People travelling east on Governor’s Road near the St. George Road cutoff often spot the large, hillside teepee at Blue Gables Acres. That teepee, along with the net-covered rows of bushes nearby, forms part of a family enterprise that includes Brant County’s first haskap micro winery.
Established in 2020, Blue Gables Acres Inc. of Paris is an eclectic entrepreneurial venture, consisting of a camping site and a venue tent – both of which use teepees – and five acres of haskaps that are sold fresh, frozen or as jellies and spreads; this year Blue Gables added a micro-winery that produces several varieties of wine.
Producing haskaps, catches peoples’ attention, says the owners.
“The first thing people usually ask is, ‘What do haskaps taste like?”, said Kimmy Osmond, who co-owns the venture with her husband, Delano.
Described as having a blueberry-raspberry flavour with a “zing”; the haskap, or Lonicera caerulea, produces dark purple berries which are either heart shaped or oblong, depending upon the variety. It’s a circumpolar native species occurring in northern boreal forests in Asia, Europe and North America.
Haskaps have few pests, do well under dry soil conditions, and is the first fruit crop to mature, ripening prior to strawberries by a few weeks. The bushes mature in three years and increase yield with proper pruning and care.
Known elsewhere as Blue Honeysuckle, Honeyberry, Sweet Berry Honeysuckle, “Haskap” is the name encouraged by the Haskap Canada grower group, which promotes commercial varieties descended from Japanese germplasm.
The Blue Gables website describes these seedless berries as “super berries”, stating that they have antioxidant levels three times higher than blueberries, and high levels of Vitamins C and A, potassium and fiber.
The Osmonds grow three varieties called Beauty, Beast and Blizzard, which they said were developed by Dr.Bob Bors of the University of Saskatchewan. Osmond said that these varieties co-exist well, each one ripening about one week apart, beginning with the Blizzards and providing a harvest of approximately three weeks.
Kimmy, whose background is Métis hails from Embro, while Delano grew up in Newfoundland. They married 33 years ago, and bought their 11-acre property on the Governor’s Road in 2004.
They entered haskap production through Kimmy, whose major avocation was wine-making, a hobby which soon hooked Delano. Professionally, Delano is a self-employed contractor-carpenter, specializing in home renovations; Kimmy working alongside of him for 25 years, both in the office and en site. The couple raised four children and many foster children over a 20-year period.
When the Osmonds agreed several years ago that they should better utilize their property with an income-generating occupation as they age, their thoughts turned to wine.
“We originally thought of growing grapes for wine making,’ said Kimmy. “But I previously tasted haskap berries and forgot what they were called.” Then Delano unexpectedly asked her about haskaps. She took his query as a sign that they should grow haskaps.
They attended a haskap workshop led by Dr. Bob Bors at Niagara Fruit and Vegetable Conference, followed by a three-day seminar at the University of Saskatchewan
The couple planted their first 100 bushes in spring, 2017. With extensive, hands-on help from friends and family, they planted another 5,000 plants in 2022, created a web page, and began on-farm berry sales to the public. Using friends as wine-tasters, Kimmy experimented with various wine blends.
Their webpage states that Blue Gables Acres “is not an organic farm but we keep it as clean as possible by applying organic methods to ensure our plants are as healthy as possible.” Methods include encouraging birds to “eat the little pests”, and mulching for weed suppression.
Delano sprays a weekly foliar spray to which he said supports existing nutrients. He added, “Our saving grace is that our land is clay – it holds the nutrients and water even during a drought.”
The couple deploys canopy nets to protect the fruit from their “arch-enemy” – the cedar waxwing – which Kimmy said would strip their crop within several days.
Blue Gables registered as an official farm; then obtained funding from FedDev-Ontario, a program that supports economic innovation in southern Ontario, including grants for aspiring and established entrepreneurs.
While the winery development was underway, the Osmonds imported two, 22-foot teepees from Sweden. Each camping teepee sleeps six to eight, although one recently slept 11. The site has an “Outhouse” with access to water, hydro and toilets.
A third Swedish teepee, imported this spring, is a venue tent which holds 60-75 people sides up, and already has a wedding booked.
The winery started with three tanks imported from Italy in 2021, with three additional tanks installed this year. Each tank holds up to 850 liters.
The wine list includes two haskap blends: Happy Bee contains honey; their “fraud wine” --Chartalon -- includes rhubarb, yet tastes like a Riesling or a Pinot Gris. Their newest vintage is partridge berry wine with berries imported from Newfoundland.
Kimmy makes the jams and spreads herself, a part of her Métis heritage. ”I’ve been cultivating and preserving foods alongside of my mother for winter since I was a child… We have four grandchildren with a fifth on the way. It would be lovely to pass on to the next generation --the art and experience of preserving and caring for the plants and the land.”
"Taking this venture of wine making with haskaps as well as foraging other plants and berries is a love that continues to grow. . .. Creating wines that have the characteristics of the plant with mouth-feel and bouquet is the goal.”
Delano is converting his workshop into a year-round wine store, and talked about Blue Gables’ evolution.
“We’re trying to see over the horizon about what to do next – there’s a lot of creation in this work – of achieving the dream,” he said. “It’s like planting a bean in the ground and seeing how it’s growing and then you eat it. The labour took a toll on us, but there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing something from beginning to end.