EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three columns by chef/owner David Levi of Vinland and Trattoria Fanny, both in Portland.

Vinland is not a 100 percent local restaurant. We don’t serve 100 percent local products. We serve 100 percent local food. The drinks? Nope. Same mission, different form.

After the first installment in this series on May 24, I won’t waste time on why it’s “OK” to offer French wine but not fresh lemons. It’s not about what’s “OK.” It’s about being mindful and being intentional.

I love Dante, but from a distance. Unlike my grandmother Fanny, for whom I named my restaurant in the West End, I’m not Italian. I read Dante’s Italian for his music, but rely on the translator for the meaning. What does this have to do with the drinks at Vinland? Everything.

Timm Bielec, the bar manager at Vinland, makes a Pine Gimlet on Saturday. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The forms I’ve chosen for Vinland’s food and drinks programs are interpretations of our mission, translating theory into practice. Dante chose a poetry form called ottava rima, which has eight-line stanzas. It works really well in Italian, because the language is rhyme rich. English is rhyme poor. Translating Dante to English demands a different form. Different forms work in different contexts.

Cooking with all-local ingredients is like writing ottava rima in Italian. It works, bringing resonance to what we create. Forcing the all-local form on the beverage program would be like forcing ottava rima on English. It’s a straightjacket. The product suffers. We don’t do it.


We offer locally made brews, including beer, cider, mead, and kombucha. Our natural wine, organically grown and wild-fermented, is mostly French and Italian. We buy ethically produced coffee and tea from The Speckled Ax in Portland and Little Red Cup in Brunswick. Our spirits are distilled from Maine to the Hudson Valley, New York. Our cocktails combine these elements with otherwise all-local ingredients. Citrus and cane sugar are out, rhubarb and honey are in. The form is a springboard for surprising, delicious products, geared to pair with the liveliness of our food, which so often incorporates elements that are wild, fermented, raw.

I didn’t always think about form for Vinland’s drinks program. But one day, in the months leading up to opening day, my friend Hugh Redford challenged me. We’d been meeting for months, brainstorming and testing cocktails (tough job). One day, amid the mixing and tasting, Hugh said, “Why not use all-local booze?” It was a bold idea. No Campari? But I couldn’t deny that our previously imagined program suddenly seemed like a missed opportunity, a mere afterthought. Could Vinland afford to miss an opportunity to be daring, creative, unique? To more thoroughly showcase and support small businesses in Portland and New England? How could we?

The seed was planted. Now our drinks program had a form. Yes, we would have wine and beer, coffee and tea. I wouldn’t want a restaurant without them, and neither would you. The drinks program wouldn’t be all local, but it would be as local as possible without denying ourselves the drinks we love. We’d source everything from local producers; small, passionate distributors; organic farmers; or natural winemakers.

Enter Alex. Alex Winthrop was Vinland’s original bar manager, a position he held for nearly two years before training and then handing the reins to his capable successor, Timm Bielec. Alex and I looked to the wild. He harvested chokecherries after his lobster boat shifts in Harpswell, while I foraged wild bay laurel at Willard Beach.

A friend with a black walnut tree offered us his harvest, and Alex studied the tradition of making a digestive liqueur called nocino with green walnut fruit. We pulled together a dizzying array of wild and cultivated herbs, fruits, fungus, and roots. Soon, the Amore Amaro was born, and it’s been reborn each year since, with an ever growing array of ingredients. It’s a signature Vinland product and every bit a product of our form.

Alex looked to the apothecary tradition as inspiration. Timm has only heightened the focus on medicinals, including fungi like chaga and reishi, roots like ashwagandha and turmeric. You see, Timm is a magician. “There are those who call him… Timm.” Joking aside, from his years of deep study of spirituality, Timm brings a palpable awareness of how the properties of the ingredients, as well as the processes we employ, affect us on the level of spirit, as well as body. Sure, it’s boozy and fun. But is it crazy to also design cocktails that are physically and spiritually healthful? From Chartreuse to Fernet, that’s how the great liqueurs of Europe were born.


Timm Bielec garnishes a Pine Gimlet, one of Vinland’s cocktails, with white pine needles. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The Vinland wine list owes everything to a mad Belgian in Sicily. Seven years ago, my oldest friend, Adam Eisenberg, brought me a bottle of cloudy, barely red wine called “Contadino,” Italian for “peasant farmer.” It was my introduction to the wines of Frank Cornelissen, and it changed my life. It was strange, vital, compelling, wine meets kombucha, but also bright and supple. This was real wine, and all the dull, manufactured wines I’d once grudgingly accepted were dead to me. I was in love.

Just after we opened, Frank’s importer, Zev Rovine, came to Vinland to host our first wine dinner. After a fun and boozy dinner, he startled me by pulling out a pen and saying, “David, I don’t want to be an (expletive), but your list isn’t all organic. Let’s go through it. We’ll have to open another bottle.” So we cracked a Chenin from Jean-Pierre Robinot, and went to work. Overnight, half the list was gone, either not wild fermented, heavy on sulfur, or “industrial organic.” At 3 a.m., a tipsy Zev sabered a bottle of Peteux Blanc from Domaine Octavin after only nine or 10 knocks with a knife. The list was reborn.

They say that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings might set off a tornado, weeks later, across the globe. Every decision sets in motion unimaginable consequences. But trust in this: when we approach everyday questions as opportunities for innovation, consciously veering off well-trodden paths, making decisions shaped by commitments rather than defaulting to habit, we unleash an army of butterflies. I’m biased, but Vinland’s cocktails are truly unique, and the all-natural wine list has few parallels. Are we an all-local restaurant? You bet we’re not. But those semi-local drinks and non-local wines are products of the land, of the real passion of real people. They complement the all-local food while furthering the mission. It’s no afterthought. It’s an equal partner in this Vinland cuisine.

Pine Gimlet

Recipe from Vinland chef/proprietor David Levi. Find a recipe for Condensed Yogurt Whey with our May 24, 2017 Bread & Butter column.

Handful of white pine needles



Condensed Yogurt Whey (or lemon)

Barr Hill Gin

Set aside a few white pine needles for garnish, then place the remainder in a pan with dense, honey-sweetened yogurt whey (or lemon-water) and keep at a low simmer until strong, with balanced sweetness and sourness, about 1 hour. Chill and mix to taste with Barr Hill Gin. Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the reserved fresh white pine needles.

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