PORTLAND — Searching for a fine merlot or perhaps a chardonnay to complement your dinner? Soon, you might find a wine that’s made on India Street in Portland.

The Blue Lobster Urban Winery and Lounge, which plans to open this fall, received unanimous approval from the City Council this week for a liquor license and outdoor dining permit.

Christopher Gamble and Karen Rasmussen plan to operate their microwinery and wine bar out of a 2,400-square-foot space at 61 India St. It would be Portland’s, and possibly Maine’s, first “urban winery,” where grapes are crushed and fermented.

“People (in urban areas) are realizing that they have a customer base at their front door,” Gamble said. “If you can make wine in the city, why not?”

Gamble said his business plan calls for grapes to be imported from California vineyards to his winery in Portland, where they will be de-stemmed, crushed and fermented before the wine is put into oak barrels to age.

Blue Lobster will sell its own wines, he said, but that could take several months after the business opens because of the time it takes for wine to age.

Gamble said urban wineries are catching on across the country. He said the notion that a winery must be adjacent to a vineyard in the countryside is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Maine Mead Works already operates at 51 Washington Ave. in Portland, making its wine from honey, said Andrew Peters, a mead maker.

Customers can go to Maine Mead Works to taste the wines or for tours, similar to what Blue Lobster plans to do.

“(Blue Lobster) will be a wonderful addition to the Portland beverage industry. If anything, it should bolster the enthusiasm for Maine wines,” Peters said.

“Anytime you get an interesting attraction like this, it’s good for the city,” said Jan Beitzer, director of Portland’s Downtown District. “I think it will be a good fit because we already have a lot of people interested in microbreweries.”

In its application to the city, Blue Lobster said advances in technology and transportation allow vineyards to deliver quality whole grape clusters to wineries anywhere in the country.

That has led to wineries opening in downtown locations across the nation. Before Prohibition, urban wineries thrived in major cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

Bettina Doulton owns the Cellardoor Winery, a 68-acre farm and winery in Lincolnville, and is president of the Maine Winery Guild. She said the interest in wines and wine tasting is fueling the trend toward opening wineries in cities.

Doulton said more and more wineries are importing and crushing their grapes on site.

Gamble, who lives in Kennebunkport, said Portland is an ideal place for an urban winery, based on its reputation for fine dining, its history as a tourist destination, and city residents’ dedication to supporting local agriculture.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, only one resident spoke against Blue Lobster. Charles Bragdon noted that the winery would be next to the Milestone Foundation, an emergency shelter, detoxification center and extended-care facility for chronic substance abusers.

“I question the wisdom of allowing outdoor dining next to the Milestone Foundation,” Bragdon said. “It could become a boiling pot.”

But John Dana, an outreach counselor for Milestone, said that having a winery next door should not make much of an impact.

Shipyard Brewing Co. is several hundred feet behind Milestone, and Dana noted that his agency serves people who are “out and about” on Portland streets, where a large number of establishments serve alcohol.

Blue Lobster still needs a federal permit to make wine and a license from the Maine Department of Agriculture to become a winery.

Gamble and Rasmussen, who operates the Taco Trio restaurant in South Portland with her husband, Manny Pena, plan to allow their patrons to learn about the age-old practice of making wine.

They also will serve locally crafted beer and hard ciders, along with a selection of local produce, meats and cheeses in their lounge.

“Wine can be a little overwhelming and can come off as being a bit pretentious,” Gamble said. “We want people to be able to come into Blue Lobster and try our wines.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


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