Wine Time

Houston Now a Regular Destination for Top U.S. Wine Educators

Roughly 30 of Houston's leading wine professionals, together with a collector or two and a local wine writer, crammed into one of the private dining rooms at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse on Tuesday morning for a highly anticipated seminar on Napa Valley wines by Guild of Sommeliers Education Director and Master Sommelier Matt Stamp (above).

The cost of the guided tasting of 18 wines, including hard-to-come-by labels like the 2008 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (which retails for around $175) and the 1997 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (no longer available for retail sale), was a mere $50.

"We don't make any money on this," said Pappas Bros. wine director Steven McDonald, who hosted the tasting.

"We provide the room, the stemware, and the wine service," he explained, "and the Guild [of Sommeliers] provides the wines."

And the Guild, which has rapidly become the top wine education resource in the country, also provides the speaker.

Stamp, who achieved his Master Sommelier title in 2011, now comes to Houston two to three times a year, he told the Houston Press.

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska and based in Napa Valley since 2009, he first came to the city four years ago. Today, Houston is a regular stop for him and other Guild educators, he said.

"We have no problem selling out our events here," he noted with obvious satisfaction.

Originally founded in England in 1953, the non-profit Guild of Sommeliers launched its U.S. chapter in 2003.

Its mission, according to its website, is "to promote wine education, enrichment, collaboration and healthy debate among our members while maintaining the chief values of the sommelier profession: integrity, humility and hospitality."

Membership for U.S. wine professionals is $100 per year and includes access to all of the association's online content and forums.

Today, it is widely viewed as the industry benchmark for wine education. McDonald, one of Houston's most respected sommeliers, makes attendance for these events mandatory for his entire wine staff. Ten of Pappas sommeliers took part in the seminar on Tuesday, he said.

Stamp, who became the Guild's education director in 2012, didn't shy from controversy in his talk.

"I believe that Californian wines age better than Bordeaux," he told the group of wine professionals -- a statement that would be considered heresy in some quarters.

"When we talk about [the components of] wine," he said, "we talk about acidity, tannin, and alcohol. But we need to remember that fruit [flavor] is also an element of wine."

"I opened a lot of Bordeaux and a lot of Napa Valley Cabernet [Sauvignon] when I worked at the French Laundry [in 2010-2011]," he said, referring to Thomas Keller's three-Michelin-star restaurant in Yountville, California. "And the fruit in [older vintages] of Napa wines was always more impressive."

The Guild lists upcoming events in the "store" section of its website and the Houston Sommelier Association regularly previews the body's Houston events in its e-letter.

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen