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6,000 Bins of Apples Pressed in 2017 – Big B's Sits Pretty in Paonia

The company was born from an interest in small-scale agriculture


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BIG B  |  Product: Beer, Wine + Spirits  |  Made in: Hotchkiss/Paonia 

Founder Jeff Schwartz moved to Paonia in 1999 with an interest in small-scale agriculture. "We were looking to farm in a somewhat progressive community," he says. "We were looking for a small community to raise a family. The North Fork Valley had all of those ingredients."

Schwartz soon met Bernie Heideman, the namesake founder of Big B's, who started pressing cider in Hotchkiss in 1973. Schwartz ran his juice plant before buying the company in 2001.

It's grown tenfold in Schwartz's tenure. "We were pressing 500 1,000-pound bins of apples," he says. "In 2017, we pressed 6,000 bins."

The heart of the catalog is "a lot of the tried-and-true recipes," Schwartz says, noting that Big B's expanded into lemonade under his watch. "It's done really well," he says. "The lemonade has helped us round out that spring and summer season."

Schwartz also moved into hard cider in 2008. After starting with a Spanish-style cider in a bottle, Big B's pivoted to four more accessible canned and carbonated ciders under the direction of Shawn Larson, as well as small-batch bottled ciders with a more experimental bent. "We even have a lemon cider," Schwartz says. Hard ciders now account for about a quarter of the company's sales.

With about 30 employees in peak seasons, the company doesn't just make juice; it grows fruit on about 60 acres of land and owns and operates a store, Delicious Orchards, in Paonia.

"We've spent a lot of the last 10 to 15 years creating ideas," Schwartz says. "Right now, it's about allowing our creative juices to energize our execution. . . . I'm not saying, 'Stop being innovative’ or 'Stop being creative,' but we have to shift gears as an organization."

But Schwartz remains optimistic that he can turn the corner. "I think we're sitting in a really good spot," he says.

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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