27 Years In, Boston Wine Festival Ever Faithful to its Mission
Almost immediately upon taking the reins as Executive Chef at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Chef Daniel Bruce’s passion for pairing the flavors in food and wine launched the Boston Wine Festival. And like the Sox return to Fenway, the Spring Flower Show and all those runners descending upon the Back Bay from Hopkinton, over the past nearly three decades the festival has earned its real estate on the “annual” Boston calendar. Mr. Bruce’s rich tradition of exemplary menus and all-star lineups featuring critically acclaimed winemakers have for twenty-seven years offered up a welcome punch beckoning both city dwellers as well as suburbanites to the city in that bleak mid-winter which commonly induces hibernation. Over time the festival has evolved into a world renowned series featuring winemakers from some of the world’s best wineries with local wine enthusiasts highly anticipating news of its line-up each year and plotting their itineraries back in November. Chef Daniel surmises that over the years he has created more than four thousand signature dishes for the festival, each one designed to perfectly showcase the special wine with which it was served. And, bucking the trend of selecting wines to complement the menu, he instead defers to the wine, “With each of these menus, I always start with the wine. The wines dictate the menus I create. The food is variable. Not the case with the wines – they are determined well in advance. I am a strong believer in building my menus around the wine.”
Beyond bringing these storied winemakers and their wealth of knowledge to town, what Mr. Bruce and the team at the Boston Harbor Hotel continue do so masterfully is to harvest these intimate platforms where the wine is not only tasted but where stories are told. Stories which give life to the grapes, to the rich traditions and the sheer joy that comes from pursuing one’s passions. Holding court as the sun set over the harbor on a recent Friday evening was John Williams, the founder and Winemaker at Frog’s Leap in Rutherford, CA.
Mr. Williams and his select vintages have been selling out Boston Wine Festival dinners like this since 1992. As part of the 2016 festival he has brought east a rare selection of Zinfandels to be sipped, disected and of course celebrated. While beaming with pride as he pours his 2012 Molinari and his 2014 Gonzales blends, he is equally fired up about biodynamic farming and Frog’s Leap (a dry grape farm) commitment to building healthy, (naturally) disease resistant soil. He opens the evening strong suggesting we all find ourselves a copy of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese text which he keeps handy and one which continues to inform his approach to crafting wine that is both balanced and restrained. “Respect for terroire” is a concept he urges repeatedly while pointing out the clarity and natural flavor in his wines. “There is a living energy going through all things. Everything we do at Frog’s Leap is predicated on following nature’s laws and what it means to live in the flow of things. We are deeply connected to the soil, and our wines take on the character of that soil. Everything in a grapevine’s environment is a clue. Our goal in farming is to make the vines intelligent again.”
To further illustrate his winery’s resistance to trends, Mr. Williams at one point called upon the insights of Gerald Asher, the famed former Wine Editor at Gourmet magazine. “Mr. Asher used to say that ‘the pendulum that only swings in one direction has yet to be invented.’ In making our wines, we want to be right where that pendulum hits the ground.” Over the course of Butter Poached Maine Lobster on through to Rhubarb Cape Gooseberry Crumble, Mr. Williams shared countless personal tales of his passage from his boyhood farming in upstate (Clymer) New York on through to his unexpected rise to that of a somewhat poster boy for wines that display living energy. Through this access you get the absolute sense that Williams journey to Rutherford makes perfect logic adding context and bringing his Zinfandels full circle in six courses. And then of course there is Chef Daniel sharing tales of his mushroom foraging and such while cheerfully making the rounds at each table welcoming back veterans and acquainting himself with new faces. Together the two deliver brightly as though they hate to see the evening end, closing the dinner at the podium with glasses raised inviting the willing to continue the communing in the hotel’s Rowe’s Wharf Bar. More stories to be told…
The 2016 Boston Wine Festival runs through the end of this month.
Review compiled by Susan Currie.