Cal Ripken Jr. had a streak: 2632 games played in a row. And Chef Daniel Bruce has a streak. He’s been in the kitchen for (approximately) 1000 consecutive food-wine pairings at the Boston Harbor Hotel’s Boston Wine Festival, the ongoing event that kicks off Friday Jan. 9 and runs through Monday March 27 at Meritage. That’s 25 years X roughly 40 dinners a year. That is, he’s the Ripken of Boston wining and dining.
“Whoa, I never thought of that,” Bruce says. He’s not taken one sick day, one day off, during this run. Considering all this, I asked him: Does fatigue ever set in?
Bruce admits that could have been the case. “I’m lucky,” he says. “I can go into this a lot of excitement. As long as that happens, I’m in the ballgame.”
This being Year 26, did he ever envision this kind of success and sustenance?
“I never envisioned it. I had no idea I would be in the same position. If I step back and look at the Wine Festival, I’m very proud it’s not only survived 25 years, but is thriving, doing better now than five or ten years ago.”
What you get: Fine wines from a particular winemaker – who will be there and come around to your table to discuss the wine if you like – paired to a menu chosen and cooked by Bruce. There’s a maximum of 78 guests per dinner; tables of eight are the norm, and people are encouraged to catch up with old friends or make new ones. This year, there are 37 events, 25 of them “winemaker host” dinners.”
Bruce: “Some people come to specific dinners because they love those wines, and they could be obscure, a wine they’ve been drinking for years, but they’ve never met the winemakers.”
“The ‘wine festival’ name may be a misnomer,” says Bruce, “because you think of tables and wine poured at multiple levels. We do have the opening reception [where that happens]. But the essence of what the festival is a winemaker-and-owner joining us at dinner. It’s an intimate setting, a round table, which allows for conversation to take. You may buy a ticket with two or four people and sit with people you don’t know.”
This year, Bruce says, “if I had to put a finger on a theme it would be ‘boutique wineries,’” by which he means wineries from both the US and Europe that produce under 20,000 cases a year. “The last time I did this was in 2008. I was looking for wineries that I had not had here before.” Also, he adds, that he was also looking for women winemakers or women-run wineries and he came up with 7, or 30% of the winemaker host affairs.
“This concept doesn’t really exist elsewhere.” Bruce continues. “Many cities have festivals and walk-around events. But this is not like the others. These dinners which are hosted by the winemaker who goes around table to table. There’s the global aspect, but one-on-one. I personally prepare every meal and also go table to table. It’s become in essence a personalized festival, with the wine and food synergy. … I’ve been careful not to make them stodgy formal dinners. I like to enjoy myself, I don’t mind structured, but not so structured that I can’t enjoy myself.”
How has the festival evolved? “As time has gone by,” says Bruce, “my customer base has increased. The people who come may not come to as many dinners as the old group. It’s a little younger now, more diverse. It’s because wine is much more part of the table here in Boston than it was. It’s everywhere now, everyone’s into wine and food.”
You can check out the options on the website below. Brunches start at $75/person and dinners go from $95-$290/person. (Most are in the $145-$165 range.) The opening and closing receptions are $100/person.
Bruce: “The Wine Festival happens because of the relationship with winemakers and guests alike. I feel like I’m carrying on an important part of the fabric of Boston. I think the Wine Festival has become a household word. And I don’t’ really do a lot of advertising.”
One thing Bruce is not and will become: A TV celebrity chef. “I have no interest in chef shows,” he says. “My wife has said I’d be great on television. But I like being behind the stove. I’d like to keep it that way.”
70 Rowes Wharf, 617-439-7000 www.bostonwinefestival.net