Lesley came to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery with years of experience in customer service and accounting. Hers is the friendly voice at the end of the ‘phone. You may on occasion encounter her in the store or guiding the Bog to Bottle Discovery Tour. Lesley also processes retail & wholesale orders for our range of cranberry products as well as our wines. Her LCBO background has helped her with the winery side of things, and after six years with us she’s learned a lot about cranberries!
Lesley lived in Europe for a number of years and developed a love for history and architecture. On returning to Canada and then moving to Muskoka, she added to her interests an appreciation for stunning landscapes and nature. Being an ardent traveler; she is always interested in ensuring a great experience for visitors to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery. Customer Service is her forte. Once she has responded to the visitors’ questions, determined their interests and made the appropriate reservation; Lesley will often make recommendations for other attractions, restaurants and link them with other resources. She is responsible for tour bookings and reservations and recently represented Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery at Destination Canada’s Canada Shared Tourism Event in London, England. She has also lately become responsible for marketing to accommodation providers to seek partnerships.
She is often asked if she is a member of the Johnston family. Her response is always the same, “Nope, just a happy employee. I love my job and I get to work and live in this beautiful place we call Muskoka. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
How do the experiences you offer at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery give guests a unique perspective on the history, environment or culture of your region?
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh is by definition unique and Ontario’s oldest cranberry farm as well as a second generation family farm, owned and operated by husband and wife team Murray Johnston and Wendy Hogarth. Their passion and commitment to sustainable practices and love of the land have been shared with the employees who in turn are keen to share that knowledge with our visitors.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
Thirty years ago, one only came here to buy our products and wagon tours offered over six weeks at Harvest time. Sixteen years ago, we created Muskoka Lakes Winery with the introduction of our Cranberry wine. Since then, we have crafted seven table wines, three dessert wines and one spritzer. We now offer guided walking tours followed by a tutored wine tasting, three times daily, year round. Groups can book from May to October for a guided wagon tour followed by a tutored wine tasting. Our Bog to Bottle Discovery Tour was designated as a Canada Signature Experience in November 2013 and has since become an Ontario Signature Experience as well. We built an outdoor patio 3 years ago which lends itself very nicely to our wine-by-the-glass license and our cheese plate – a selection of local, artisanal, seasonal cheeses. We have moved from only farm-gate sales for six weeks of the year, to being open year-round and encouraging people to watch us farm an unique product in an unique environment, to being a part of what we do such as our “Stand-in-the-Bog” experience.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
All of our staff (no matter if they are front line or not) know our story and are proud to share it with our visitors. The owners are never too busy to engage with our visitors and share their passion about the farm, the winery and the land. I think that sometimes our guests are unaware that the person whom they have approached for information would in other organisations not ordinarily be able to answer their questions. I believe that if our visitors can feel our excitement and pride, then they become in some way more connected to us.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
How all of us love to come to work. How excited we are as a group to celebrate the farm’s successes and how much we want to make sure that everyone has a terrific experience. How excited we are; when one of us spots, for example, a moose or an otter or a Sand Crane or a nesting snapping turtle and it is shared with the rest of the staff.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The experiential traveler. Visitors who want to know what we do and how they can be involved. People who are excited to visit us and learn all that they can. These expectations afford us greater opportunities to expand on our experiences and generate even greater interest in what we have to offer.
What sets Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery apart from other activities and excursions in the area?
We are unique in what we grow. We are Ontario’s oldest cranberry farm. We are Muskoka’s only winery. We offer a variety of experiences all in one place: Shopping, tours, wine sampling, walking trails, hiking, geo-caching, seeing the cranberry vines or blueberry plants and how they change through the seasons. The “Stand-in-the-Berries” experience at harvest time. Snowshoeing or the newest offering; our outdoor Ice skating trail. Enjoying a glass of wine and a cheese plate on the patio at any time of the year overlooking the Old Marsh. One could spend an hour here or an entire day. Everyone is welcome: We are suitable for individuals, couples, families or groups.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
I read this in an En Route magazine some years ago and I paraphrase: “Explore your own environs as though you were a tourist and when abroad explore as though you were a local.” It has always stayed with me.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
“We’re always trying to reinvent ourselves. We’re a small family farm so we have to always diversify to remain viable,” – Wendy Hogarth, Proprietor/ Sommelier, Muskoka Lakes Winery & Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh. An example of this would be Muskoka Lakes Winery. Sixteen years ago, we created another market for the cranberries that we grow. It enabled us to create award-winning wines for our customers, as well as selling to our provincial Liquor Board, which in turn created a greater customer base. Since the opening of the winery, our wine and gift store is now open year round which means that we are carrying more gifts, preserves, juice and wine, all of which generates more revenue and more employment.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
The ability to research. Our quest for knowledge. It is almost a corporate culture. All of us love to travel. We are intrigued by what is new, what is old and what is different. We are fascinated by nature and the world around us. We are interested in what interests other people; we are always willing to improve and find ways to have more fun – for our visitors as well as ourselves.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Two years ago at Harvest time we introduced our “Stand-in-the-Berries” experience. It came about as a way to meet the demand for visitor experiential tourism and a way for people to become more involved with what we do. We suit people up in hip-waders (a necessary garment at cranberry harvesting time) and we lead in them into a flooded bog to stand among the floating cranberries. It has been a huge success. The best part is the looks of pure happiness on our visitors’ faces as they scoop handfuls of cranberries out of the water and toss them into the air. One visitor returned the following year to tell us that she used her photograph of the experience as her Facebook profile picture and that she had never received so many likes on a photograph! Another told us that he had finally been able to tick another item off his bucket list!
Lesley’s email: Lesley@cranberry.ca
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery on Facebook: facebook.com/JohnstonsCranberries
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery on Twitter: twitter.com/CranberryDotCA & twitter.com/MuskokaLakeWine
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh on Instagram: instagram.com/johnstons_cranberries