Wednesday night, at The Little Nell hotel in Aspen, the Court of Master Sommeliers added three more to its stable of less than 250 master sommeliers around the world. The distinguished diploma is offered upon finishing what what has been referred to as one of the world’s hardest exams. This year, one of the three was Texas’ own David Keck of Camerata wine bar in Houston.
Keck brings the state’s total number of masters to eight, joining June Rodil of McGuire Moorman Hospitality, who earned her diploma just last year, as well as Guy Stout (Glazer’s), James Tidwell (Four Seasons Resort and Club at Las Colinas), Devon Broglie (Whole Foods Market), Craig Collins (ELM Restaurant Group), Barbara Werley (Pappas Bros.), and Melissa Monosoff (Court of Master Sommeliers).
Though originally from Vermont, Keck is a former Juliard-trained opera singer who migrated to Houston more than a decade ago. He has worked in the restaurant industry for years, managing the beverage program for acclaimed sushi restaurant Uchi, before joining forces with Paul Petronella of Paulie’s River Oaks to create a neighborhood wine bar a few years ago.
Keck has spent much of his beverage career devoting himself to rigorous study and a white-glove style of hospitality. He received the Rudd Scholarship for earning the top score on the Advanced Sommelier Certification—which led to his candidacy for his Master diploma—and he was also first runner-up in the 2012 Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition at TEXSOM. He placed third in the National Finals for the 2013 TOP|SOMM competition. Food & Wine magazine listed him as one of America’s “Best Sommeliers” in 2016.
At Camerata, Keck has had full reign to design a wine program to his own liking. “People want to be challenged to find new things. There really shouldn’t be some strange mystery shrouding the world of wine. What’s been most exciting is seeing how people in Houston really want to know more about different wines they’ve seen or heard about,” said Keck in a previous interview. “I wanted to create a program here that consumers and wine industry professionals could both benefit from.”
Gearing a program towards other like-minded wine geeks has perhaps been to his own advantage. Hosting monthly wine education seminars, as well as pick up sessions of blind tastings with colleagues who stroll in after a shift, has kept his mind razor-sharp and his palate supreme. This likely prepared him for his most recent achievement.
The master sommelier exam includes three parts: an oral theory exam in which candidates must answer a flood of questions aloud from a panel of judges; a service exam in which candidates must seamlessly serve a table of current master sommeliers as they exhibit qualities of some of the most demanding dining customers; and finally, a blind tasting in which candidates must identify six wines by sight, smell, and taste right down to the grape, style, region, and vintage.
For a little more insight into what it’s like to achieve the master sommelier diploma, the 2013 documentary Somm is a riveting narrative that follows four master sommelier candidates through their journey of studying and blind tasting to their grueling experience of taking the exam.
Just hours after receiving his diploma in Aspen, Keck sent us a quick note saying, “It’s a tremendous honor to bring this back to Houston and an amazingly humbling experience to be here [in Aspen] with such a talented group of colleagues. It’s pretty surreal right now, but I can’t wait to get back to work and do what I can to help pay it forward.”