March 31, 2020
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Wine, beer, spirits pour life into Portland neighborhood

PORTLAND, Maine — It’s still a semi-construction site, but hard hats are slowly being traded for caps and fedoras as liquid culture pours into Thompson’s Point, which has long been under development. The first new business to set up this season in this emerging Portland neighborhood is Cellardoor Winery.

In an old industrial space, wine bottles are uncorked under sparkling chandeliers. Polished glasses, new windows and brightly colored furniture have turned the underutilized brick warehouse facing Interstate 295 into a posh wine-tasting room and retail shop.

“Wine has come so far along. I am confident to put it down in Portland’s foodie world,” said Bettina Doulton, whose rustic winery and tasting room in a converted barn in Lincolnville has become a midcoast destination.

Now the entrepreneur is taking a leap into the unknown on this peninsula that juts into the Fore River. Located behind the Portland Transportation Center and across from the Portland International Jetport, Cellardoor at The Point opened 2½ weeks ago.

People used to speed by on Interstate 295 and not glance over. Now the glitter glam of a wine ballroom emanates, with the punk rock vibe of Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. next door. Both establishments, located in a long brick expanse, face the concert venue where Bob Dylan and Ray LaMontagne will perform this summer.

“Lincolnville will always be our home,” Doulton said. “But to get the footprint we wanted in Portland, we had to move here. We are urban and proud of it.”

Under soaring ceilings in the space with an urban edge, guests can imbibe at three bars. The main stage is a rectangle that’s 30 feet long on one side and seats 40. There is a more intimate 12-seat bar and a medium-sized bar for group tastings and food and wine pairings.

At both perches, vinophiles are invited to sample a host of Cellardoor wines, from red to white to port, in flights and by the glass.

The idea, said Doulton, is to “spoil people and treat them right.” Coming into this new culture zone “is a break from the rat race,” she said.

There’s also a new kitchen, ready for chef events. Complimentary food-and-wine pairings will be served Thursday evenings, from July 4 through Labor Day. Doulton is working with chefs, including Kate Gooding, as well as with cheese and chocolate makers.

This rising energy nexus reminds her of Boston, where she grew up. “It’s like Fort Point Channel,” said Doulton, who likens Thompson’s Point to the Seaport, a new, teaming neighborhood on that city’s harbor. “The energy down there is really fun. There is a shift where people go for fun now.”

Thompson’s Point lacks the quaint cobblestones of the Old Port, but if she uncorks it, will they come?

“I’m either an early adapter or a moron,” she mused. “One of the two.”

Serving another clientele, beer lovers, is the new Bissell Brothers next door. The beer company with a cult following opened Maine’s largest tasting room Saturday, and the lines were long.

Last year Peter Bissell and his brother, Noah, decided to move their craft brewery from Industrial Way to the city’s new party block. They brewed their first batch of ale here in May.

Their new, roomy headquarters allow the brothers to brew more of their flagship Substance, as well as new releases such as Nothing Gold double IPA and Dangol, a lime-and-corn ale set to drop July 4.

“We had a good thing going on Industrial Way, but we were ready to take it to the next level,” Peter Bissell told the BDN recently. “Once you get too comfortable, you need to make a move.”

Speaking of getting comfy, a vestibule in a corner of the tasting room a will dispense casual, beer-friendly fare from restaurateur Jason Loring’s newest venture, Big J’s Fried Chicken.

Located adjacent to the brewery and soon-to-open Stroudwater Distillery — a bourbon, rye, vodka and gin maker featuring cocktails — food will be served through a window directly to customers at Bissell Brothers.

Loring, of Portland’s Rhum, Nosh and Slab restaurants, is working on a smartphone app so visitors can order his sandwiches, chicken and waffles and other “fast, local” fare while sipping his neighbor’s libations. Big J’s will seat 25 and serve brunch on weekends.

“We are the food for the whole point,” said Loring, who partners with Thompson’s Point owners Chris Thompson and Jed Troubh for his latest concept. His chefs at Rhum, Frank Anderson and Rebecca Ambrosi, will be the masterminds behind Big J’s. A late July opening is planned.

Like Doulton, Loring considers Thompson’s Point key to Portland’s future.

“That is the place to be in five years,” he said. “If you are not there, you are missing out.”

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