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Tart rhubarb stalks actually make a sweet wine

It's a tart summer favorite ready to be picked from gardens early in the season; rhubarb. Amanda O'Brien had other plans for the plant; wine.

PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- Amanda O'Brien cuts, freezes, and presses stalks of rhubarb inside of a bright blue warehouse, surrounded by some of Portland's most popular breweries.

"When my friend brought me this rhubarb wine kind of the ideas just were fireworks," said O'Brien about her first sip. "Wouldn't that be great If you could make a locally sourced wine that tasted this good and helped local farmers? And I think Portland would like it, and it's not beer."

O'Brien started Eighteen Twenty Wines five years ago with that friend, who has since moved on.

"I joke that I want to put a sticker on the bottle that says, 'No it actually tastes good,' because people come in and are just like, 'Sure I'll try it,' then everyone has that, 'Oh it's actually good.' Yes. I wouldn't go through all of this pain if it wasn't actually good," O'Brien laughs.

There are plenty of problems that pop up when running a business, but O'Brien isn't completely alone. Eighteen Twenty Wines has become a family affair. "My mom is in here, my boyfriend, my child is literally running around outside. Yeah, it takes a village."

It also takes a lot of rhubarb, which is where Spiller Farm in Wells and Doles Orchard in Limington come in.

"I started looking into what production could be and I was shocked," said Earl Bunting, owner of Doles Orchard. For years, Bunting has been offering a pick-your-own service for his apples, berries, and yes, even rhubarb at Doles. Last year, he sold nearly 3,000 pounds of the crop to Eighteen Twenty Wines.

"The beauty of rhubarb is that it's money early in the season, where usually we are going into the summer with lots of bills and no income." For farmers like Bunting, the boom in beer and wine production in Maine has only helped grow their fields.

"It's completely changed our business. We used to be strictly retail and pick your own, but seven or eight years ago Allagash Brewing approached us. Since then we've been selling them a lot of fruit. Through them we fell into another whole business; we now make wood products for breweries and wineries."

You can find a variety of fruit-based flavors inside the Eighteen Twenty Wines tasting room, from barrel-aged cider to strawberry rhubarb wine, both produced from the crops farmers have leftover at the end of the season.

"The best thing about this is all of the farmers we are working with, it feels actually helpful to them," said O'Brien. "We are helping them operate in a diversified way."

Eighteen Twenty Wines is open Friday night, Saturday and Sunday.