From Baco Noir to Babotie
Jane and Roger Eatherton know a thing or two about running a deli and bakery, but for the last ten years have been working on adding grape growing to their areas of expertise. The couple started Tabora Farm and Orchard in 1989 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They operated this successful business for twenty years—it was so successful that it essentially grew out of their hands. First an orchard, then a bakery, deli, cider mill, and ice cream shop; it was a complex business, to say the least. In their quest to make a change, Roger found vineyards for sale in the Lakemont area of the Finger Lakes. It wasn’t until a house nearby came up for sale that Jane was fully sold on the idea. Fate would seal the deal when a young family from upstate New York bought the Pennsylvania orchard business, which, serendipitously, suited them perfectly. Although Jane and Roger had substantial experience growing apples, small fruits, and vegetables, they didn’t know much about grapes, so they hired the previous vineyard owner as farm manager and learned on the job.
When they first bought the property, they realized the potential of converting an early 1900s barn into a miniature version of their Bucks County business. The volatility of the grape market—fluctuating prices and unpredictable weather—steered them toward the decision to revisit their winning venture into food service. Starting in 2017, they began renovating the barn into the Cape Dutch style of architecture reminiscent of Jane’s childhood home in Cape Town, South Africa. In fact, “Tabora” was the name of the house in which she grew up. The distinctive building now houses Tabora Farm and Winery, opening its doors last year on November 25.
As you walk in, your eye is drawn to dozens of shelves displaying a wide variety of tasty treats, both sweet and savory. To the left is a large glass window where customers get a behind-the-scenes peek of the bakery, Roger’s natural habitat. To the right is Jane’s well-stocked deli, showcasing fresh quiches, cheeses, and meats. In the middle are glass display cases populated with a profusion of pastries, donuts, cakes, pies, cookies, and breads. The seating area is modern and comfy, with additional space on three covered porches to enjoy al fresco dining—weather permitting. Adding the finishing touch is the company logo—the silhouette of a guinea fowl, a bird endemic to South Africa and close to Jane’s heart. The recognizable curved roofline of the barn borders the top of the design.
In the bakery, Roger, with help from assistant Ed Mendoker, creates breads and confections using an engineer’s precision and love of machines. His first career, before donning his baker’s apron, was in paper and pulp production. His immaculate bakery houses industrial-sized equipment, and he manages his kitchen with that engineer’s aplomb, admittedly “having made all his mistakes the first time around.” Roger regularly walks through the café with a jovial demeanor, sharing his passion for baking and telling stories of how his kids think he’s crazy for not retiring.
On the deli side, sandwiches are made to order and feature that freshly baked bread and options for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. There’s always a hot kettle of meat chili and a soup available, also served with fresh bread. Not into gluten? There are loads of salads that can make a sizable and satisfying lunch. Local businesses have learned to take advantage of the sandwich trays and family-size pasta offerings. It’s even possible to taste a bit of South African fare by trying the meat and egg casserole, babotie. Jane happily reports that “people try it and enjoy it.” Or, bring home an entire quiche and savor it over a few meals. Another South African treat is the biscotti-like rusk, ready for dunking in your coffee or tea.
Jane and Roger have had ten years of running the 250-acre wine and juice grape farm under their belt, so why not add wine making to the mix? Since then, the tasting room is starting to take shape with the unmistakable gambrel roof and curved eaves. The anticipated opening is the fall of 2019. But sometime before that, winemaker Kelly Miller will release three new reds to their already impressive lineup of wines—pinot noir, cabernet franc, and syrah. Currently, customers can buy Tabora wine by the glass or the bottle in the café— the 2017 vintage is now available. And although there is no formal tasting bar yet, customers enjoying wine in the cafe can get samples. Kelly says that despite the very wet season, the harvested grapes were beautiful. The newly constructed wine cellar below the café holds the precious French oak barrels where this year’s wines age.
Jane’s impression Tabora Farm and Winery’s first year of business is positive. They’d been a lot busier than they had anticipated, “making sandwiches until we collapsed, basically,” and she admits to being pleasantly surprised. The locals have expressed their appreciation, and, as Jane has observed, “it’s become a local meeting place,” reminiscent of the old general store or post office, but with gourmet options.
Tabora, at 4978 Lakemont-Himrod Rd, Dundee, is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Find them also on Facebook or taborafarmandwinery.com.