Posts Tagged With: The Grange

Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery: Intelligent Camping in Prince Edward County

I love camping and the joie de vivre that comes in the form of flaming marshmallows, ankles sticky with insect repellant and scorched weenies stabbed on a foraged stick. Lately though, falling to sleep on an inflatable mattress makes me instantly dream of chiropractors. We’re not even being authentic anymore with the maxi pad thin two ounce inflatable Thermarest—now it’s the big fat double blow-up and a circus show attempt to wedge it inside the two-man tent. Which is like head-butting a Sumo wrestler slick with butter into a phone booth.

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When I first sniffed out the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery website, I knew that I had found Intelligent Camping at long last. We’re talking canvas prospector tents that you can walk around in—none of this on-your-knees, hair-teased-up from the two-foot high nylon ‘ceiling’ of the tent like you’ve run a balloon wildly back and forth over your head. The Fronterra tents are tall enough for a basketball net (a trampoline even)—they have wood floors, a King bed, armoire, distressed leather couch and arm chair for crying out loud. Woodsy sensibility. Frontier living for those who like the spoils too.

Though we were still sorting laundry and knocking the brick red dirt of Prince Edward Island out of our shoes, Kim and I decided to head back up to Prince Edward County, our future homeland, for a real estate prowl. I was stuck on Fronterra’s luxury tent renderings—we’d have all the accoutrements of camping without the backache! Yes, we could camp at Sandbanks Provincial Park for $40 a night, but $185 seemed reasonable to me for a fabricated but authentic pioneer experience. You could probably still earn a Girl Guide badge. And snore away in a King bed.

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Somehow we hacked Fronterra’s online booking system. I was thrilled that we could nab a tent for Canada Day so last minute. I couldn’t type in our credit card info fast enough. A day later the call came—Jens and Inge, the founders of Fronterra, expressed concern. Somehow we had beat the system and had been able to book two nights despite the reservation blocks they had put in place. Fronterra had been socked in by rain and efforts to get the tents up and the kitchens and shower tricked out with running water had been stalled. Jens had been dumping wood chips everywhere (repurposed from Ontario Hydro tree fellings), like sandbags, to absorb Mother Nature’s pissy June attitude. Their intention to open the first week of June was foiled by soupy woods. We understood—we had been rained on every single day in PEI too.

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“We can offer you the tented lodge with kitchen and en suite the first night—but on night two, we are double-booked. You could stay in the second tent, without water and toilet—for free. We insist, that is, if you still want to come.”

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Kim and I didn’t flinch—it was a no-brainer, YES! We quickly recounted all the places we’d slept without such amenities—although the Posada Jasayma in Tayrona National Park, Colombia somehow found a toilet seat for us that we didn’t question. How do you find a toilet seat in the jungle?

When we arrived at Fronterra owners Jens and Inge (and burbling baby Eska in a candy-cane striped onesie) embraced us as though we had travelled across the Prairies on horseback for months. Their enthusiasm was contagious. They apologized profusely for the rain and the muddy track. Inge offered to shuttle us back and forth in her Subaru Crosstrek (or, we could go with Jens on the tractor to get really farmy); all to save the Saab from a Dakar Rally-type mud bath. Kim was happy to take advantage of the shuttle. In the near future guests will be able to drive directly to a lot near the tents—just a 400m walk with a pushcart along the meadow of tufted vetch, Queen Anne’s Lace and flitting swallowtails. Hardly an effort.

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We walked down to the tents first, to take it all in as intended. The world’s greatest migration of mosquitoes had arrived and greeted us with a full-face assault. Had they had followed us from PEI where they threatened to leave us anemic? Relentless rain and bitchy mosquitoes are elements that can’t be neatly arranged and we gave up on capris and flip flops for mosquito unfriendly wear—hoods and jeans and eau de OFF.

I loved our voluntary solitary confinement immediately. If you have ever camped at a provincial park in Ontario, you know that ‘camping’ is a non-stop parade of cars, accidental car alarms going off, music, people yapping like their tent walls are made of brick—basically, everyone carrying on as they would at home, but somewhat more obnoxiously. All through the night, the call of a whip-poor-will is interrupted by someone with a saggy air mattress that needs to be plugged in and re-poofed. Beer bottles are clanking, someone laughs like Woody Woodpecker—the idyllic moment is being shared with 300 people, 5 barking dogs, 6 crying kids and a dozen couples ready for divorce.

At Fronterra, there’s 50 acres of SPACE. At week’s end, Jens assured the second tent would be complete, with plans to construct the third and create three top-shelf suites for the summer of 2015. The ambitious future plan is 10 prospector tents and (spoiler alert) if permits and karma allows—perhaps a floating tented lodge in the bay that their property snugs up against. Since their stay at the Four Rivers floating lodge in Cambodia during a year of unbridled travel pre-Eska, the gusty, life-by-the-bullhorns couple have been long-scheming and wildly inspired. Spin the globe and randomly pick a spot—Jens and Inge have been there. From Ethiopia to New Zealand to zany spa treatments involving electroshocks in Budapest. They’ve migrated from Fernie, BC (Jens) and the Laurentians (Inge) and found gorgeous common ground amongst the ironwoods, the foundation for their vision in Prince Edward County.

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The heritage-minded accommodations are just a quarter of the dream. The permaculture gardens are lush with over 160 heirloom veg and edible flowers. They have chickens laying dozens of eggs to keep campers’ cast iron griddles snapping with fried huevos.

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Jens, keen on retracing the Barley Days route, has planted a crop of hops with the intent to build an on-site brewery where guests can experience the entire plant to pint process. Better yet—there’s talk of fly-fishing lessons, a beer-centric spa and molten hot saunas! Kim and I have already signed up for the beer workshops of the future—an intimate experience that I know will be engaging with Jens at the helm. This guy can move swiftly from settlement history to knot-tying to Bolivia to plumbing issues to stouts and fire starting.

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Visiting Fronterra in the future will be a total immersion in simplicity, learning, self-sufficiency, being, recalibrating. Jens hopes guests will disconnect, but, solar power to recharge will be available.

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All the frills are here. The private open sky showers (inhale cedar boards deeply here) are hot enough to boil lobsters. There are super plush towels and lavender-studded bars of Scottish milled soap. And, to Kim’s hair-styling delight—a mirror!

Nature’s alarm clock is at the ready—woodpeckers are knocking at dawn. Dusk is a fireball sunset show as the sun filters its honey beams through the woods in front of the tents. Fireflies emerge on cue—an entire day passes with just birds and hunger as beacons.

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We felt very Farley Mowat. That is, if Farley ever made guacamole with just-plucked cilantro from the gardens. Or, foraged with a beer (as seen in photo above). Maybe more Les Stroud—like, lazy Les Stroud, with a lighter and a stack of wood from our shed drier than Chelsea Handler’s humour.

For the urbanite not wanting to invest in camping equipment (because it’s not just a tent and sleeping bag—it’s a domino list of stuff from clothespins to Coleman stoves to water jugs and coolers), you can almost cheat by ‘camping’ at Fronterra. The kitchen is stocked with all the essentials—cast iron pans, strainer, Wiltshire knives, bottle opener, wine and beer glasses, ice box (cooler), a bodum…just bring a stick of butter, ice and a few bottles from Karlo Estates and The Grange.

The only disappointment during our stay at Fronterra was my coffee-making skills. I’ve been too far removed from my bodum days in Toronto. Do you think I could figure out the perfect coffee-water ratio? I made dreaded coff-tea (ie. Is this coffee or is it tea?) two days in a row—even with the most robust Nicaraguan beans going. As a last ditch effort (after watering nearby undergrowth with the crappy hot beige water) I tried Wolfgang Puck one-cup coffee sachets (like tea bags). Worse. Suggestion: learn bodum ratio or, go to Tall Poppy in nearby Wellington for a Phil & Sebastian drip and round it out with a cinder block brownie or lemon square.

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Crappy coffee aside, the unexpected thrill was Inge picking us up at their farmhouse to shuttle us to our site with a bucket of chilling Veuve Cliquot strapped into the front seat (baby Eska strapped in the back—both precious cargo). Jens and Inge were so nervous that all the elements out of their control (ie. Dakar Rally entry to camp, no official signage (yet), oppressive mosquitoes, lack of running water or toilet on our second night) would disappoint us. They wanted to ensure that we had the ultimate experience—one we would brag about to friends. They wanted to create a place and time that we would yearn to return to. Done!

The champagne was popped  (we all voted against sabrage-style) in front of the handsomely constructed tent as the sun lowered her belly in the treetops. This dream had been nearly 10 years in the making. Earlier, I had asked Jens about the copper band that he wore just above his elbow. He told us it was a daily reminder, to keep his promise…something he had committed to in Ethiopia a decade ago. This was it.

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As glasses were filled, Inge told us that we were their very first guests. Ever. How often does that happen? I’d been to Jimmy’s coffee shop on the opening day and some launch party for a bar on Queen West—but, to be the first ever guests to sleep in the prospector tents? I loved that we had become an integral part of the camp’s history and guaranteed long lineage.

Joie de vivre, joie de Veuve. The generous spirit and infectious dream-chasing of Jens and Inge is something to marvel. Go sleep there. Talk to them about living dreams out loud. They’ve created something beautiful—and lucky for us, they’re sharing it.

Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery–Go!

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Microadventure: Prince Edward County

Have you ever worried that maybe you’ve over-romanticized a place? Did nostalgia and gauzy honeymoon love make it something it wasn’t?

The last (and only time in this decade) that Kim and I were in Prince Edward County was a miserable September weekend in 2010. The skies were bruised with clouds and rain spit on us the entire time. Winter felt like it was breathing down our tanned summer necks too soon. We drove around the County on a whim with a crude map and followed even cruder signs to the emerging wineries in Wellington. We hadn’t booked a hotel and spent a few hours backing out of B&B’s with no vacancy, crappy panelled cottages that smelled like wet dog and instant coffee and lacklustre waterfront hotels. The Waring House was the perfect weather shelter with a Jacuzzi tub and on-site pub (check, check!).

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We loved PEC from the get-go, despite the drizzle and slop. It’s hung in the recesses of our mind like a retired jersey. There was a hesitation we were nervous to address. What if it wasn’t what we painted it to be? (And, in our nostalgic minds, all the colours–oils even–were streaked across the canvas like fireworks). What if we were just glassy-eyed from Malbec and our proposed area of relocation was a lunchbox letdown?

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Whew. Crisis averted. We are even deeper in the love quicksand now with our pastoral affair. We picked up a stack of local glossies and real estate guides before lunch. I was already in fast-forward mode, dog-earing pages, telling Kim about the local farm where we could go see alpacas get sheared. September was the big cheese festival in Picton. In the fall we could go to the observatory and help band migrating saw-whet owls. We could sleep in prospector tents and learn how to make beer and pluck our own greens at Fronterra.

Yeah, hooked.

The County is vibrating with everything from leggy wines to sausage makers to beekeepers to lavender fields. The entire area is perfumed by lilac forests. There are cutesy post offices, tiny library branches, bike trails and independent bookstores (wow!). Kim pictured us stand-up paddle boarding and walking the 49km Millennium trail end-to-end with some re-fuel stops offering Brut.

The thing is, PEC is a hotbed of creativity. Everyone here is chasing a dream or already sinking their teeth into it. There are countless galleries, colourful cafes, bike shops and over 40 wineries. There are bed and breakfast owners building octagon-shaped homes with straw bale insulation. North America’s first off-grid vineyard is here. Karlo Estates is North America’s first vegan certified winery. Stuff is going on. People network here and know each other by their dog and beat-up pick-up. The passion is tangible—this is a community populated with a surplus of talent, knowledge, nerdy obsessions and ambition. We want to live there.

There’s a silent handshake in PEC, a collective agreement to help buoy everyone in full dream pursuit. The very land is appreciated for its bounty and I believe, will be protected at all costs from wind turbines or horizon-clotting high rises. As we drove from Carrying Place to Bloomfield, we noticed several barn walls acting as open-concept galleries.

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The Barn Quilt Project was formed in late 2013 in recognition of Ontario’s disappearing landscapes: old timber-frame barns and farms. The movement kickstarted in Ohio in 2001, and has had a bucolic ripple effect. There are over 60 ‘barn quilts’ across the County, most measuring eight square feet. Pulled from traditional quilting patterns, the design of a single quilt block is painted on MDO (medium density overlaid) plywood. They create a true rambling outdoor gallery—you can even pick up a map and follow the trail.

Kim gushed over all the leaning barns—all that precious barn board! Her woodworker brain was on fire with possibility.

Obviously, as owners of a 153-year-old stone cottage, we pride ourselves in being caretakers of history. Seeing neglected barns being repurposed as gallery spaces, airbnb hotspots and wineries is a full circle win.

The Owl’s Nest B&B

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For our microadventure, we had very micro time to suck up the macro scenery and scout out real estate. Our home base was the Owl’s Nest B&B in Carrying Place. Janna and Jake have created a homesteader chic suite amongst the stands of lilacs. The welcoming committee are Pajamas and Slippers (not to put on, but they will be on you). The dogs are as affable as the owners who immediately invited us in to check out their main living quarters (wow!). Janna was quick to write out her faves in the area (I love when residents are such proud ambassadors) and we liked the idea of beer-battered perch at the Agrarian in Bloomfield. Ten years ago there was talk of the “100 Mile Diet.” Here? It’s the 10 mile diet, or, one mile with the owners sourcing as close to the restaurant as possible. (There’s even a market downstairs from the Agrarian where you can stock up on hotel room charcuterie and cheese.

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We dumped our bags inside the Nest (not before grazing on half a Mason jar of complimentary house made granola studded with cashews and dried apricots). The fridge was generously stocked with milk, cream, OJ, fresh eggs, strawberry preserves and half a loaf of whole wheat bread. In the freezer there were black bean and egg breakfast burritos laced with cheese and chili if we wanted—yes! We needed more time to eat!). The space is the perfect crash pad with coffee, tea, hot cocoa, toaster oven and stove top. It’s a B&B but without that awkward morning situation of small talk with other guests, or sleepily conversing with owners. You’re in charge of breakfast here.

The shower is a rainfall dream (Janna, a mad potter, has tricked out everything in clay here–from the shower tiles to the lamps to the coffee mugs), the bed a total cloud to sleep upon. The extras are all here: a selection of herbs, hot Dijon, soya sauce (for the sushi set), a small cooler for daytrippers, flashlights, bug spray, live clean body lotion, alba honeydew shampoo and a fun collection of books. The categories were a jumble—everything from philosophy to carnival worker memoirs, The World According to Gorp to How to Knit Your Own Dog.

I’m skipping ahead, but, I’m the writer here, so I’m in charge. That night we had a laugh going through Janna and Jake’s in-house DVD collection. What a gender blend of The Family Guy and the Sopranos to Bellydance Techniques, Yoga by Candlelight, Sex in the City, Fleetwood Mac in concert and Terminator. (We settled on Sideways as the vino-centric movie seemed appropriate and necessary viewing).

We were totally kitted out at the Owl’s Nest and hated to leave the zen-oozing grounds, but…

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Kim and I have a picture on the bedside table of us in the just-opened barn studio space of Karlo Estates from 2010. The upstairs loft was full of easels and paintings in various stages. The surrounds made you want to paint alpacas and inhale (not the paint—it smells like history and legend at Karlo).

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In 2010 we bought a bottle of Malbec that was like drinking red brick and horse blankets. Nothing has come close since. We drank it back in my Annex apartment by the fire, probably listening to Jann Arden and Tucker Finn on repeat. We celebrate a lot of things, chronically, so, the occasion in particular that made us open the bottle is amiss, but, it’s reassuring to know that in the near future we’ll be in closer proximity to the liquid velvet that they bottle.

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When we walked in to the tasting room I tried to not be all teenage-girl-Justin-Bieber-screamer-like, and elbowed Kim as we passed Doug Gilmour. Doug Gilmour! My dad is still envious that I met Janet Jones (Gretzky) back in highschool (skipping out before exams to go for Shirley Temples at Callahan’s). She signed my fluorescent pink Vuarnet t-shirt and I think my dad paid me $20 bucks for it. Still has it too. Crap, I should have had Doug sign my tee or blot me with red wine.

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Calm, cool and as collected as early morning wine tastings allow you to be, we allowed congenial Karlo staff member Liza to walk us through a proper tasting with Little Bug, the resident Karlo cat, curling around our wine glasses. The nibbles here really put the other wineries in the dust. Liza paired the flight with varietal IQ, laughter, asiago, cheddar, bleu, garlic stuffed olives and fat walnuts. The Sangiovese took my first place ribbon while Kim leaned toward the cab franc and Quintus blend. The VanAlstine white port (yes, there is such a divine thing) with a bite of bleu cheese was a surprising encounter. Fireside, lakeside, bedside, anywhereside, this port-style wine is like Riesling’s sweeter and sexier cousin.

And then, you know, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time, with garlic breath from that garlic-stuffed olive that seemed great at the time. With a Cheshire cat smile, Doug pulled us into his circle with a generous pour and  introduced us to his sophisticated line-up of Gilmour Wines: Corazon (“heart” in Spanish– a broad-shouldered tobacco and dark chocolate red), Orus (“leader”—think tangerine, silk, melons and meadows), and, your new summer prerequisite: Maddison (named after his daughter) rose. This one is the al fresco ticket.

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We left Karlo knowing that we’d had a rare sneak peek on the dynamic partnership between co-founder and owner Sherry Karlo and Doug. Why be legendary in just one niche (Sherry is a visual artist with serious accolades while Doug and his #93 Leafs jersey need little intro.)? Even rock ‘em-sock ‘em hockey player Kim would agree that a sun-soaked vineyard and conversation over pinot grigio is a palatable transition from the adrenalin and sweat-choked arena locker room (Though Doug still hangs out near the ice, coaching the Kingston Frontenacs.)

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Somehow we squeezed in The Grange, Three Dog Winery and smoked meat sandwiches with briny pickles at the Agrarian. We’ll have to return for the beer-battered perch on a bun (sold out). The place transforms into a speakeasy on weekends—another reminder of the ever-present coolness of the County.

Before turning homeward bound (a three hour slog), we drove around Consecon and Fish Lake, Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh (and a few other burghs) nodding in agreement that we’d be mentally well-nourished and stimulated in the County. We’re ready to take pastoral to the next level. Yes, there will be rosemary growing, beehives abuzz and, one of us will probably be glassblowing in no time. This is what happens here.

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So, now we just need a place with a sumptuous sunset view, on some body of water (pond, lake, creek), maybe walking distance to a winery and wood-fired pizza oven. Polished cement floors with radiant heating, a Japanese soaker tub, some Carrera marble, fieldstone fireplace, loft bedroom, bookshelf with one of those sliding ladders, a Wolf stove, a workshop that is a little taller than Smurf-height for Kim, floor-to-ceiling windows that retract and open up to a cedar deck and that above-mentioned mill pond, lake, burbling creek…that’s all.

We definitely need a place with an outdoor fire pit so we can look up at those stars and watch them realign as they always do for us.

Stay tuned.

Categories: Passport Please, Sip That | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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