Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Island Time and WIne

Birthday week celebration kicked off with a field trip.

I got invited to Gwynn's Island and with a weather forecast of blues skies and 75 degrees, immediately said hell, yes.

And while I've heard of Gwynn's Island, I didn't know a single thing about it. With the music set to Pandora's Replacements station (traveling music, don't you think?), I can tell you we passed a lot of honeysuckle on the way down, thrilling me because that's a favorite summer smell.

If I'd had the sense to think about it, I'd have anticipated that there would be a bridge because, duh, it's an island, but I hadn't, meaning I was pleasantly surprised when we reached the light that would give us access to the bridge, which I assumed was a small drawbridge.

Once on the island, we met a boat builder who'd decided to build a B & B on the island and let him be our tour guide.

He began with how the island got named, one of those stories they don't teach you in 4th grade social studies.

Seems Pocahontas was swimming in the river and started to drown and a local man, Hugh Gwynn, saved her. Chief Powhatan was so grateful Hugh got the island as reward for his effort.

I was even more surprised to hear that it had been an important strategic point for the battle of Yorktown and even saw some action during the Civil War.

Out of nowhere came a honking noise to warn us that a boat was coming under the bridge and the second oldest swing bridge in the state began slowly swinging to the side to open and let the boat through.

Can't say I'd seen a swing bridge in action before.

Nor can I say I know any boat builders until yesterday, but this guy was a pro, as evidenced by the sleek lines of the polished wood kayak he'd made and had sitting on the grass in the late morning sunshine.

And he doesn't just make them, he hosts classes where people come down and he helps them make themselves a boat in just under a week.

Besides kayaks, he makes cocktail class runabout boats, 8' plywood boats originally designed in the '30s that look a little like the shape of a rowboat cut in half (but use an engine) and are enjoying a renaissance.

What I'd like to know is how they got their name. Cocktails and boats aren't supposed to mix, right?

He pointed out the far end of the island, far being a relative term since it's only 3 1/2 miles away, bragging a little that when standing over there, you could see the Eastern Shore.

Then he suggested a walk over to the marina, made all the more pleasant by the sweet smells of the mock orange in bloom.

Showing us his boat, he shared how he'd ridden out Hurricane Sandy there despite warnings that the water might rise so high his boat roof would crash into the marina ceiling. Another time, he started out with his boat and it stalled but kept going forward and, fearful it would crash into another boat, decided the wisest thing to do was put his body between the two boats to prevent that.

He was a colorful character all right.

When we left him to his adventures, it was to drive around the flat, little island to see the far reaches of it.

It was obvious that at some point, houses had been allowed to be built on any and all irregularly shaped tracts of land a person could find. A plot map of the island would have resembled a jigsaw puzzle.

When we got to the end of Old Ferry Road, presumably no longer needed because of that fabulous swing bridge, we found three houses facing the water and a sandy, white beach with small waves licking at the shore.

"Want to get your feet wet?" I was asked rhetorically. The river wasn't nearly as cold as I'd expected and we stood there in it looking across the expanse of the bay to, yep, the Eastern Shore.

Our guide had raved about the sunrises and moonrises from the island and it was easy to imagine how splendid they'd be from here.

Driving back out past the colorful little houses and weekend shacks, I could feel that my body had already shifted to what our guide had called "island time."

Nothing's important and there's seldom a need to rush...for anything.

When we left Gwynn's Island, it was with plans to come back this summer for a boat ride at the very least.

From there, we meandered around to Merroir for lunch, arriving around 2:00 to find six other tables full of laughing, lunching, drinking people sitting outside facing the water.

Not a soul was on the porch.

Our server asked if we wanted a sunny or shady table and I said yes, so she placed us at one under the tree so I'd have sun on my back but not my face.

Obviously everyone there was on the same sort of Monday schedule as we were. Lunch was a nod to the Commonwealth with a bottle of Barboursville Sauvignon Blanc and a dozen and a half oysters - Old Saltes, natch - ans we settled back to watch boats like a trimaran coming back to the marina.

It was such a beautiful afternoon and since the rest of our day's plans had yet to be determined, we took our time. I couldn't resist a softshell over crab and bacon slaw, a dish so perfect it should be its own food group.

On my way to the loo, I ran into Chef Pete and told him that that we had nothing as impressive as that slaw back in Richmond. Enfolding me in his bear arms, he called me a beautiful woman and told me that was great because it ensured I'd have to keep coming back there.

As if that wasn't going to happen.

Over our last glasses of wine, we considered our options for the rest of the afternoon. I was hoping for a ferry ride but the ferry doesn't run on Sunday and Monday. So we headed back through Irvington to the Dog and Oyster Vineyard and took up residence on their magnificent screened porch.

With the winemaker's four young sons doing their homework at a nearby table, we tasted through Oyster White (a Chardonel), Pearl (Vidal Blanc), Rosie (a Merlot and Vidal Blanc Rose), Shelter Dog Red (Chambourcin) and Merlot while hearing about the winery dogs and the Dog and Oyster's relationship with Good Luck Cellars, a winery I'd visited just last month.

It was hard to get motivated to leave the screened in porch, a place with a long, old wooden table adorned with fresh wildflowers and able to seat fourteen and that was in addition to the table where the boys were doing their homework.

Well, all except the 13-year old who'd found a lizard with a leg injury and proceeded to cauterize the wound and then test out the lizard's agility post-op for us.

Boys will be boys and all that.

With such fine entertainment, we couldn't summon a good reason to leave so we had a glass of the Rosie, a pretty pink wine with notes of strawberries and lime and chatted up a couple from Lynchburg who had also been at Merroir now sitting at the far end of the table from us.

Out in the vineyards, the adopted hounds happily romped up and down the rows of grapes. We purchased a couple bottles of Rosie for future summer afternoons and hit the road again, Pandora now set to the Marvin Gay station.

This time, our meandering led us back to the 1884-built Kilmarnock Inn, a charming-looking place with a delightful patio out back facing a courtyard of guest cottages and lush garden beds.

We were the only ones eating out there, although why, I can't imagine. It was a beautiful night to be eating outdoors under a pergola with flowers all around. Those people inside needed a good talking to, if you ask me.

Beginning with Crab Louis salad, a long-time favorite of mine, I was happy to see plenty of meaty lumps of blue crabmeat, as it should be. Since our original plan had been to find a crab house, this was my compensation for there being no places to pick tonight.

Because it was the start of my birthday week, I went for filet mignon and loaded down the accompanying baked potato with enough butter to close my arteries by my actual birthday. If not now, when?

Our server brought the check before we asked for it, so after paying, we went inside to scope out the inn and wound up meeting the chef.

Once he got to talking to us, it seemed silly not to order dessert, so I asked what they had and the girl got no further than "chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate filling" before I waved away whatever else she had to say and ordered that.

The chef wanted me to drink the right spirit with my dessert, bringing out Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port, a lush fortified wine tasting of raisins and the soul mate of chocolate.

Here was a man who'd just met me and he was already anticipating my needs. Superbly.

So here I am, only a day into my birthday week celebration and already feeling terribly lucky to have spent the entire, glorious day eating, sipping, dipping my feet in the river and watching bridges open. Blathering the whole live long day.

Best line of the day, despite the absence of fries: "I could eat my french fries without ketchup, but why would I do that?"

This looks to be an excellent week for the birthday girl.

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