorful products.”