Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Bringing Back Books? Yes, Please!

The phrase, ‘look for a book and look behind it,’ was frequently employed in my childhood home to describe my bookworm tendencies; I have vivid memories of being caught devouring novels in math class (apologies, Mr. Caulfield); and to this day, if I’m deep in a story, people can say my name repeatedly and receive no response (particularly annoying to my husband, I believe). I love to read – it’s like a mini-vacation just for me, every evening, and even though I now have a Kindle, there is simply nothing like reading a book in print. The entire sensory experience is different – from the way my eyes process the written word, to the tactile experience of feeling and turning pages, to the crisp smell reminiscent of wood and forest.

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So while we may indeed be seeing the end of the big bookstore, I’m thrilled that both new and established independent bookstores are finding success. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend reading this article from the Press Herald about independent bookstores in and around Portland, Maine: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/06/new-bookstore-opening-in-portland/

In conjunction with some statistics about childhood education I heard on the radio last week, this article inspired this post about bringing back the book. People may ask why, and how, these small, independent stores can be successful. Borders failed, despite their vast selection; Barnes & Noble struggles despite offering coffee and wifi – so how do the little guys do it?

First, as with all buying trends, this one too will change, but at the moment, we’re seeing a shift away from big box stores and rock bottom prices to a willingness to spend more for a great experience and support of local businesses (#buylocal, anyone?). I’d further speculate that like small tech startups, small bookstores can be more nimble than big stores with massive inventory. This agility enables them to respond more quickly to what their audience wants to read than a large, impersonal chain – which brings me to my second point: it is actually possible for them to know and learn what that audience wants (and no, I don’t mean by spending big bucks on big data analysis). This is the natural result of owners and team members being personally engaged in their communities and with their customers. These people know each other. They eat at the same restaurants, enjoy the same craft breweries, attend the same churches, etc etc.

From the expanding Gottwals Books here in Middle Georgia to Print, Longfellow Books, Sherman’s, and Letterpress Books in Maine (all referenced in the above article) – not to mention a charming, secondhand bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina that I can no longer remember the name of – these stores are listening and responding to what their communities need, and reaping the benefits.They may not be able to offer every book by every author that every patron wants, but the independent bookstore compensates for this with knowledgeable service and personal attention: if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, chances are they can help you find something similar – or possibly even better.

But to go beyond market influences and great customer service for a moment – the following summarizes just a snippet of what I heard on the radio recently:

  • Children comprehend and retain more of what they read from a printed book than an e-book (a big deal when you think about the fact that education is what gives us the power to change our lives)
  • People who read on screen take on average 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than those who read print – and are more likely to experience poor quality sleep (sleep is such an important part of your mental and physical health, and we are already too sleep-deprived as a nation)
  • The tactile and visual experience of turning pages and comprehending reading progress plays a role in both enjoyment and retention, and increases likelihood (in textbooks) of completing intermediate assessments of material

So I’m saying ‘hurrah’ to these independent bookstores, and good luck. Let’s bring back the books. Books have given me so many valuable adventures. They have broadened my horizons, provided escape, entertained and challenged me. Perhaps best of all, I can never read and experience one the same way twice. I’m constantly changing and growing, so the stories do, too.

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What’s In a NaME?

Your name is so much more than just what people call you – it becomes definitive of all the characteristics (good and bad) people associate with you – your “personal brand,” as some of my marketing colleagues would say. This is no less true in business. Think about a brand you love. I’ll go with Asics, for purposes of this example. I will never buy a running shoe brand other than Asics. I love them. I get excited when my fellow runners ask me what shoes I recommend – because I get to talk about Asics. To me, Asics is synonymous with quality, dependability, technology, and a passionate commitment to health and fitness. Every business hopes their customers become what I’ve become for Asics: a brand ambassador. So how do you do it?

If you’re a business owner in Maine, chances are you’ve thought about your brand even if you’re not familiar with the term itself. If you’ve spent time thinking about your name, your logo, your colors, your business purpose, and the experience and service your customers receive, you’ve thought about your brand. The fact that you chose to start a business in Maine already weaves itself into your brand – people will associate attributes of the state and its resident Mainiacs with your business. Maine is respected as a state with an independent and entrepreneurial spirit, where small businesses comprise 97% of the state’s employers. Born and raised there, I’ve always been deeply proud of the reputation Maine has for quality and sincerity – from its people to its products.

When I first began writing Maine Roots, I was largely inspired by exactly this – the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine’s people. Having moved south for college and my career, I was searching for a way to reconnect and perhaps contribute in some small way to their success. The people of Maine are hard-working, compassionate, and proud, and I in turn was proud to write about them as I made my home far away. And just recently, when I was approached by Domain.ME to write a post sharing their unique value proposition for people and businesses from Maine, doing so seemed to be a natural fit.

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.ME is the provider of URLs that end in .ME. It’s unique and unexpected, just like so much of the state of Maine. As an experienced marketing and communications professional, I saw an immediate connection with these shared traits that goes deeper than just the match with the state abbreviation – which is still pretty neat – and moves into branding territory. Your brand is critically important to your business, as is how you communicate it. In one blog post, I can hardly cover more than the tip of the iceberg about brand, but I’m excited to share one easy-to-implement way to reinforce it for ME businesses – with a URL ending in .ME. This is a clever communications tool that naturally plays to both your location and the very idea of the singularity of the state of Maine.

In case you aren’t familiar with the term “brand,” here’s an explanation of how brand is generally defined by professional marketers: some combination of a) how your customers and potential customers perceive you (i.e. Volvo = safety), b) your name, your logo, the colors and fonts and style that comprise your visual identity, and c) customer experience from service, to communication, to accessibility.

Maine businesses have the good fortune of being branded with a reputation for quality service and products and the expectation of unique, vibrant personality – simply by virtue of their location. This established reputation is the gift of generations of Mainers to business owners in the state today. How you define your brand on top of that strong foundation is up to you! For a few pointers on effective brand strategy, I liked this post from Hanson Dodge Creative (or feel free to email me and we can discuss further).

Once you’ve defined your brand and brand strategy, how will you communicate it (beyond the experience you deliver to your customers every day, which isn’t to be discounted)? For small business, particularly in a state like Maine where tourism is such a significant part of the economy, having a strong online presence is an important piece of your communications strategy. This is another area with a myriad of topics to cover (mobile-friendly, SEO, social media, best practices etc. etc.), but in the interest of time, let’s simply acknowledge that being online enables potential customers to find you.

If I was running a small business in Maine, working to build my brand, and either considering an online presence or questioning if it’s effective enough, I would seize the opportunity to work with .ME. Why? .ME behaves as a natural brand reinforcement tool for any Maine-based business, even if it isn’t technically the official domain of Maine. And we’ve discussed the significance of brand ad nauseam. In case you’re wondering, .ME offers all the same SEO (search engine optimization) benefits any other type of URL (.com, .org, etc.), so the question for a Maine business truly becomes: why wouldn’t you work with .ME?

This post was inspired and sponsored by Domain.ME, the provider of the personal domains that end in .ME. As a company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


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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 Coast to Coast

Wine has been on my mind.  My husband and I often talk about our dream of owning a vineyard and making wine (I’m more interested in the farming, back-to-the-earth, nature-centric aspects; he’s truly passionate about the chemistry behind great wine and how to craft it), and we talk nearly as often about where to make this dream a reality.  But that’s a post for another day.  It is easy to be swept away in the romanticism of wine and wine making.  It’s a drink that makes you dream (or daydream).

Just one short week ago, I returned from my very first visit to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys – a trip that was stunning from the scenery to the wine and beyond.  It was also a striking contrast to many of the charming vineyards and wineries I’ve visited in North Carolina, Virginia, and, yes, Maine.

It reminded me that I owe you all posts on three Maine vineyards and wineries in particular: Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery, and Cellardoor Winery.  Consider this the first post in a series, as I share a little bit about my experience with wine on the other coast before bringing you back to the Down East and sharing my experiences enjoying the authentic, family farm setting of Savage Oakes; the more polished-yet-rustic, hip vibe of Sweetgrass; and the upscale, glamour-meets-country appeal of Cellardoor.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

In celebration of a dear friend’s 30th birthday, I traveled to northern California for a girls’ weekend in wine country.  I was picked up from the airport by the other ladies and immediately whisked off to Napa, where we began our fun with Oxbow Public Market – a fascinating and appealing conglomeration of food vendors and shops, and where I enjoyed a positively delicious salmon ceviche.  From there, we proceeded along the Silverado Trail as it winds through many of the most widely recognized names in American wine.  I’ll tell you, it was a special thrill to see, in person, the places where many wines we love were grown, crafted, and aged.

Wisely, we shared a number of tastings throughout the weekend, otherwise I hesitate to imagine how tipsy we may have become.  Our first stop was Miner Family Winery, where we enjoyed a truly excellent Viogner and an unusual Chardonnay fermented only with the wild yeast on the grapes (which I liked – very different) before transitioning into dryer reds.  Perhaps the most memorable part of that visit, though, was the consultant who handled our tasting.  A native of Sonoma whose father is a grower,  his knowledge (and willingness to take our picture) made the tasting enjoyable and engaging.

At Miner!

At Miner!

From there, we made our way to Charles Krug, which houses its tasting room in a stunning 1872 building, an atmosphere that contributes effectively to the tasting experience.  Taking in the high ceilings, the rustic charm, the old, deep window wells, all while sipping their Family Reserve Generations – a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. It is an experience in and of itself, and precisely as they describe on their website, with spice and lovely fruit flavors of blackberry and red currant.  That entire afternoon was a blurred combination of exhaustion (i.e. jet lag), wine, and laughter, which all culminated in a giddy patio dinner at Francis Coppola, complete with stunning views of vineyards and mountains.

The following day, a car service took us around Sonoma Valley, where we made it to five – five! – wineries, including Ledson, Landmark, Kunde, Imagery, and Chateau St. Jean. In my opinion, Kunde stood head and shoulders above the rest for a number of reasons.  From the wine, to the cave tour (where they age their wines – and have an event space!), to the consultant who handled our tasting, the entire experience was exceptional.  I also knew Nick would like the fact that they grow all of their own grapes, which seemed rare, at least among the wineries we visited.  What surprised me was how much I appreciated that fact, too.  Sitting in our home in Georgia, I didn’t feel particularly concerned with whether the wine I was consuming was made from grapes grown by the winemaker, but when I was there – among the vines – it became much more significant.  So I ordered four bottles (naturally).

It was a truly incredible weekend.  By the time I journeyed home on Sunday, I felt I’d seen (and consumed) more than I imagined possible in two days.  Napa was glorious, and Sonoma quieter, but no less impressive.  I’m looking forward to thinking about how very, very different these experiences were from Maine wineries and sharing my perspective with you.  Differences aside, this was a trip not to be missed!