George

It was a very special night for the owners, staff, friends and customers of the Winterport Winery and Penobscot Bay Brewery. We didn’t know that when we confirmed for one of their popular monthly wine and beer dinners, but we were very happy to participate in the celebration.

Owners Michael and Joan Anderson had just received the 2014 Maine Food Producer of the Year award from the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association — the first winery and brewery to win that prestigious recognition. And they were, along with the entire staff, very excited.

For good reason. The Anderson’s interest in wine began 30 years ago with the Christmas gift of a wine-making kit. That kit led to one of the state’s top wineries, opened in 2001, and breweries, opened in 2009, with a retail store and conference and party space. A daughter’s art gallery is even in the building. Winterport Winery is a destination!

The occasion was also special for its recognition of long-time chef Laurie Turner, who was leaving to travel with her engineer/businessman husband. This was new chef Ryan Clough’s first event. Laurie was here with Ryan for his first dinner and got lots of hugs and special goodbyes and good wishes.

The evening began in the tasting room and retail store, with a cool appetizer of marinated watermelon skewers. For the dinner, Linda signed up for wines, while I chose beers, in the interest of giving you a complete report. Yes, I am a beer guy, too.

With the appetizer I enjoyed Wigstreet Blond Ale, described as “an easy drinking, comfortable ale for those lazy days and laid-back nights.” And boy, was I feeling laid-back and lazy!

Wandering around the art gallery and store was interesting. They offer signs and towels with funny sayings. My favorite was: “Tonight’s Forecast: Chance of wine 90%.”

I was talking about hunting with the bartender — Jody Connor, the Anderson’s partner who performs all kinds of tasks here — when I noticed that nearly all the guests had already moved to the dining room, including Linda. Time to move on!

Their wine dinners can accommodate 40 people, and on this night they had squeezed in 43 to sit family-style at long, beautifully decorated tables. One thing we love about special event wine dinners is that we get to meet and visit with so many interesting people.

Conversation flowed freely up, down and across the table, and we discovered a group from Pittsfield, repeat visitors to the winery’s dinners, as were many of the other guests that night. That tells you a lot about the quality of the experience.

We had arrived early to take photos, and I discovered Michael helping out in the open kitchen. He said they’d had some very successful summer wine/beer/food tastings on the porch. Something to try next summer, I thought to myself.

My food expert will tell you a lot more about the food, but here’s what I liked best. The Old Factory Whistle Scottish Ale — Michael’s signature beer — which I have enjoyed before; the cold tomato soup “mimicked a BLT” — so no wonder I loved it; the pork loin that Mike cured with beer; and the emphasis on local products including apples, watermelon (procured 100 yards up the road) and blackberries.

While it is tough to pick a favorite course, Linda and I agreed on the Grilled Corn and Andouille Salad. The Blackberry Panna Cotta dessert was to die for. Paired with the Scottish Ale, it was a spectacular ending to a wonderful dinner and evening.

I was soooo full. And then, two friends who we were surprised to see there, Greg and Betty Jamison, came up at the end of the dinner with a couple of pints of Stone Fox Farm Creamery ice cream, made in Monroe. One of the flavors was Bay Brew made with Mike’s Half Moon Stout. Good thing we had no way to keep the ice cream from melting, because I would have purchased a gallon!

Linda

Joan and Michael Anderson are certainly innovative. Not only did they start a winery and brewery, they decided to feature their beverages in a unique way. They created pairings at the winery where one can attend catered events, sign up for customized cooking classes or attend one of their dinners. Their dinners are unusual in the fact that you have a choice of pairing one of their own wines or beers with each course.

One step inside the venue and I was enamored. Long tables were set, awaiting 43 guests for that evening. It felt homey due to beautiful wood cabinets and an open kitchen, where a gorgeous set of large stainless pots hung awaiting use. There was a large island where cooking classes take place. And on the counters that evening, armies of stemware were lined up and ready for each course of wine. Hundreds of wine glasses. As I looked down our table I found that I was in the majority having chosen wine. George was the only one at our long table who’d ordered beer.

Our first course of cold BLT soup was one of my favorites of the evening. This tomato-based soup held a distinctly smoky flavor due to chunks of bacon, and did indeed remind me of a BLT sandwich with its crispy crostini on the side and toppings of lettuce and tomato. Their Taxi Cab (Cabernet Savignon) wine was a perfect match.

Michael also smokes meats, and the star of the second course was his andouille sausage. A grilled corn and andouille salad came with beer-brined BBQ chicken wings. The fresh corn salsa had hints of cumin and cilatro, two of my favorite flavors. There were plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” uttered for this course. It was as tasty as it was pretty.

By the third course we were all family with our tablemates through lots of conversation, beverages and food. So it was very appropriate that the main course came out family-style. Platters of house-cured pork loin, bowls of apple fennel risotto and carrot puree were passed around. A pear wine jus made with the same Pear Dry wine served with this course was passed around too. I love smoked pork, similar to ham but less salty, so I truly enjoyed this dish. That spectacularly creamy carrot puree was heavenly.

Their dessert pairing, Flying Dutchman, was a blackberry wine finished in a port style. Wow! Paired with a panna cotta topped with a blackberry compote, this was a spectacular ending to a spectacular dinner.

The winery opened in 2001 with wines featuring Maine berries and fruits, but they now offer an impressive variety of reds, whites, sparkling and specialty dessert wines.

Later in the evening we found out that they have yet another business — Bay Brew Ice Cream. We’d bumped into friends who pointed out the chest of ice cream in the retail store. It’s flavored with their Half Moon Stout beer and is only available at the Winterport Winery store. George was pretty sad that we didn’t have a way to store it overnight. I imagine future trips to Bangor will include a side trip to Winterport.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.

We’ve got a home in Bangor

We like Bangor so much that we now have a home there. Our home is easy to get to from Interstate 95, close to the impressive new Cross Insurance Center, as well as the outdoor concerts and our favorite annual event, the American Folk Festival. You can even walk to downtown from there.

And here’s the best news. We’re inviting you to stay there!

Fireside Inn and Suites has become our Bangor home. The rooms are inexpensive, comfortable, and full of nice amenities (some with fireplaces, some with massage chairs). The staff is friendly and helpful. And our favorite pub, Geaghan’s, is in the same building!

The inn is just a 15-minute ride from the Winterport Winery, through two beautiful communities — another reason to stay there!