Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Fun in Maine: What to do this weekend?

After some snow showers on Friday, the weekend in Portland, Maine looks to be nice indeed for January – sunny, with temps in the 30s and even 40s. If you’re looking for something fun to do, here are a few ideas (thanks to mainetoday.com, The Frontier, and various other sites, for the event listings that contributed to this post!).  You can also check out Maine Today’s full listing of 11 events this weekend specifically, right here.

Portland On Tap Craft Beer Festival, Saturday, January 30th (where I’d be) – America On Tap brings you Portland On Tap this weekend with two sessions at the Cross Insurance Arena.  This event offers the opportunity to sample over 100 releases from the country’s top craft breweries, enjoy live music, and nosh on some delicious food.  The first session is from 1pm – 4pm, with the second session from 6pm – 9pm. Regular tickets are $35, and VIP are $55, but include a food voucher, t-shirt, and other upgrades (like an extra hour of festival fun).  For full details or to buy tickets, check the festival out here.  A quick look at the vendor list showed me a few Maine breweries like Allagash, Geary’s, and Gritty McDuff’s (among others), and I hope the Maine-based businesses are highlighted as they deserve to be!

Camden Winterfest, January 30th – February 7th – Camden brings you Camden Winterfest, a whirlwind week of winter events (how’s that for some alliteration?) that offer fun for the whole family.  The schedule of events includes Snow Sculpting Championships, a Polar Plunge, Snow Plow Parade, and US National Toboggan Championships – among many others!

Lost Valley Winter Duathlon, January 30th, 10am – noon – Do you love winter’s outdoor sports?  Looking to stay active and earn that Saturday night pizza and beer?  This is the event for you.  Lost Valley’s Winter Duathlon is a 10km course on which competitors nordic ski 5km, then snowshoe the remaining 5km.  Check it out here.

Oscar Nominated Shorts, Animated, February 2nd – 7th, various show times – The Frontier in Brunswick, Maine is one of my favorite entertainment venues.  Coupled with a restaurant serving exceptional food, you can’t go wrong.  Tonight’s Maine Short Film Festival is sold out, but don’t miss out on their upcoming series of showings of Oscar Nominated Shorts.

Located further Downeast?  Rockland’s The Strand Theatre features “West Side Story” this weekend, Sunday at 2pm!

Hit the Slopes: Outdoor Magazine named Sugarloaf one of the Best Winter Trips of 2016 (#truth).  If Sugarloaf is too intimidating, check out Mt. Abram Ski area – they even have a Full Moon Hike this weekend followed by live music.  Shawnee Peak night skiing is always a hit, too!

If you’re on a budget, there are still many great opportunities to get out and enjoy your community for free or at least on the cheap.  A few ideas, plus another listing gem from Maine Today:

Portland Museum of Art: Free on Fridays evenings from 5pm – 9pm – so go get some culture.

Portland Comedy Showcase: $5, 8pm on Wednesday nights at Bull Feeney’s on Fore Street.  Good for a laugh!

Trivia Night: Free, 7pm on Tuesday nights at Elements Books Coffee Bar in Biddeford.  I am loving the renaissance Biddeford is having these days – such a neat, historic town! (oh, and Elements serves beer!)

Free / inexpensive outdoor adventures abound in Maine in the winter: from snowshoeing, to cross country skiing, to sledding and ice skating – this is really what winter is all about!


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Portland Beer Week!

After two months of gluten-free eating, I can scarcely express how excited I was just to toss myself into a chair at our local watering hole on a Friday night and enjoy a beer.  Nirvana.

While my local watering hole these days is far from Portland, Maine, I’m no less enthusiastic for you lucky ducks who have a chance to experience Portland Beer Week – a mere six (yes, 6) days away!  2015 marks the 4th annual event, which runs from Sunday, November 1st – Saturday, November 7th.

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Portland Beer Week is more than just a celebration of the high quality beer being brewed in Maine, it is a celebration of all things related to beer – from the beverage itself, to the glass, to the bar.  With this in mind, I particularly appreciate the “Superlatives” contest being introduced this year, where beer and bar lovers can cast their votes on everything from the ‘Surliest Delivery Driver’ to the ‘Best Beer Blogger.’ (Carla gets my vote! Check her out @beerbabe on twitter)

The participant and event lists are looooong, which is great news for people like me, who like variety.  There are so, so many interesting events, and you can check them all out here, but those that I’d love most to attend are listed here (I’ll only hate you a little if you go… and please send pics and reviews):

  • Local 188 & Bunker Brewing Tap Takeover:  all week while supplies last
  • Rising Tide Tap Takeover at The Great Lost Bear: Sunday, 11/1 at 5pm – a must do!
  • Cider Night at The Thirsty Pig: Tuesday, 11/3 at 4pm – I enjoy a good cider nearly as much as a good brew!
  • Free Introduction to Home Brewing Class at Maine Brewing Supply: Wednesday, 11/4
  • Shipyard Beer Dinner at new restaurant 953 Congress Street: Monday, 11/2 at 6:30pm (ticketed event – limited space)
  • Allagash Mega Bash at The Great Lost Bear: Friday, 11/6 at 5pm – two Maine powerhouses come together!
Enjoying a Maine craft brew - Allagash White - while supporting my Pats... and prepping for a cookout!

Old shot: Enjoying a Maine craft brew – Allagash White – while supporting my Pats… and prepping for a cookout!

Those are just my top picks – there are many incredible options… and you can tell things get especially “thirsty” on Thursday.  Attend one or many, but get out and about and enjoy this booming part of the local economy!

Bottoms up! #207beerweek


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Harvest On The Harbor – Starts Tomorrow!

How did the middle of October get here so quickly?  That seems to be the theme of the year for me – it has simply flown by and I find it hard to believe we’re well into fall, harvest, and foliage season.

With this time of year comes Maine’s premier food and wine festival, Harvest on the Harbor.  Beginning tomorrow, October 21st, and running through Sunday, October 25th, this festival brings together exceptional talent from food and drink to entertainment.  The events are not cheap, but they sound incredible.  You can review the schedule at-a-glance here and buy tickets here.  A few that appeal to me the most:

Vines to Wines – Oct 23rd, 5:30pm – 7pm at Custom Home

Maine Marketplace – Taste the 8 Regions of Maine – two times, Oct 24th from 12pm – 2:30pm and 4pm – 6:30pm at The Portland Company

Harvest Hop Beer & Whiskey Crawl – Oct 24th, 7pm – 9pm – East Bayside

Get out and enjoy all the city and the state has to offer!


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Wine in Maine: Cellardoor Winery

My third and final installment in the Wine in Maine series is here!

When people think of wine in Maine (anyone who’s flipped open a Maine-based magazine, at least), it’s highly likely that Cellardoor is the first thing to come to mind. Glossy advertising will do that, especially without much noteworthy competition in the state.  Having now visited Cellardoor in person, it is easy to see the appeal of this winery – it combines a picturesque view with quality wine and an atmosphere that, at least on the surface, is representative of the great state of Maine with rustic touches, coastal elements, and a general sense of welcome.

Tasting Room Bar Area

Tasting Room Bar Area (restored, 200-year-old barn)

On the day of our visit, as we wound our way from Union to Lincolnville, I was filled with anticipation to see the business that has been clearly established as the preeminent Maine winery and wine destination, down to their very website URL, mainewine.com.  In many ways, I was not disappointed.  The visual experience both indoor and out at Cellardoor is stunning – a beautiful facility with a smart and attractive selection of merchandise, combined with a sweeping view.  I struggled with writing my review of this winery because I recognize how many of my readers, and consumers in general, may love the Cellardoor experience.  I simply didn’t – something was missing for me.

I struggled even more, having read the Cellardoor website and chatted with the staff, because it is clear to me that the business owner, Bettina Doulton, is deeply committed to sharing her love of Maine and has played a leadership role in advancing and promoting the Maine wine industry, founding the Maine Wine Guild and its statewide Maine Wine Trail.  Undeniably, these contributions are heartfelt, genuine, and critically important to the state’s wine tourism industry.  I admire her mission, what she has accomplished, and the business she’s built.

So what was missing for me?  It’s hard to put my finger on.  It is some intangible combination of the people, the wine, and the atmosphere that gives those businesses that capture it a very special quality and deeply resonates with their customers.  It feels natural and unrehearsed.  I love those special Maine businesses that feel deeply authentic even to the point of imperfection.  Cellardoor was stunning – so stunning and manicured it struck me as somehow more suited to Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard than Lincolnville, Maine.  I was reminded of how I felt during my college tour on the Furman University campus – rather like a bull in a china shop, as they say – certain I would break something in all of that pristine beauty.  So, candidly, it could be just me.  I am confident the vast majority of patrons enjoy every moment at Cellardoor and reminisce about their experience with family and friends. And while I am charmed by the meaningful history behind the Cellardoor logo, I simply found Cellardoor to be somewhat… remote.  It was beautiful.  The wine was good.  Our server was friendly and personable.  It just didn’t feel like the small businesses Maine is known and loved for, where the owners are omni-present, the employees are more ambassadors than mere workers, and the appearance and experience may not be flawless, but it is human and warm.

Having said that, I do want to share what I did enjoy.  First, I was really impressed by the merchandise Cellardoor chooses to stock – it is a classy and appealing mix of glasswork, art, pottery, books, and wine and kitchen gizmos. Where some wineries dip dangerously close to chintzy, cheesy gift items, Cellardoor has  a selection that would have me stopping by just to shop for something beautiful and unique.  Second, the wine was certainly well-crafted, and made from grapes grown across the country as well as Maine, which enables Cellardoor to offer varietals that more people are familiar with (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Syrah, among others).  This is a smart business move and, very likely, enables the owner and winemaker to craft wines they themselves already love.  I particularly enjoyed ‘Ned Said Red,’ a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a naming back story.

The facility includes a restored barn and farmhouse (the tasting room is located in the restored barn), as well as a state-of-the-art winery across the road.  It has been beautifully redone with high quality finishes, and in combination with the view, would be an incredible and romantic setting for a wedding or other type of event.

If I visit again, my advice to myself is to appreciate Cellardoor for what it is, grab a glass of wine and a seat on the porch, and soak in the beauty of Maine.

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Wine in Maine: Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery

When I think about our visit to Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery, the image that instantly pops into my mind is that first moment, as we pulled into the gravel driveway and had our first glimpse of a sweeping view of field, forest, and mountains.  The driveway itself is edged closely by both the road and the winery, as so many other old farms now are – pressed up against our modern roads.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

The winery structure is charmingly, classically Maine.  A pretty, shingled building that has been updated to combine traditional elements with other, more modern influences like the wraparound deck and railing.  I found this combination of styles to be a theme throughout Sweetgrass – and it’s been executed so seamlessly that it enhances the experience without feeling too “perfect” or “untouchable.”  Inside and out, from the restored old truck and the gleaming copper Alembic still to the classic, white Adirondack chairs on the lawn, Sweetgrass hit all the right notes. “Sweet” indeed.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sweetgrass for me personally was how integral Maine traditions and products clearly are to the business.  I even feel the combination of the historic and the modern design elements and decor reflect this – generally speaking, Mainers hold on to a deep respect for the way things have been done for generations, while still moving forward themselves.  For example, in addition to operating as a winery and distillery, Sweetgrass is still a working farm.  They raise and sell Friesian and Friesian cross sheep for both meat and fleece; they have laying chickens and meat chickens; turkeys; pigs; and two cats.  They grow some of the fruit they use in their wines and liquors, and buy the vast majority of the remainder from other Maine resources, and they also grow grass (hay) for feed.  Sweetgrass sums up everything I felt about the experience there on their website, when asked about their philosophy: “to be a family run business preserving Union’s rich farming tradition, firmly rooted in the community, supporting local sustainable agriculture, local business, and donating 10% of profits to organizations which support families, children, and rural life.”

Philosophy and setting aside, the wines and liquors we had the opportunity to taste were exceptional on their own.  While my favorite, by a large margin, was their apple wine – delightful and crisp and pairs beautifully with lobster – I also enjoyed the sparkling cranberry apple (after all, what could be more holiday-appropriate than this flavorful, bubbly treat?) as well as the rhubarb smash.  Nick particularly enjoyed their renowned Back River Gin, which ended up being one of three bottles we purchased and brought home with us.  During our tasting, we had the opportunity to chat a bit with one of the owners about the business and what they’ve strived to accomplish.  I walked away understanding that vision, experience, and commitment have been critical to their success, which now includes an Old Port location and many accolades and awards, in addition to the Farm itself.

From beginning to end, this is a must-visit Maine winery. It was just our second of three winery stops during our cross-Maine trek from Crescent Lake to very nearly the Camden area, and it is the one I would most like to visit again.  Next time, though, I’d pack a picnic lunch, plan to stay a while, and indulge my wish to sit in one of those Adirondack chairs, soak in the view, and sip a Sweetgrass wine.

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That’s how I recommend you experience it!


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Wine in Maine: Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery

I’ve struggled to write this blog post with each attempt – multiple attempts made over multiple months – and I don’t know why.  Here, today, I’m forging ahead and doing my best to introduce you all to Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, a truly unique winery experience that can be found in Union, Maine.

Perhaps my struggle to find the right words is borne of the very nature of Savage Oakes.  At its core, this is a family farm that represents the proud history of local farming and continues to raise pork, beef, and chicken today.  But beyond the core, necessity has driven Savage Oakes’ owners to find additional revenue opportunities, a situation many local farmers can relate to.  Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery is the ingenuity borne from necessity – a new business line at the family-owned operation that is still known as Barrett Hill Farm.

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Both businesses are owned and operated by Elmer and Holly Savage and their two sons, and while I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of their meat products, I have enjoyed two tasting room visits to sample a variety of their wines.  My first visit was on a chilly, early winter day complete with a dusting of snow, as my mom and I dashed in during a day trip that also included a stop at the nearby Morse’s Sauerkraut.

I found myself charmed by the farming roots of the business and by the sheer authenticity of the experience.  This is the type of winery you ought to find in Maine – and not in Napa.  The tasting room (although a new one is now under construction) was warm, with polished plank walls, and decorated with pieces of the farm’s history, such as an old yoke once used for oxen working the land.

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The wines were refreshingly authentic, too.  While the varietals may be unknown to many, I was familiar with the cold-hardy grapes they’d chosen to grow, many of which have been developed by the University of Minnesota.  These wine grapes are meant to grow in cold climates, like Maine, while still producing flavorful, appealing wines (so don’t mind the wine snobs who turn up their noses). Many of their wines have clever names, also tied to the farm’s rich heritage, such as General Knox (a white wine from LaCrosse grapes) and Come Spring (a light-bodied red wine that is a blend of estate grown Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, and St. Croix grapes).

I enjoyed both the Barn Red and Come Spring during our winter visit, and when we returned just last month with my husband (who I knew would appreciate the dual agricultural and viticultural focus), I was pleasantly surprised by how much enjoyed their white wines.  First Kiss, which is now sold out, was very good, as was Georges River.

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These wines are different – you need to allow your palate time to adjust, as they won’t (and shouldn’t) taste like the French varietals we are all so familiar with.  Once you learn to appreciate them, you may even find you prefer these wines and the way they complement various dishes.

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But all differences aside, Savage Oakes has done an excellent job of blending Maine tradition with new business opportunity, and they’ve created an atmosphere that is both welcoming for locals and unique for tourists.  I certainly recommend a visit and a tasting, and if you have the time, check out the final event in their Summer Concert series.  Cheers!


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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 17th.  How we all look forward to you each year… for corned beef and cabbage, or shepherd’s pie, or perhaps more importantly, green alcoholic beverages and ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ shirts.

I, for one, have fond memories of childhood St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with green milk (and I’m sure green beer for the adults), among other green food and decor, being served at my grandmother’s house.  It’s the O’Leary in us.

For those of you in Portland, Maine, this holiday is most appropriately celebrated at Bull Feeney’s or RiRa, or another establishment with Irish roots.

For my part, we’ll be eating corned beef and cabbage tonight… and I enjoyed shepherd’s pie for lunch… now I just need a green beer!

Pretty... and pretty big!

Pretty… and pretty big!

Happy St. Patty’s Day to all!