A Place and Wines for All Seasons – Tunnel Creek Vineyards

By Norwood Walker

Winter

Winter has a way of stripping away and leaving things in all their naked beauty. The support sticks and wires were lined up, silent sentinels with bare vines clinging to them on the hillside going down to the venue. Row after row, they had a beauty of their own. Spring, summer and fall would bring the leaves to the vines and eventually the grapes and hide the metal and wire from the eye, but for now they took center stage. The wind was whipping waves on the pond, and a group of winter visitors had gathered on the far side from me. These visitors would not sample the wine here, but would augment the beauty. This flock of Canada geese seemed right at home.

The venue’s patio, with its fire pit, made me wish I had a match, but the building offered shelter from the wind and the sun was warm. As I sat there for a while, I was struck by the beauty of the winter landscape. The American flag flapping in the wind, the heliport, and the tall cedars spoke to me of many things. A love of country, a place open and accessible, and a reverence for natural beauty. I thought, “Anyone who needs peaceful respite from our crazy world would certainly find it here.”

As I continued down the hill I realized I was not alone. Walking in step with me, right on the other side of the fence, were Pinot and Gabe. These are two of the five burros who call Tunnel Creek home. Bob, Maybelline, and Rosé were in another pasture. Pinot and Gabe stayed with me all the way down the hill, and I must admit I did talk with them. Such delightful company.

On my way to the tunnel, I passed the field -- now fallow -- where, come summer, there would be a riot of sunflowers. By the creek, the picnic table and grill seemed to say, “Here we are just waiting to host picnics and maybe wades in the creek.” Making my way back up the hills, I realized that my walk had given me a sense of peace and happiness I had not felt in a while. The solitude and stark beauty of the landscape, the friendly companions, the flock of geese, and the grape vines on the hill were great medicine.

This winter day gave me my inspiration. Tunnel Creek Vineyards is a place for all seasons. My winter walk triggered thoughts and possibilities of the other three seasons.

 

Spring

Rebirth, reawakening, whatever name you want to apply, fits the spring. Those naked vines that stood so silently that winter day would soon leaf out with a blush of green that would grow until it covered the hillside in a green blanket. Those tall cedars would soon be joined in green by the other trees as they leaf out, softening the landscape. The creek may run a bit high at times from spring rains, but there will also be perfect days for wine club members to reserve the picnic table. The train tracks that run over the tunnel will once again be hidden. The burros, I am sure, will begin to frolic more in the fields but always find the time to accompany anyone for a walk. The outdoor areas at the tasting room and the venue will beckon wine-tasters to linger a bit longer and maybe stay for some of the fantastic sunsets that are a part of each season.

In this time of Covid-19, Tunnel Creek offers outside spaces large enough for folks to gather and still follow all the recommended guidelines when the air is warmer and the days longer. The vineyards will be abuzz with activity that will ensure a bountiful harvest. Spring is a good time to follow the road from the top of the hill at the tasting room all the way to the tunnel just across the bridge at the bottom of the hill. The upper balcony and the lower patio at the tasting room are perfect places to sip the wine and enjoy your own spring awakening. The late afternoons will be full of the sound of insects and frogs singing their hymns to the arrival of a new season.

Summer

Picnics by the creek, long lazy afternoons on the balcony and the patio, enjoying wine slushies and good company, watching fireflies as they flit over the now lush fully-leafed vines ... these are only a few of the things summer brings to Tunnel Creek. Oh yeah, and grapes. The vines begin to hang heavy with fruit about midsummer, and soon spots of color -- deep purple or a rusty shade of green -- begin to appear as they ripen amongst the leaves.

But for me, the most spectacular sight is found at the bottom of the hill in the field along the road to the tunnel. Sunflowers burst forth in bloom in early August and attract all types of birds; especially the finches. It is a delight, even with the heat, to walk here and see the beautiful flowers with an even more beautiful bird perched atop. The vineyards are at their showiest in the summer. The pace is slower in the summer and the long hot days call for lighter wines and of course, the wine slushy. The creek, whose flow may be somewhat restricted by the hot weather, still winds its way through the shady tunnel of trees surrounding it. The inside of the real tunnel is always cool and inviting, even on the hottest day.

Fall

To me, fall at Tunnel Creek is the most magical season of all. The winter offers solitude and tranquility; the spring offers hope and promise; the summer offers lazy days and the laid-back life, but fall wraps them all into one season. The autumn sun casts a gentler light on the vineyards now mostly relieved of their heavy loads. The fall is a perfect time to visit the winery and enjoy.

 

Inside the Venues

That winter day made me realize again what a treasure this place is. Sure, it is a great place for a wedding, reunion, meeting, or any kind of occasion. The venue has a simple beauty from the outside, but it is a complexly beautiful structure inside. The exposed steel beams create an intricate design and create the perfect setting for the beautiful lighting fixtures. Tables with snowy white tablecloths and chairs can be arranged in a variety of configurations, and the end doors can be opened to create an even more spacious venue.

The tasting room is more than just a place to sit and sample the great wines. You can listen to the beautiful baby grand piano being played by various artists and hear talented vocalists. There is a conference room; rooms for brides and grooms to dress; a wine cellar with tables running down the center for special dinners, and the two outside spaces. The top balcony overlooks the lower patio and fire pit and offers views of the pond and vineyards as well as the rolling pastures beyond -- and those beautiful sunsets. I sat on this balcony after my walk, drinking in all the beauty and magic of this place.

Into the Future: What I could See

A beautiful location, a bit of mystery, beautiful inside spaces for all kinds of events and occasions already, but there is promise of more to come. On that day I began to think about how great it would be to listen to bluegrass picking under the trees; to be delighted by talented entertainers in the main hall of the tasting room; to have long hay rides along the roads on the other side of the tunnel; to have dinners among the barrels in the wine cellar; to listen to concerts by the waterside; to have Mystery Dinner Theaters in the venue; to sip wine and listen to lectures, or to be part of a Tunnel Creek Books and Wine club with a monthly meeting. And maybe a place to stay like a great little lodge of 20 rooms or so, blending right in with the rolling pastures. Then it would be more than a place for every season but THE PLACE for everyone, every season.

Oh Yes, About the Wines

As seasons offer many different experiences at Tunnel Creek, so do the wines offer a variety of tastes and choices. Currently, the wine list offers whites, reds, and sweet wines with several to choose from in each group. “Chardonnay: This well-balanced white has a crisp acidity and aroma of pineapple and pear. Fig and apple flavors please the palate. Pinot Gris: Smooth and refreshing wine. Accents of fragrant honeysuckle and melon in its aroma. Sangiovese: Flavors of ripe, tart cherries and other red fruits with hints of rosemary and thyme…” Enough! We aren’t supposed to read about wines. We’re supposed to taste them.  Go to Tunnel Creek and see for yourself what I have seen, see and will see there every time I visit… and be sure to taste the wines…

Norwood Walker has spent many years in a classroom on one side of the desk or the other. He loved to write poetry and stories in high school, and his English teacher of three years once told him he might become a writer if he overcame his radical period. She is still waiting. He can be reached at norwoodwalker@gmail.com or Rainbow's End on Facebook.

1576 Berryhill Road
Roxboro, NC 27574
(336) 322-3600

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