Peter and Orenda Hale have had a busy past couple of years: They made the move from New York City to Portland, welcomed their first child, and opened the popular wine shop, Maine and Loire, in January 2015. Next month, in mid-February, they hope to unveil their newest project, Drifters Wife, a wine bar located within their existing Washington Avenue shop.
Self-described restaurant “lifers,” the Hales worked together and met at Reynard in the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, where they also met Ben Jackson, who will serve as Drifters Wife’s chef. Peter said that “fortuitous crosswinds” brought Jackson and his new wife, who were also looking to escape the craziness of a major city, to Portland.
Now that they’ve settled into their somewhat quieter lives in Maine and into their new roles as parents, the Hales are ready for a fresh challenge.
“Because of our background, we get restless,” Peter said, “and the original plan was to open a bar.”
Drifters Wife, so named for a JJ Cale song of the same name, will seat about two dozen guests and boast an impressive bottle list of over 200 wines, with rotating glass pours available. Most importantly to the Hales, the bar will operate with the same “ethos and standards” as the original shop, and will build on their commitment to natural wine. The idea of natural wine is just as it sounds: It’s organically or bio-dynamically grown by responsible farmers, with little to no intervention during the growing, fermentation or bottling processes.
Over the past year, the pair toiled to bring in new wines that were not formerly available in the state. The Hales explained that their decision to focus on wine stemmed partially from the fact that they wanted to enjoy them, too, and to share their passion with others.
“We’re service people in our hearts and we always want to offer the best,” Peter said. “We’ve learned a lot about it over the years of working in the business. It’s something we’ve cultivated and it’s something we enjoy learning about.”
“Selfishly, these wines weren’t here in Maine and we wanted to enjoy them,” Orenda said. “There are farmers’ markets and fresh seafood and all of these other great things to build your pantry but opening a bottle of wine with this food? That was totally lacking, for us.”
Chef Jackson said he plans to take full advantage of Portland’s established amenities, like the farmers’ markets, and to source locally as often as possible. Although a formal menu has not yet been released, Jackson has a few ideas as to food offerings. Jackson cited Moroccan and Japanese culinary influences (he and his wife are traveling to Japan for their honeymoon in the coming weeks) but said that the main theme is probably going to be twists on French classics. This is a nod to Maine-et-Loire in west-central France, Maine and Loire’s namesake and a region in which many of the Hales’ favorite wines are produced.
Working at a smaller establishment will allow Jackson a “longer leash” and the opportunity to add “more whimsy” to the menu, Peter said.
“The element of surprise is a huge thing for me,” Jackson said. “Like Peter said, to have the freedom to grow and change the menu on a day to day basis will hopefully keep people coming in and excited to come in.”
To rally this sense of excitement, and to give the public a taste (literally) of what the bar is all about, Drifters Wife took over Oxbow Brewery (49 Washington Ave.) on Friday, Jan. 22. The event featured food and drink and a taste of things to come. “We want people to know that we’re opening this bar as a place where we would want to hang out and eat and drink,” Orenda said.
For information about Drifters Wife and Maine and Loire, visit drifterswife.com and maineandloire.com.
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