Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Cortni Stahl: Craft beverage puzzle solver

“LOCATE Finger Lakes is pleased to re-print the following article which originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times as a part of their monthly series on CornellAgriTech.”
Mike Nozzolio, Chairman LOCATE Finger Lakes

It has often been said that variety is the spice of life. That may be a well-worn cliché, but it’s one Cortni Stahl embodies.

“I love that every day, and every product is different,” said the program/extension aide at the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute on the campus of Cornell AgriTech during a recent interview. “There is a different puzzle to solve every day.”

Cortni Stahl

Stahl, who grew up in Geneva as Cortni McGregor and is a 2012 Geneva High School graduate, has a degree in biology from Cornell University. Cortni Stahl said her work at the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute was instrumental to starting Star Cider, which she owns with her husband Adam.

“I have always loved science,” she said.

She began working at the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute and related Cornell Craft Beverage Analytical Lab in 2015. The latter analyzes thousands of samples of wine, beer, cider, juice, and distilled alcohol. She is part of a team that Cornell calls “New York’s one-stop reference desk for fermented beverages.”

Stahl is quick to credit her colleagues, including Pam Raes, Molly Cappiello, Hannah Guchone, Chris Gerling, Luann Preston-Wilsey, and Anna Katherine Mansfield. “I absolutely love our team,” she said. “I love working with creative, brilliant people.”

Stahl has dual roles at AgriTech. One is overseeing extension courses for the craft beverage institute that include introductory and advanced courses on making cider, wine and distilled spirits, as well as viticulture and grape growing.

“These are for people already in the industry or people entering the industry. Maybe they are changing careers and interested in getting started,” she said. “We have courses for a wide variety of skill levels.”

One of the courses Stahl oversees is a foundation cider class. It’s one she is intimately familiar with, having taken it herself when she and her husband Adam, a Marcus Whitman graduate, were thinking of turning their hobby of home cidermaking into a business. Long story short: Today they are the proud owners of the popular Star Cider in Canandaigua.

“I ended up taking the foundation course. That was really a jumping-off point for understanding a lot more about making cider,” she said. “We started very small and only sold wholesale to different locations, then we started selling retail and now have our tasting room on Lincoln Hill.”

The other half of Stahl’s work is analyzing samples from numerous wineries, cideries, distillers, and craft breweries. They include local, well-known businesses like Three Brothers Wineries & Estates, Billsboro Winery, and Fox Run Vineyards.

“We have a small lab set up at our winery, but we don’t have the capabilities Cornell has,” Kim Marconi, winemaker at Three Brothers, said. “They will verify bottle sterility, alcohol and sugar levels. If anything is weird, they will let us know. Not that anything should be weird, but if something is strange they can let us know. Having a strong relationship with Cornell is super beneficial to us.”

Stahl and her colleagues also partner with the Cornell Food Venture Center at AgriTech to analyze what she calls “fun/funky food products” that include alcohol. “We look at everything from bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup to wine-infused jelly — even pickles with vodka in them,” she said with a laugh. “We get questions on everything, from ‘Why does this smell like rotten eggs?’ to ‘Why does this taste like dirt?’ We also help a lot with product stability, making the sure the product is not going to change in the bottle or can.”

“We try to help them think about what the cause of the problem is and how to remedy it,” Stahl added. “We can offer advice if we see a flaw and they want to correct it. It’s up to them to decide.”

At AgriTech, Stahl draws on her experience from owning a commercial cidery to answer hundreds of questions she gets from others in the craft beverage industry. “Starting or running an alcohol-related business and making craft beverages has many different hurdles,” she said. “I love trying to help in any way I can, from measuring alcohol for regulatory purposes, troubleshooting products, or helping with start-up business questions.”

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