A serious college hockey player, Matt Whitney landed in the restaurant industry after a shoulder injury took him off the ice. He quickly rose through the ranks at Eastern Standard, where he now oversees the brasserie’s French-focused wine list, and has broadened the scope to include Austrian pinot noir and even skin-fermented German white blends. Carson Demmond spoke with him about how he juggles the needs of a diverse dinner crowd.
How being so close to Fenway Park affect your wine program?
We’re right in Kenmore Square, so we’re literally a stone’s throw from Fenway Park. We see it all—everything from people wanting to have five courses with a couple bottles of wine to students coming in for a quick bite. Eighty-two days a year we’re crushed with Red Sox fans, who fall into the Bud Light-and-burger category. And we get a late night industry crowd during the week, which is when we sell the esoteric stuff, cult producers like Clos Rougeard, and Burgundy and Champagne, since we have a low markup and want our friends in the business to be able to drink those. So in one night, we will have four to five different little micro-services, each with its own crowd and vibe.
Your sales have increased quite a bit this year. What’s driving that?
I’ve noticed a huge boom in the wine industry here over the last couple of years. There are more sommeliers and aspiring sommeliers out there, so there’s a lot more interest in exploring unfamiliar wines. Instead of having the new cocktail or trying the classics, they might say, “I just read about Marcel Lapierre” or “I heard I could have this funky orange wine from Slovenia here.” They’re excited about that stuff, and I’ve already seen it trickle down to our regular guests who might see a wine poured and get curious about it. So now everyone’s asking for different styles and new things. It’s great.
What was your most surprising success this year?
On our most recent by-the-glass list, we switched out a chardonnay for a wine from Enderle & Moll—a tiny little producer in the Baden region of Germany that vom Boden imports. It’s a pinot grigio and pinot blanc blend that sees a lot of skin contact, bordering on an orange wine. We put it on as an experiment, and it actually flew. I think it was a good time of year to have it on the list, with its color and style. And I knew that we were going to have to have lots of conversations about it, since it’s unlike pinot grigio from Italy and unlike pinot gris from Alsace. I was fully prepared to have a bunch of people send it back because it’s not what they expected, but that has happened way less than I thought, if at all. It’s been a fun thing to have on our list and is stupidly good with steak tartare and merguez.
What’s the most ridiculous request you’ve gotten from a guest?
Kid Rock did a concert at Fenway Park this summer, and he came in and drank our cabernet sauvignon by the glass—on the rocks! A buddy of mine thought it was hysterical, so the next time he threw a party, he got a magnum of some giant cabernet at the local liquor store and a bag of ice. We threw a Beaujolais party once where we all drank from solo cups, but cab on the rocks was the winner.