Everyone has friends like these. They're the ones in your life that you hold dearly and wish you could see more often, but for whatever reason--be it timing, a lack of mutual friends or physical location--you rarely get together with.
For me, Gill and Natty are these friends.
Over the last six months, we've been trying unsuccessfully to coordinate a hangout. Something low-key. Wine, drinks, dinner. Maybe cooking together. We all live in downtown Toronto, so it should be easy right?
Apparently not. In the last year, I've maybe only seen Gill once, when she joined me at the gym for a weight-lifting class. (As it turns out, trying to catch your breath in between burpees is not exactly an opportune time to catch up.) And even though Natty lives a 10-minute walk from my house, it's been more than two months since I saw her last.
So when I quite randomly invited them both to join me for a day touring Prince Edward County for an article I was writing, I was shocked when they both confirmed within two minutes. As it turns out, with these girls low-key isn't the way to go--something out of the ordinary is.
Our first stop was Waupoos Winery, where the general manager Kyle Baldwin gave a us a tour of the property. A fourth-generation maple syrup producer (his family was responsible for inventing the fluted pan, part of the maple syrup boiling process), he started by showing us the sugar shack. This was a first for me. As an Albertan, seeing maple trees tapped is something that I had never experienced before (even though, as fellow Albertan David Berry said last week, it's our Canadian birthright).
Amongst its other claims to fame (including being the first winery in Prince Edward County), Waupoos is the only place that make maple-infused ice wine. So we didn't complain when after checking out the restaurant and a 130-year-old rental farmhouse (recent guests include Jim from Dragon's Den) that it was time to head down to the wine cellar.
(This being a journalist stuff is serious business.)
After tasting at least 10 different wines, including the legendary maple ice wine (which was surprisingly less sweet than it sounds), we left Waupoos feeling immensely grateful and wondering how the day could possible get any better.
The answer was Nyman Farms. Run by John Nyman, who at 34 is possibly the youngest maple syrup producer in the county, the farm was a stark contrast to Waupoos. Although Nyman offers tours (including self-guided tours) of his property, there was no petting zoo or fancy gift shop.
Instead, after his girlfriend Michelle greeted us at the door and helped us trek through the muddy front yard, we were encouraged to jump on the back of a trailer towed behind a tractor. Accompanied by a dog and Nyman's 7-year-old son (who at one point, enthusiastically appeared out of nowhere with a gun, which in my approximation was pretty awesome) running beside us, we headed out to the sugar bush, where Nyman has tapped around 900 trees.
Nyman first started producing maple syrup at his parent's farm as a teenager. "It started out just as a fun hobby," he explained. "Nobody else in my family had done it before and it was my own thing."
It's a time-consuming hobby, though. "Our joke is that I'll kiss him goodbye and say, 'Okay, I'll see you a month,'" Michelle joked about the syrup-making process.
After Nyman was done checking his lines and picking up sap from the trees, we headed back up to the barn. I think Gill, Natty and I were still wondering how the day could possibly get any better when Michelle opened the barn day and we saw this:
Then, as if holding baby lambs isn't awesome enough, we went up to the sugar shack where John and Michelle encouraged us to eat fresh maple syrup straight from the pan before sending us home with some maple butter.
Seriously, what a perfect day away.
If You Go:
- Call Nyman Farms ahead of time to let them know that you'll be arriving. They'll be happy to show you around if you give them advance notice..
- Consider visiting during Maple in the County. An annual event, it's free to attend and allows you to visit seven different maple syrup producers (and see the different technologies used) in the county.
- Don't forget to wear boots. It's muddy out there.