In the service industry, wine buyers are considered especially talented. In Houston, those responsible are members of an elite squad. For them, two things are pretty much certain; a career in this field began with one memorable sip, and second, they probably rush home in between lunch and dinner service to feed some sort of pet, or little human. These are their stories.
On a shaded side street off of Union Square, David Keck rang the doorbell to the home of his conductor and voice coach, Ken Merrill. The Juilliard School opera student clutched an offering under his arm in the shape of a bottle as he waited to be buzzed up. After Keck had begun to show an interest in wine, his voice coach thought the subject better discussed in context over dinner. As the young bass singer began to uncork the gift before them, Merrill and his partner Kris surveyed the bottle of cheap French syrah.
“Well, if we’re going to start there, we ought to open this and this,” Keck remembers them deciding. Before he knew it, there were 12 bottles on the table along the lines of Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage, known as one of the quintessential French syrah expressions. “It kind of blew my mind,” Keck, who passed his Master Sommelier certification in 2016, recalls.
Three years later in 2008, while studying for his masters in opera at Rice University, Keck worked at a wine bar called Cova Hand-Selected Wines. He had always worked jobs in hospitality while attending school for music, and as he began to cultivate an interest in wine, it clicked that the different learning aspects between music and wine were actually quite synonymous.
“There are a number of people in the music field that are really into wine; music is great because you’re studying language and culture and history. With wine, it’s a lot of the same things, history, culture, chemistry, climate, geology,” the 38-year-old said, explaining his “intellectual ADD."
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Later that year, Keck, who was due in Nice to work with a voice coach over the summer, decided to fly out a few weeks earlier. He rented a bike and traveled from Burgundy to Alsace to the Rhône. He stayed in hostels, knocked on doors and walked into vineyards.
“A few producers were ridiculously welcoming. To be able to taste the wine itself there on the vineyard was super important,” he explained. “To understand any wine 100 percent, or as much as you’re going to, it really has to be in that place, learning about the people and the culture that created it.”
A decade later, Keck continues to travel and taste as well as teach courses for the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is partner in Goodnight Hospitality, the group behind Montrose Honky-Tonk Goodnight Charlies, that is set to open two highly anticipated restaurants, Rosie Cannonball and March, as well as Montrose Cheese & Wine retail shop very soon.
While Keck grew up with pets, he doesn’t currently have one. “I would like to have one, it just isn’t conducive to opening a bunch of restaurants.”