When Peter Merriam walks through the screened door of his summer house in Maine, deftly balancing four glasses and three bottles of wine, it's obvious he's done this before. While establishing a fine reputation as a Massachusetts wine retailer, Peter built a collection of wines inspired by vintages he sampled with his wife, Diana, on their honeymoon in France. His passion for wine evolved naturally into his purchase of a Northern California vineyard that produces Merriam Vineyards Windacre Russian River Valley Merlot, among other wines. Though the critically acclaimed red is bottled and aged within miles of the Pacific, it's affectionately named after the Merriams' house in Maine―Windacre-by-the-Sea.
Peter and Diana entertain often, sharing their lush, 6-acre property, its gardens, and an almost 270-degree view of the Atlantic Ocean. "When you get here," Diana says, "you just immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the shore." For eight to 10 weeks each year, the Merriams enjoy what amounts to a glorious summer camp.
Today, guests gather around the saltwater pool carved into the rocky shoreline. As Peter pours aperitifs, he offers a bit of history: Built in the 1930s, the pool is tidal, "meaning at high tide it fills up. And it's unfiltered, like our wine. Every spring the Northeast storms create havoc by putting boulders and rocks in the bottom." But any extra maintenance seems well worth it. "We just love being down here," says Peter. "We'll walk to the pool and have refreshments around sunset." Says Fotene Demoulas, Diana's sister: "All you want to do is sit on one of the chairs and grab a glass of wine. What a way to start the end of the day."
While guests nibble on crab cakes with zesty Lime Aïoli, the Merriams' children―Stefan, Danielle, and twins Nicolas and Evan―lay out a croquet course on the expanse of lawn nearby. The first wickets are set in proper order, but with a few shrugs and smiles, the rest get placed in a random design based on how the family's dogs run around the playing field.
The children and adults eventually sit down to a table artfully set by Fotene, an interior designer. Today's menu features Maine specialties prepared by caterer Dan Mathieu to spotlight Merriam Vineyards' Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. "Our wines are food-friendly," Peter says. "We maintain nice, bright acidity and balanced tannins, which make for excellent food-pairing qualities." The 2002 Windacre Merlot finds its place with grilled duck breast and herbed spaetzle. "Our Merlot is quite indicative of the Russian River Valley," says Peter. "It has a nice bouquet of raspberry and cherry on the nose." The darker and deeper 2003 Block 21 Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with tender, no-knife-necessary lamb medallions.
Seasonal berries highlight Dan's dessert trio: blueberry tartlets with sweetened cream, almond-scented macaroons with a hint of berry jam, and lemon-blueberry parfaits―all of them light and textured, with amazing sweet and tart flavors. Like tonight's dessert wine, a black Muscat, the Merriams' leisurely dinner has a memorable finish.