With tales to tell, local sugar house marks 50 years making syrup

Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014
WILLIAMSBURG — It’s hard to believe that Paul Zononi has been in the maple sugaring business for 50 years, given that he looks not much older than that. Of course, it makes sense when you know he was 8 when he first began tapping trees.

“I started 50 years ago right here on this land. That 45-year-old maple was a sapling that I took from a maple tree I planted when I was a kid,” he said pointing to a large maple tree growing near his sugarhouse.

Today, Zononi runs Paul’s Sugar House, 28 Goshen Road, (Route 9) in Williamsburg, and boy, he has tales to tell.

“I started with two coffee cans on a tree and my mother used to save the old Tropicana orange juice jars for me to use for syrup,” Zononi said. “I bought my first real buckets for 10 cents a piece, and I still have those here.”

Zononi said he helped grow his fledgling business by getting a hands-on education from seasoned maple sugar producers.

“I learned a lot by hanging around and listening to the old sugaring guys like Danny Krug, the Howes brothers and Bob Goss,” Zononi said. “But the first few years were really trial and error.”

In 1971, Zononi built the first incarnation of Paul’s Sugar House, located in the same spot. He admits it was rudimentary.

“I built the original house as a temporary structure with shakes, slabs and palates,” he said. “I used bent nails, used material, a door that came from the Brassworks building, lumber from my grandma’s house, windows from my father. Nothing was level or square.”

Since 1971, Zononi has renovated and added on to the structure seven times, but always holds on to jars of syrup produced in years past.

These days, Zononi uses electric drills instead of hand drills, plastic piping has replaced the individual metal buckets, and he has a state-of-the-art, efficient, stainless steel evaporator for boiling syrup. He taps 4,400 trees in a season.

“When I started in this business, the pipelines had just started coming out, they were in their infancy,” he said. “Now they have disposable spouts and vacuum systems. Every year they change a little and I just change with them.”

Zononi is a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.

Not for the faint hearted

“This business is tough, it is a lot of hard work in the cold, and in deep snow,” Zononi said. “But if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

His two sons, Rory and Paul Junior, helped out when they were children, though neither one has expressed interest in pursuing the trade, he said.

Nowadays, Zononi and his wife Serena walk their 100-acre property regularly to make sure taps and pipelines are functioning.

“The first couple of days of sugaring you get really sore, but it gets you in shape,” he said.

Zononi said weather conditions and wildlife can take a destructive toll on the pipelines. Paul Sena, of Snowshoe Farm in Worthington, said his maple syrup operation has also had to deal with the occasional damage from wildlife.

“There can be a lot of varmint damage. We have had damage from coyote, bear, fox, deer, squirrels and porcupines,” Sena said one day while stopping in to visit with Zononi.

According to Zononi, business has been up and down.

“I think we are just getting a slow start, and we will make up for it on the other end,” Zononi said in early March.

His goal for this season is to make 1,500 gallons before the sugaring season is over.

Paul’s Sugar House is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when the sap is running