Winery in the Rain

Let the road carry you to spots unknown

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When the cold front came blustering in, so did two days of windswept rain. What a fantastic way to spend the weekend, I grumbled (along with most of the Delmarva Peninsula) after a very long week.

Driving south on the highway to Berlin, Md., I noticed a glow set among the fields. White lights seemed to twinkle and twist in the distant gray evening.

Why not follow a whim today? I thought. After a few turns and exits, I found myself on a country road on the fringes of Ocean Pines, now following the rain-soaked current of adventure.

There it was: a white sign, surrounded by windswept shrubbery: Windmill Creek Vineyard and Winery. The Christmasy light I saw from the highway overpass came from string lights looped around wide old tree trunks. A long, looping driveway led to a tall and stately farmhouse, where the windows were warm with the yellow glow of civilization.

This was exactly the kind of place where a person could enjoy a rainstorm — inside a cozy winery.

The main entrance is in the back, where the kitchen has been renovated to an open concept, creating a taproom with the bottles, the cash register and about seven tables. I prefer a white wine, sweet or dry, as the mood strikes. The staff sell it by the glass, the bottle or in tastings of red and white.

“On a rainy weekday when it’s quiet, the staff will spend a little more time with you” to discuss the tastings, said Jeannie Mariner. “On weekends, musicians play in that little tavern area. We’ll pack the place out on a rainy Saturday in summer. It’s like a little house party.”

She owns the winery in partnership with her husband, Barry, whose family has owned this century-old house and farm for generations, and their daughter, Brittany, who was actually graduating a winemaking program when the family farm became available. The stars aligned, and the renovations began.

Now there are two stories with the taproom and four household sitting rooms. The vintage furniture is soft and comfortable, and some of the antique décor is fascinating. One room has a strange box of postcards, which you’ll discover fit into an 1800s-style stereoscope: a set of goggles that creates a 3-D view of the images from around the world.

In some ways, Windmill Creek encourages adventures, just like those black-and-white images. Guests are free to explore the entire house and find your own space. The music will continue to float through the house. This evening, it’s Otto Grundman and his father, Dave, performing as The G-Men.

“It’s so unique how you can go wherever you want in this farmhouse,” said Grundman, who enjoys Windmill Creek for date nights when he’s not playing guitar. “Sometimes we’ll just go there, get a bottle of wine, find an empty room in the house and just relax.”

By now, the upstairs windows are foggy with condensation as happy chatter flows from room to room. There appears to be a family get-together in one room and a laid-back bachelorette party in another. Kids are allowed on-site, and if the sun were shining, they could run like deer across the grounds.

On a dry day, curiosity seekers can roam the outdoors. And this place is clearly meant for all seasons.

The vast grounds are full of small clearings, courtyards, tables, chairs and fire pits. Throw a picnic blanket on the lawn, or walk the vines. People can even leave their used bottles and glasses in small outdoor baskets, busing their own dishes without carrying it back in the house. Pets are welcome.

“We really enjoy singing there. Normally if the weather is nice, we would be outside in the warmer weather,” Grundman said.

Also outside was a welcome sight for me: the Street Kitchen logo on a small outdoor trailer; the popular food truck has a permanent site at Windmill Creek. Of course, I also saw two ladies with a pizza inside the taproom (most wineries let visitors bring outside food). But who can deny the convenience of an on-site sandwich and taco truck? And in winter, they serve fine dining both in the house and in the winery’s outdoor “igloos.”

“The Mariner Family, they’re always trying to do new things,” said Grundman. From weekly farmers’ markets to last year’s Delmarva DockDogs diving competition, “I feel like it’s always growing.”

Windmill Creek Vineyard and Winery is located at 11206 Worcester Highway, Berlin, Md. Learn more at www.windmillcreekvineyard.com or (410) 251-6122. Check Facebook for special event schedules.

And take it from me — don’t let a rainy day ruin your appetite for adventure. You never know what might shine out in the darkness.