Portland, Maine's New Natural Wine Bar Is Straight Out of Brooklyn

The husband-and-wife proprietors of the Maine & Loire wine shop and the newly minted Drifters Wife wine bar are living the Brooklyn dream—from roughly 300 miles away.

The story of Peter and Orenda Hale reads a lot like a modern Brooklyn romance you might be familiar with: The two met while working together at Reynard, one of restaurateur Andrew Tarlow's many New York City establishments (this one inside of Williamsburg's Wythe Hotel), dated, quickly tied the knot, and then realized they needed to get the hell out of Brooklyn.

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Like a true leading man in a Brooklyn romance story, Peter was also a musician. But not just any musician—he was one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed indie-rock band Here We Go Magic.

"Deciding to leave Brooklyn was half-impulsive because I had only known Peter for about eight months, but on the other hand, I had been mentally preparing myself for it for years," says Orenda. "It was New Year's Eve 2014 at Diner [another of Andrew Tarlow's restaurant, this one styled like a railcar] when I told Peter that I didn't want to spend another summer in the city. Truthfully, I was kind of tipsy, but Peter took me seriously so we just went for it."

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So, just like that, the two set out for Portland, Maine, and eventually settled on opening Maine & Loire, their natural wine store. The choice to focus on natural wines—the term refers to those made under the guiding principle of minimal manipulation of the grape, both on the vine and in the cellar, and often results in some funky concoctions—was a no-brainer for the couple.

And their combined history of pouring and sipping vino as a profession didn't hurt either. "We've been working with these wines and these producers and importers for years, so when we moved here, we couldn't help but want to bring some of that with us," explains Peter.

Their experiences working in the Andrew Tarlow restaurant group was hugely influential for the couple, in terms of developing their passion for oenology: Tarlow's wine director, Lee Campbell, was a trailblazer in the early 2000s when she began shining the spotlight on these natural, often left-of-center wines—long before it became the standard for buzzy new restaurants to boast having the most esoteric and funky list in town.

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"Lee was the first person who was able to make wine approachable and real to me," says Orenda. "I suppose I was initially drawn to natural wines because they just tasted better."

While opening a natural wine shop like Maine & Loire in a place like Brooklyn might be the long-awaited puzzle piece in certain burgeoning, hip neighborhoods of the borough, that wasn't necessarily the case for Portland. It was a risk, and one that not only paid off, but led to their newest venture: Drifters Wife, a wine bar tucked inside of the shop.

"Honestly, the first year in the shop was really hard," says Peter. "For the most part, people here were not being exposed to wines like these at restaurants or bars, so expecting someone to buy an esoteric, label-less, or otherwise 'new' wine off our shelves, blind, was asking a lot."

But the couple fought through the hard times, welcoming a new member to the family while they were at it (Orenda gave birth to their son Luca two months after Maine & Loire opened).

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Alongside their chef Ben Jackson (a former sous chef at Reynard), Peter and Orenda are officially staking their claim in Portland's bustling, burgeoning food scene. While the menu is still constantly changing and very much in its infancy, diners would be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with dishes like chicken liver crostini garnished with herbs and watermelon radish.

"The model of Drifters Wife isn't new," says Peter. "Places like Wildair, Ten Bells, June, The Four Horsemen, Semilla, and all of Andrew Tarlow's restaurants have been doing a phenomenal job at this for some time. The challenge again is that in Portland, unlike New York, people haven't been drinking natural wine since early 2000."

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Even with all the growing pains of running and operating a new restaurant, Peter and Orenda seem to be taking everything in stride—and with that same starry-eyed, impulsive spirit from that fateful New Year's Eve that got them here in the first place.

When pressed for details on how they'll spend what little downtime they might have, Orenda offers: "It usually includes a bottle of wine once the babe has gone to bed. I'd like to surprise you by saying we drink something other than wine, but we really do love this stuff."

Now that you're fully convinced on paying Portland, Maine, a visit, Peter and Orenda share their guide for where to eat, shop, and drink around town.

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