By Seth Daniel
Smoothing over the rifts of city life, and the anonymity that often exists between neighbors, was something Bill Gregor set out to do in 2002 for the Ellis South End section of the neighborhood.
And he decided to do it with wine.
Add in some live jazz, and one has found themselves a very special time – known locally as a Jazzy Wine night.
The Ellis Wine Group came together on Monday night, May 2, for their seventh Jazzy Wine event since 2008 at Berklee College of Music. Gathering in the VIP room before the concert featuring the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Greg Hopkins, they expertly matched wines with specific jazz styles.
As Gregor paired a bizarre Secco Italian Bubbles Pinot Noir with swing music, and a French Granache with some upbeat Ragtime jazz, he explained that the unique – and routinely sold out – event is part of building community.
“We did our first concert at Berklee with the wine group in 2008 and this is our seventh one,” he said. “It’s part of Berklee reaching out too the neighborhood and the neighbors coming out to learn about and support Berklee. We’ve built a wonderful relationship.”
The wine group, however, is much older than the Berklee concerts, having its vintage in 2002 after Gregor began attending the Back Bay Wine Group.
“I lived in Ellis and started going to the Back Bay events,” he said. “I kept saying I wished we had a group in the South End and they told me I ought to start one in the South End. They showed me how to do that, and now we’re here with a full house and excellent wine pairings with great music.”
Joining Gregor in coordinating the group, which is an offshoot of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association, is his wife, Grace, and Bob Sherwood, Gordon Holmes, and others.
They have held 74 events since 2002, many taking place in parks, private homes, libraries and art galleries – to name a few places.
As the group is all in fun, an offshoot is to have Progressive Dinners, which entails a large group of neighbors hitting several restaurants in the neighborhood. Smaller groups out of the large group will eat one course at each restaurant and then switch up to a different restaurant for a different course. The evening ends when they all come back together for dessert and coffee.
That said, the main vehicle for the group is the wine events, and the toast of that effort is the Jazzy Wine events. Those in the group gather a few hours before the concert, tasting wines that are matched with skill to certain jazz styles. A handy sheet explains in depth how the Committee has made its pairing decisions. Following the tasting, participants descend upon the Berklee Performance Center for an evening of original compositions by the students and teachers.
“It’s a good group,” said Sherwood, a committee member for Ellis Wine. “This is a great way for neighbors to get together with people they might not otherwise know. It’s also a good way to bring new people into the group in a setting that’s not threatening. We like to do that and it helps to bring everyone together. There’s been a lot of turnover in the Ellis over the last few years and it helps us get new people into the fold.”
Added Gregor, “As long as you don’t come in and punch someone in the face, you’re going to have a good time.”
So, pull the punch, add the wine and be-bop with the Ellis over to Berklee.
For more information on the Ellis Wine Group, e-mail [email protected].