My Montrose: David Keck, Wine Director at Camerata

By | May 2, 2016

David Keck is the co-founder and wine director of the Montrose wine bar Camerata.

Photograph by Kirsten Gilliam

How did you first become interested in wine?

I grew up drinking wine, enjoying it with my folks. My family always had a bottle of wine on the dinner table. And then as I worked at a series of restaurant industry jobs I started expanding my knowledge as far as wine was concerned. I worked my way through college [at Columbia University] bartending, and there were a couple of people in New York who kind of showed me the possibilities that were out there.

You’re a trained opera singer, and you sang professionally for many years. Why did you decide to transition to the restaurant industry?

Singing is a pretty itinerant career. With wine you can travel a fair amount, but with singing you’re on the road nine months out of the year. I decided that wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the rest of my career, so I decided to go into wine full-time in 2009-2010.

What was the concept behind Camerata?

My business partner Paul Petronella, the owner of Paulie’s, had been looking at the space next to his restaurant for a while. It was basically empty, with just brick walls and concrete floors. At that time I was the beverage director at the Uchi Restaurant Group, but I wanted to explore a broader spectrum of the wine world. I wanted a list of wines I felt great about, with small productions, family producers. I also wanted to do more with wine education, and there’s only so much you can do within the context of a restaurant. So that’s when Paul and I began talking about Camerata as not just a wine bar but a home for the industry, and a place for wine professionals to get better at their jobs.

Is that educational component how Camerata differs from other wine bars in town?

We’re also the home of the Houston Sommelier Association, which was founded here. And we’re one of the few places in the country that hires pretty much only staff that are pursuing wine at a high level. Half of our staff were already wine buyers and beverage directors for established restaurants and bars. They came to Camerata to grow and learn more about their craft.

You have an Advanced Sommelier Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. What did you have to do to earn that?

I got that back in 2012, and now I’m actually one step away from my Master Sommelier Certification. It’s a three-part exam, with a theory portion, a practical service portion, and a blind tasting, which I’m doing next week.

How precise do you have to be in the blind tasting?

Very precise. You have 25 minutes to taste six wines and tell the judges exactly what they are, including grape variety or varieties, region and sub region, quality level, and vintage.

Why did you and Paul choose to open Camerata in Montrose?

For what we’re trying to do, Montrose is the ideal location. We’ve had an unbelievably warm welcome from our neighbors. People here want to be challenged by what they’re drinking. They want to be somewhere they can drop in for a nice glass of wine, and the nice atmosphere, but they also want to talk to the staff about what they’re drinking. They’re always looking for new things. It’s the same curiosity that brings them to the Menil and all the other museums and attractions in Montrose.

What are you working on right now?

Right now we’re wrapping up a big Spain-focused wine list at Camerata. And we’re working on a Loire Fest, featuring wines from the Loire Valley that will be held in July. We did it last year for about a week in conjunction with some other wine bars around Houston, and this year we’re expanding it statewide. It will be a month-long celebration, so I’m trying to figure out all the details for that. It’ll be a lot of fun!

Camerata at Paulie’s. 1834 Westheimer Road. 713-522-VINO.

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