Fine wine, fine cause

Distributors partner to raise money, educate Portlanders on wines of the world
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  March 31, 2010

SAMPLING THE WORLD But really, who needs an excuse to try new wines?

Drinking for a good cause is starting to catch on in Portland. Events like Green Drinks, which aims to bring together those with environmentally sustainable tendencies for a monthly gathering of free beer drinking, has become so wildly popular that the organizers struggle to find venues large enough to accommodate the masses.

But there’s a new event in town — and this time it’s all about the wine. Well, the wine and raising money for a good cause, of course. The event, 20/20 Charity Wine, which offers tastings of 20 different wines for $20, will occur every other month, on the third Sunday.

The first event, held at the end of March, focused on wines from Spain and Portugal, with proceeds going to the Compass Project, the Portland-based group that teaches at-risk young people to build boats with their own hands. While the charity component is central to this event, organizers also see this as an opportunity to educate Portlanders about wines from different regions of the world. Many of the wine producers emerging from both Portugal and Spain have moved away from mass production and into specialty, high-quality “terroir” wines, from specific regions with distinct characteristics, says Jon Dietz of Belfast-based Easterly Wines. These specialized wines are what Easterly and the other four small wine distributors who participated in this event hope to bring to the attention of Portlanders.

Tabitha Blake, who started Crush Wines Distributors in Laconia, New Hampshire, last June, says she chose to open a small, boutique wine-distribution company because it enabled her to focus on smaller production wines that aren’t necessarily accessible to the masses in traditional grocery stores, for example. “It’s a more unique product, which makes it great for people to try because they’re not familiar with it,” she says. The wines she selects are what “I choose to sell, not something I have to sell.”

The first installment, which was held at the Salt Exchange, featured Spanish-inspired dishes. “We decided to go with Spanish street food,” says Charlie Bryon, owner and operator of the Salt Exchange. Dishes included white gazpacho, a Spanish garlic soup, and mussels seasoned to complement the wine selections. Bryon decided to get involved largely because it was for a good cause and he had the space available (the restaurant is closed on Sundays). Although the Salt Exchange is relatively new to the Portland restaurant scene (it opened in June), Byron says it’s important for local restaurants to be involved in these types of charitable events. “We have high visibility and a responsibility to champion good things,” he says.

The next event, scheduled for May 16, will feature wines from Italy and will be hosted by Cinque Terre in conjunction with Aurora Provisions. Proceeds from the event will go to Cultivating Community, an organization aimed at supporting organic, sustainable food production in Maine.

Featuring wines from Italy, which in 2008 beat out France to become the world’s largest producer of wine, is a great opportunity to showcase some of the smaller, more specialized Italian wine producers, says Dietz. “All the wines represented are from producers who depend on it for their livelihood,” he says. “They’re not a huge corporation pushing out full-page ads — this is not mass-produced, it’s hand-made.”

For this and future events, the purpose will remain simple, says Scot Hudson from DaVine Wine Selections of Bowdoinham, who was a co-organizer of the event along with Ned Swain of Devenish Wines, based in Hancock and Portland. “We want to focus on showcasing dishes and enticing people with wines from different regions of the world to raise money for local charities,” Hudson says.

Leischen Stelter can be reached

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  Topics: Food Features , Salt Exchange, Salt Exchange, Aurora Provisions,  More more >
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