It was 1971 and the young busboy had been tasked by Jean, the general manager, with the unpacking and assembling of wine shipments. Into the empty row he gently slid the newly arrived ’65 vintage bottles all the way back until he felt them stop against the wall. Rotating the remaining ‘64s to the front, he twisted them in the way he'd been taught. The year 1964—not a great one for Bordeaux, but a good one— he had heard Jean mutter to himself in passing.
Stout, now a Houston-based master sommelier who serves as a Certified Wine Educator at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, can be found these days teaching all across the state: the University of Houston Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, TEXSOM, and Rodeo Uncorked! at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to name a few.
As a master sommelier he instructs as well as examines advanced and masters level candidates for the Court Of Master Sommeliers and on top of that is a Certified Bordeaux Wine Educator and Certified Spirits Specialist.
Over the years owning Stout Vineyards, which he recently sold, had him involved with viticulture growing syrah and tempranillo in the Texas Hill Country AVA to be sold to different wineries. He’s also worked with vineyards to develop special blends for customers.
His titanium resume seems to pale in comparison, though, to his affable nature and easy-going attitude, traits that have endeared him to the many who regard him as iconic, a gem in the crown of the Texas wine scene.
Standing in his office next to several racks of bottles he’ll use for educational sipping, it's hard to fathom how many people he's taught over thirty years. “You know, I’d never thought about that, maybe in the thousands.” And how fitting that a master of his craft would begin his journey in an entry level position, a busboy quickly completing his tasks before the elite of Dallas would swish through the doors of Dominique’s to make their lunch reservations.
He vividly remembers Jean as a meticulous taskmaster, constantly in the young wine steward’s face, as he instructed him how to pronounce and care for wine.
“I watched him, I kind of idolized him because he was so French and exotic, and here I was some young Texas kid.”
Not long after, on his 18th birthday, Stout with his high school sweetheart in tow celebrated at Domique’s and was gifted by the owner a half bottle of wine from the Pommard commune, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. To this day he still enjoys the tradition.
Turning 18 years old in Texas in 1972 meant not only could he drink wine, now he could serve it. Having trained the many waiters that came and went, “Boning Dover Sole, Crepe Suzette” he felt more than qualified— and though he half expected Jean to turn him away, Stout arrived for work early one day dressed in a waiter’s tuxedo.
“Jean said, ‘you are going to wear that tux, do your bus job and take one table,’ he said if I screwed this up I’d be a busboy for the rest of my life.”
A year later, the new general manager at Dominique’s, who was fortunate in Stout’s familiarity with their wine list paid him $50 a week to continue to stock, order, and manage the bottles. At 19, the then-Richland College student was running the wine program for one of the premier restaurants in Dallas, which meant crating home samples of first growth Bordeaux’s and crisp Mosel rieslings for he and his college buddies to enjoy.
Stout moved from Dallas to Houston in 1981 to start a distribution company that ten years later was sold to Dallas-based Glazer’s, now known as Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits, whom he’s worked with for 22 years. Approaching his 15th year as a master sommelier, he’s hoping to raise a glass with the men and women in his graduating class.