March 21, 2016
HEBRON — A few miles off Route 85 into the woods rests a subtle sugarhouse with a large footprint in the town’s Maple Festival.
Wenzel’s Sugarhouse, owned and operated by Ron and Joyce Wenzel, has been associated with the Maple Festival since it began 26 years ago.
The crowds came back over the weekend for the 2016 edition, with the Wenzels expecting more than 3,000 visitors during the two-day festival celebrating spring, maple goods, and the town of Hebron.
The 43-year residents of Hebron have run their sugarhouse for 28 years on 522 East St.
Wenzel’s is a member of the Maple Syrup Association of Connecticut, in connection with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.
During March — unofficially labeled as maple month — the state has 30 sugarhouses open to the public, according to the Maple Syrup Producers Association of Connecticut.
Wenzel’s was one of eight sugarhouses featured at the 2016 Hebron Maple Festival. Others include Woodyacres, Bright Acres Farm Sugar House, Fabyan Sugar Shack, Hydeville Sugar House, Norman’s Sugarhouse, River’s Edge Sugar House, and Oweneco Farms Sugar Shack.
The Wenzels welcomed early crowds Saturday morning with demonstrations, a cow petting zoo, and stands to purchase homemade sweets. Visitors ranged from small groups of casual observers to maple enthusiasts.
Maple production is the country’s oldest agricultural enterprise, with Connecticut ranked 10th in maple production, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Ron Wenzel, who started crafting out of curiosity, offered the expertise he acquired using trial and error to achieve his pure maple syrup.
Coming off their best year in 2015, when they produced 110-120 gallons of syrup, the Wenzels put out 431 buckets this season, producing 65 gallons of syrup.
Typically, one bucket will collect 10-12 gallons of sap, which comes to one quart of syrup, Ron said.
Ron was unfazed by this year’s output, down from last season’s record numbers, working with what the trees and weather supplied.
“Next year we’ll be better, just like the Red Sox,” he said. “It wasn’t the worst year and it wasn’t the best year — about average.”
Making maple syrup is time consuming, requiring patience and a surplus of wood. While cooking a fresh batch, Ron said he refuels the fire every five minutes to keep the cooker’s internal temperature at 211 degrees Fahrenheit.
Retired from Eversource Energy, formerly Connecticut Light & Power and Northeast Utilities, Ron has more time to tinker with a number of different maple grades, including golden, amber, dark, and very dark.
Maple syrup production in the United States spans from Wisconsin to the eastern shores, Joyce said, and in Canada from Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.
“He loves to explain to people how the syrup is made,” Joyce said. “There are a lot of people who don’t realize it’s made in Connecticut.”
Asked about how long the couple plans to keep the fun going on East Street, Joyce said, laughing, “As long as Ron can walk, talk, and chew gum.”