Getting to Know Blue Lobster Wine Co.
Chris Gamble first had the idea for an urban winery over 10 years ago. He had always had a passion for good wine, and had the very specific goal of opening a winery in the city, not the countryside. He had the palate, but not the background, so he sold his house on Munjoy Hill and moved down to Cape Cod to work on a small vineyard and winery. He had the opportunity to gain experience in just about every aspect of the operation, from picking grapes to leading tastings.
Meanwhile on the west coast, the first urban wineries were popping up in Oakland and San Francisco, bringing in either finished wine or unfermented grape juice, and cellaring, fermenting and blending to produce wine in a wholly new setting. Gamble knew the time was right to return to Portland and set his own venture in motion. He found a space on Anderson Street in bustling East Bayside right next to brewing companies Lone Pine and Goodfire. Blue Lobster’s packaging method owes to the meteoric rise of craft beer; they put wine in cans and kegs, not bottles.
This August, Chris and I sat down to talk about his young business.
The Phoenix: Tell me about your production process, how do you arrive at a finished packaged wine?
Chris Gamble: We’re doing this in three phases, because obviously wine takes a long time to make. The first phase is we’ve been bringing in “finished wines” essentially, and then blending them. Some we’ve aged a little longer in oak. So we’re kind of tinkering and then when we feel they’re ready we can and keg them. The next phase, which is about to start up, is that we’re going to be working with a couple vineyards in California that are just about to start harvesting. We’ll give them the specifications on what we want for a wine, focusing on specific varietals and techniques. The third phase will be bringing in grapes and doing it from here. We’ll be focusing mostly on California, Oregon, Washington. The climate in Maine just isn’t so suitable. There are people growing grapes here doing a nice job and making some interesting wines, but in terms of consistency and quality we want to focus on where they grow grapes really well. We’ll probably continue all three of those phases going forward.
The Phoenix: So will you try to stay focused on specific blends and varietals to build the brand around those as you move forward, or will it just be adding more and more variety?
Gamble: We’re going to try to stay focused, for the most part. We’re probably going to release an unoaked Chardonnay every year, we’ll always have a Rosé and we’ll probably continue to release our Bayside blend. We’ve done two of those now and the second one is actually a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Viognier, so red and white wines. So we’re playing with things like that and trying to represent what we’re doing which is a little different and a little fun. We’ll branch out from there, but those are going to be the three staples.
The Phoenix: Do you feel you have a roll to play in educating people about wine? It’s always been a pretty esoteric world and it’s easy for a newcomer to feel intimidated.
Gamble: Let me put it this way: the wine industry can come off as being a little pretentious at times, and we’re trying to leave that at the door. We’re focused on good, quality wines. If people want to learn we’re happy to help. But we’re modeling ourselves after breweries in many ways, we do little samplers and there are descriptions and if anybody has questions I’m around and happy to answer them, but it’s not “formal wine tasting.” I’m not going to be babbling about all our wines and how great they are. It’s a little different from your traditional winery, you can educate to scale, it’s all about the customer.