Portland business ready for 'Sweetgrass' harvest
PORTLAND — Looking for some new tastes for Valentine's Day? Keith and Constance Bodine are ready to greet customers at their new Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery tasting room and shop at 324 Fore St.
The Bodines will host a grand opening at the shop near the corner of Fore and Pearl streets by pairing their wines and spirits with chocolates, cupcakes and other sweets made by Portland businesses.
“We spent the last couple of summers on the phone almost every day with someone from south of Portland looking to buy our stuff,” Constance Bodine said Tuesday about the opening.
The grand opening runs from noon to 8 p.m., and the tasting room will be open for regular hours Thursdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Included in the wine and spirit pairings Friday are cupcakes from Kupcakes Inc. in Monument Square and truffles from Dean's Sweets on Middle Street. Neighboring businesses Just Kim at 366 Fore St., Vena's Fizz House at 345 Fore St., and Lovely Things at 332 Fore St. will also offer extended hours and sales.
Established in 2005 at the Carroll Farm in Union, Sweetgrass Farms offers an array of of wines and spirits using Maine-grown fruits and grains made by Keith Bodine, who has a master's degree in enology from the University of California at Davis, and global experience making wine and spirits.
The winery, about 90 minutes from Portland, is also open for tours after Mother's Day.
Constance Bodine said the distillery uses about 35,000 pounds of Maine fruit annually, which is likely to increase because of a recent 4,000-square-foot expansion that doubled production capability.
Sweetgrass's Back River Gin has gained the most acclaim, with recommendations from national magazines and a medal in the 2013 American Distilling Institute Spirits, but the variety of distillations also includes rum, whisky and apple brandy. The Bodines also make aged blueberry wines, a "bleujolais" blended from young blueberries, and fortified wines.
Constance Bodine said her husband is attuned to the nuances of the fruits he uses and creates vintages that will surprise drinkers with preconceived expectations.
"Keith makes some very dry blueberry wines, some of them too dry for me," she said. “He likes his apple wine to taste not like a cider, but to taste like a crisp white wine.”
After graduating from college, Bodine went to work at Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa, Calif., beginning a sojourn that has taken the couple to Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, vineyards on Long Island, N.Y., a distillery in Florida, and the first Western-style winery established in China.
But Constance Bodine said the couple continued to have their hearts set on Maine, where they were married 30 years ago in Boothbay Harbor. Even as Keith Bodine worked at a Massachusetts vineyard, they were scouting locations in Maine.
While local climates are not hospitable to grape varieties, the Bodines set up shop in 2005 with five products, including three blueberry wines and gin. The vintages expanded as the wines aged, the spirit offerings also grew.
"We were more cautious when we were opening up,” she said.
As the couple explored sites in Portland for the tasting room, they got to know the business owners who will be part of the grand opening Friday. Most have recently set up shop, and Bodine said she hugely enjoyed products at nearby Vena's.
"Her apple syrup was so good I licked the shot glass," she said.