On a back road west of Dolores lies an oasis of cool, fresh air and apples.
Martha and Dusty Teal fell in love with the T Lazy T Orchard in 2009.
The couple then lived in Durango, and after hearing about the property from friends, decided to explore it on their bikes.
Soon after a visit, Martha Teal knew the two were “in trouble.” She said they had no business buying an orchard at the time but didn’t want to give up on it.
After purchasing the 80-year-old farm, the Teals began working on the trees.
“We bought this place in 2010 in the spring, so we immediately started pruning because it was a neglected orchard like many around here and had a lot of dead growth,” Martha Teal said.
The Teals began working with Jude Schuenemeyer, co-founder of the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, and his wife, Addie.
“They asked us about it and what we thought they should do – if it was even savable,” Jude Schuenemeyer said. “For so long the theory was, old orchards, cut them out, get rid of them and they are not good for anything. And we felt exactly the opposite.”
Schuenemeyer said the orchard would take about five years to produce again. As the Teals learned more, they realized how the orchard had survived years of abandonment.
“He (Jude Schuenemeyer) looks at what was being planted at that time and what was popular, and he said that this apple orchard survived without humans coddling it because of the way it was planted,” Martha Teal said. “It was planted here on purpose – it is right on the edge, and there is a beautiful deep canyon back here called Narraguinnep Canyon.”
From the way the orchard is positioned toward the reservoir, it was able to survive on its own after being abandoned by unknown parties.
As their orchard became more healthy, the Teals decided to plant more. They now have two “baby orchards” in addition to the historic one.
The Teals followed MORP’s instructions, and little by little, their orchard became profitable enough to consider making cider.
After completing a harvest, the Teals press all of the apples separately so they can create different cider blends.
“We press it (in our presser) out on the sidewalk here,” Martha Teal said. “We have a big horse trough where we wash all the apples, and then we carry it in buckets in here (the commercial kitchen) and then filter it through a screen, and then we carry it out this way to our cider house.”
The cider house is a specially built room to keep cider at a temperature of about 50 degrees while it ferments.
“It takes a long time to ferment – it is like wine, not like beer,” Martha Teal said. “I like to ferment it a few months; it just makes a more complex cider.”
The Teals have a tasting room and commercial-grade kitchen on their property where they make and sell baked goods, a skill they picked up after opening a bakery in Durango.
For now, their baked goods are available at Kokopelli Bike and Board shop a few times a week.
After a crop of nearly 10 tons last year, the orchard, like most in Montezuma County, lost the majority of its crop this year because of a late frost.
“It just froze off. It happens,” Schuenemeyer said. “We are the highest orchard district on Earth. You are always going to get frost here.”
However, the Teals have plenty of apples. Martha Teal said they will have about 4,000 bottles of cider after the fermentation process is complete.
“We don’t want to become big,” she said. “We are pretty much calling ourselves a boutique cider place, and it is because my husband and I can handle it.”
The public’s desire for locally grown and produced products is a driving factor behind business, Schuenemeyer said.
“With the cider market coming on the way it is, people’s desire for local and heirloom, they’ll forgive some blemishes,” he said. “There is a better market for this fruit than there has ever been.”
Dusty Teal, who calls himself the “tree guy,” expressed how lucky they felt to own the property and to have the neighbors they have.
“We are lucky to be in this neighborhood,” he said. “We just love the people. All around, they have been so friendly and helpful.”
Teal Cider debuted at WildEdge Brewing Collective in Cortez to much acclaim.
“We have talked to Star Liquors in Durango about selling, he wants to have a tasting and make sure it is worthy,” Martha Teal said. “West Slope Liquors here and possibly up in Telluride, those would be our three places to market.”