Is Portland ready for a natural wine store? Peter and Orenda Hale believe so. Tomorrow at noon they'll open Maine and Loire, a small retail shop focusing on organic and biodynamically farmed vino, which is wine created with minimal intervention; that is, few pesticides, preservatives, or even domesticated yeast strains throughout the process. The business name is a reference to both this state and the Maine-et-Loire region of France, which the company's Facebook page explains is home to some of the owners' favorite producers.
The shop is located on Washington Avenue at the bottom of Munjoy Hill. "The neighborhood reminds us of the good parts of Brooklyn, where we lived for several years," Peter says. That is, before that area's corners were claimed by Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and other big chains. Orenda expands upon the thought, praising the "grittiness" of the "younger, hip sort of area that seems like it would be a great place to open a wine shop that's a little bit unique in and of itself."
But can a niche wine store thrive in such a famously beer-centric town? The couple thinks the strong beer scene can only help their cause. "That just means people are paying attention to what they're drinking as much as what they're eating," Peter explains. He is certain that locals who crave excellent beer are poised to adopt other quality substances as well. "If you look at The Portland Hunt and Alpine Club and Bramhall, people didn't even know they wanted cocktail bars — but now they have two of them. People might not know they want natural wines, but once they get exposed to it I don't think it'll be a tough sell," he predicts.
Orenda and Peter, who have extensive resumes in the food industry, met at Reynard in Brooklyn, which they say leads the borough in its emphasis on local foods and natural wines. "Natural wine is more about the people behind it, who's making it, and in that essence it made learning about wine more fun and approachable. I think a lot of people here will see that as well," Orenda says. The two plan to channel the spirit of great record stores, which they say are more about hanging out and learning new things, "not so much selling as raising awareness."
With its particular ethos, will Maine and Loire carry any wines local to Maine? For now, only one cider and one wine, but Peter says they're excited about the possibilities. "The next step is about getting out there to those wineries or orchards, and tasting, and once we've done that you'll see more of those products on the shelves." For now, he recommends keeping an eye on Oyster River Winegrowers in Warren, who just released Morphos, a sparkling style called Petillant Naturel. "It's a wild wine that ferments in the bottle. Oyster River does a version that's amazing and stands up to regions of the world that've been making wine like that for millennia, and I'm sure they make other great stuff that we'll find out about too," Peter gushes. Clearly, they're ready to dig through the crates with customers and connoisseurs.
63 Washington Avenue, Portland, (207) 805-1336, website. Open Tuesday—Saturday 12 p.m.—8 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.—6 p.m.