If you’re brainstorming where to enjoy great wine this summer, the sommeliers and restaurateurs of Portland, Maine, hope you’ll keep their city top of mind — especially during the third week in June.
Portland Wine Week, now in its second year, will showcase the Forest City’s vibrant wine and food scene, June 17-23. Last year’s inaugural festival featured more than 50 events, from tastings and classes to multi-course dinners featuring wines from Austria to the Azores. This year’s fête — which includes a track celebrating women in wine — is shaping up to be even more expansive.
Restaurants, bars, and shops all over town will present a multitude of offerings, from the budget-friendly to the splurge-worthy. Sip a gently priced glass of bubbly alongside freshly shucked oysters at a shellfish market, or learn to craft your own spritzer at a stylish cocktail lounge. In the evening, drop by a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, and get acquainted with a winemaker over a prix fixe repast. The next morning, hop aboard a sailboat and enjoy a scenic brunch on Casco Bay. Tickets to events are sold a la carte, so it’s a snap to customize your own adventure.
If the notion of Portland as a wine destination surprises you, don’t forget that Bon Appétit magazine named it 2018’s Restaurant City of the Year. (Chicago garnered the title in 2017, and Washington D.C. the year before that.) Many in the city’s hospitality community are still basking in the glow of national media attention.
“We were awestruck,” says sommelier Erica Archer, president of Wine Wise, the presenting sponsor of Portland Wine Week. “I’m from Portland, and I do business with the people in the article. My phone blew up,” she recalls, referring to the calls and messages she received from colleagues about the honor.
The magazine’s recognition is all the more satisfying given Archer’s own career trajectory. Nearly a decade has passed since she left the corporate world to start her wine education events company. The somm has had a front row seat to the evolution of Portland’s wine scene. A key feature of that growth is the upsurge of women professionals in the industry.
One of last year’s most popular events was a panel discussion featuring women working in wine. Topics ranged from navigating a traditionally male-dominated industry, to raising capital to fund women-owned businesses. “When I was putting the group together, it was obvious to me that I was really onto something here,” says Archer.
Panelists and attendees clamored for more female-focused programming, so this year’s festival includes a Women in Wine Track. Offering a curated selection of seminars, wine dinners, and tours, the track highlights winemakers, sommeliers, chefs, and creatives — all of whom are female.
Tabitha Perry, owner of Crush Distributors, a wholesaler distributing wine in Maine and New Hampshire, isn’t surprised that the panel resonated with people. “There weren’t many women selling wine in 2008,” she says, reflecting on the year she launched her company focused on boutique and small-production wines. “It’s a hospitality town,” she continues. “Young women are eager to learn from those of us who have been working in wine longer.”
That theme of generational continuity is represented by two West Coast winemakers coming to the festival. Carol Shelton, owner and winemaker of a line of wines bearing her name, will be visiting from Santa Rosa, Calif. Shelton began her pioneering career in the late ’70s and is lauded for her sumptuous bottles of zinfandel. Brianne Day, owner and winemaker of Day Wines, traveled and worked throughout the wine world before returning to Willamette Valley, Oregon. She started making her own wine less than a decade ago. Fingers crossed that she’ll be pouring “Mamacita,” her fragrant pétillant naturel (“pét-nat”) crafted from vermentino, muscat, and malvasia bianca.
Courtney “Coco” O’Neill, director of operations and wine director at restaurant Central Provisions, is an avid proponent of the Women in Wine Track. For the week, she has put together a list of wines crafted entirely by female makers. “I’ll be pouring everything from crisp, dry whites, skin-contact orange wines, to beautiful rosés, and summery reds,” she enthuses.
O’Neill is quick to give credit to a Boston-area colleague, Lauren Friel, owner of Rebel Rebel in Somerville. Prior to launching her Bow Market wine bar, Friel created an all-female-made wine list for Dirt Candy in New York, the first of its kind in the country. “I met her a couple of years ago, and I was floored,” says O’Neill admiringly. “There are enough women winemakers to populate a whole list.”
The wine director emphasizes that the female-focused track is meant to be inclusive. Just as every wine list has a point of view — Old World, New World, French — the organizing principle here happens to be women and the delicious wines they make.
“It’s a way to reimagine women’s roles in wine and to create a conversation,” says O’Neill. “It’s truly for everyone.”
Portland Wine Week takes place June 17-23 at venues throughout the city. For tickets and a full schedule of events, visit portlandwineweek.me.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.