Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Wine Mecca of New England

This week I had the distinct honor of being in the presence of American wine royalty. Back in 1996, Silks at the Stonehedge Inn (Tyngsborough, MA) made a bold announcement when it was named as one of the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award winning restaurants. The award goes to the restaurants that meet a number of different criteria, from excellent service to breadth of selection to rare verticals and so on. At the time, there were only 93 restaurants in the world that could make such a claim. This past year, Left Bank Restaurant (which replaced Silks as Stonehedge Inn's on-site fine dinning restaurant) was awarded their 13th consecutive Grand Award (1 of only 72 in the world).

As someone whose passion is wine, I had to visit this bastion of fine wine, especially since it is in my own back yard. I made an appointment to meet the owner, Levent Bozkurt, to interview him for another article that I planned on writing in the future. Mr. Bozkurt approached with an air of confidence and openness that I was not expecting from someone of his stature (in the wine world). His resume is nothing if not impressive with the highlight being his establishment's ownership of New England's largest wine cellar, which houses over 112,000 bottles.

We sat down in a room that felt as if it was a grand library in a hunting lodge located somewhere in the Alps. From there, my interview was completely derailed by Levent's willingness to completely open up. He told me about how he got into wine as a result of his father giving him a shopping list of wines to pick up while traveling abroad during his professional soccer days with the Turkish professional team Galatasaray. He also shared an interesting story about how he acquired a bulk of the Inn's early collection. I could go on with the stories, but those will be for another day.

To amass a collection of the breadth and depth that the Stonehedge Inn offers takes time, patience and obviously deep pockets. One can simply go out and purchase a mass quantity of wine; however Mr. Bozkurt is very structured in his approach. After he initially invested a portion of his own collection (~2,000 bottles) and obtained the collection of a noteworthy collector from Dallas, Mr. Bozkurt set off to expand from this solid foundation the old fashioned way. He goes to the different regions (favoring France, "New Italy", Spain, Australia and California), tastes the wines, he interviews the winemakers and if everything is up to his standards, he will add their wines to his cellar to age (this method also allows for prices that are amazingly fair).

Levent mentioned a couple times during the tour that there is nothing more important that terrior and the grape. What I took away from this is that he is looking for a winemaker to realize what the earth has given them and work with it as unique, rather than trying to make it into something it is not. He does not want a Pinot Noir to be crafted to have characteristics similar to a Zinfandel, if he did "than he would just buy a Zinfandel." The most poignant example of this was when he was speaking of Veronique Drouhin-Boss, the winemaker at Domaine Drouhin in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. He said, "she realizes that this is not Beaune, this is the Willamette Valley." It is his appreciation for the small things like this that make him stick out as a viable authority on wine.

It is with this fine eye that he has amassed his collection and carefully selects which of his aging inventory of 82,000 remaining bottles are ready to be added to the list at Left Bank. His process of cellaring wines for years rather than days is another example of his attention to the process and sets his establishment apart from others in New England. Like the other 71 restaurants from around the world that join in the elite, Left Bank may be misunderstood by those who do not appreciate what a list of this caliber represents (refer to this link for my explanation). However, to those who do appreciate the effort, passion and life's dream of a devoted proprietor to offer an immaculate experience, they will recognize that they have found a true wine Mecca.


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