Portland, Me., may be my favorite food city in the country. People really care about food, and support local businesses that are doing things right. The diversity in restaurants is fantastic — you can get amazing pho, fabulous sushi, authentic Genoan pesto, and of course flipping fresh lobster all within a mile or so radius. Not to mention crisp croissants, donuts fried in duck fat (or made from potatoes) and creative cocktails.
What I didn’t really think about until recently is Portland as a place to drink great wine– until I connected with Erica Archer, sommelier, owner of wine education events company Wine Wise, and the mastermind behind Portland Wine Week. Running June 17th -23, and featuring 70 events on land and sea, PWW is a great showcase for the food scene. In addition, print out a copy of the Wine Passpourt (get it?) here and gain access to wine specials at 28 participating restaurants, including some of my favorites like Solo Italiano, Bao Bao Dumpling House and Five Fifty-Five. I asked Erica for an insider’s view of the Portland wine scene, and to talk about the new Women In Wine track at this year’s event.
What sets Portland apart as a wine-lover’s destination? Portland restaurants lean towards small boutique wineries for their wine lists–wines that are not big volume production and that are really delicious and have a unique story to tell. [And] a healthy number of wine distributors who are very passionate about the wines in their portfolio. …. There’s also a lot of focus on increasing one’s own wine knowledge among restaurant hospitality professionals here, in order to help customers understand the wine lists and to understand it themselves.
What are some highlights of Portland Wine Week? The boutique style of Portland Wine Week events on the whole. The 70-plus events, taking place across the city, are small intimate gatherings, mostly under 40 people, cultivated around quality…. Many of these events are taking place in the city’s best restaurants with acclaimed chefs pairing their incredible food with winemakers pouring their wines. In additional to limited-seating, ticketed events, there are more than 25 non-ticketed events throughout the week that allow lots of flexibility to how one experiences great wine throughout the week. Visiting winemakers will be doing meet-and-greets and special wine tastings at restaurants and wine shops, there’s weeklong special pours and pairings throughout town. And the Wine Passpourt offers access to even more exclusive wine pour specials and allows lots of flexibility to how one experiences wine throughout the week.
Why do you think it is important to offer a “women in wine” track? The motivation behind this year’s Women in Wine Track really came from two places–to help and elevate the awareness of women’s role in wine, if only at the local level, and to show the up-and-coming women and men who may be looking at their own career paths in wine what some options are.
Women are known as consumers of wine, but the awareness is not there about the role we have in shaping the wine industry from the supply side. Wine has historically been a male-dominated industry. Those boundaries are disappearing.
At the local level, in Portland, we have many women in the wine business–from owning and running their own wine import and distribution companies, to having key sales positions, running wine lists in top restaurants, to myself owning two wine-focused companies in Wine Wise and Portland Wine Week.
So let’s raise awareness. Let’s inspire more women to come into the business, to mentor other women wanting to get into the business, let’s celebrate the women who are making such incredible wine, wine lists, wine companies, wine sales, and decisions–but are for the most part unknown. Maybe it will inspire some thought, some relationships, some new wine experiences.We have women coming from all over, in all positions, and coming to celebrate each other and share in great wine experiences. The track has really been well received. The response it is heartwarming.
Are there VIP experiences during wine week? There are some pretty spectacular events that anyone would feel like a VIP when attending. The Wine Sails are pretty special. Guests get to enjoy fine wines and views of Maine lighthouses while sailing on the beautiful Tall Ship, Frances. The Grand Opening Women in Wine Dinner is another experience that I would certainly classify as a VIP experience. This dinner features five outstanding Maine Chefs and 10 Greater Portland Sommeliers who all happen to be women. We’re all very much girl-crushing on these chefs. I can’t believe they all said YES! Two Somms are matched with each Chef to present their best wine pairing with the dish to each guest. Five courses, ten wines, two wines per dish. The only criteria for the Somms is that all wines need to be from a woman winemaker. Guests get to vote for ‘best wine pairing’ and one Somm is going home with a trophy. It’s set outside on the rolling greens of the Falmouth Country Club.
What do you think visitors are surprised by when visiting Portland? I think the diversity of restaurants serving high-quality food and all that goes well with it. Portland is a ‘city’ but it’s a small walkable city. Most establishments are within a walking distance from each other so it’s easy to get around and experience a lot without a lot of driving. Having a working waterfront is pretty great, too. It’s exciting for visitors to discover. It adds beautiful natural surroundings and energy to the city. You can see the fisherman walking their fresh catch into the same restaurant you’re walking into. And access to fresh produce from local specialized-farmers is awesome. You know the food is going to be great. And it is. And what goes better with great food than great wine? That’s what Portland Wine Week is all about — the best this energized coastal small city has to offer.