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Texsom calls to Houston Sommeliers

By Russell Kane | August 28, 2015
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Texsom Calls to Houston Sommeliers

Today’s Houston restaurant wine scene is vibrant with restaurants featuring innovative world-class cuisine with spices, sauces, condiments and wines sourced from the four points of the compass. According to Guy Stout, Houston’s Certified Master Sommelier, it wasn’t always like this.

“Houston’s fine wine scene, while decades old, has advanced to become what we enjoy today,” he said.

Early on, Houston’s wine scene was mainly in the rarified palaces of haute cuisine with mighty chateaux of Bordeaux and domaines of Burgundy dominating wine lists. Stout added, “These were establishments where wines were given their approval by the ‘sommelier,’ who wore a large tastevin—a sliver cup used for sampling wines—on a long silver chain.”

Now, Houston offers a dynamic and less imposing sommelier presence like that provided by David Keck at Camerata wine bar and by Bill Elsey, James Watkins and Steven McDonald at Pappas Brothers Steakhouse. They work the floor with youthful vigor, readily sharing their knowledge with patrons. All admit a good deal of what they offer comes from their participation in Texsom, the Texas Sommelier Conference, held annually in Dallas for the past 11 years (texsom.com).

Advanced Sommelier Bill Elsey getting advice from California Master Sommelier Fred Dame at Texsom

James Tidwell from Dallas who with Drew Hendricks started Texsom before attaining their Master Sommelier certifications, said, “In the beginning, I wanted to start a wine professional’s education weekend while Drew wanted a sommelier competition. We combined these ideas that became the Texsom nucleus. One of the most important aspects of Texsom for local wine professionals today is that they volunteer, and thus meet, work and learn with top-flight professionals from around Texas and the nation.”

Pappas’ Bill Elsey said, “I first went to Texsom while working for a Texas winery. I was on the periphery of the wine scene and felt that I needed to rub shoulders with others in the wine trade.”

Then, Elsey attended Texsom again and participated in their sommelier competition and won it. The combination of the visibility in that accomplishment and the relationships made at the conference brought Elsey to Houston, where he works and shares an apartment with fellow Pappas Steakhouse sommelier and Texsom competition finalist James Watkins.

David Keck, Advanced Sommelier, at Camerata at Paulie's
Camerata’s David Keck helped launch the Houston Sommelier Association. “At Texsom I started as a volunteer and as a competitor,” he said. “Now I help organize the volunteers. I feel that participation by our Houston sommeliers in Texsom brings continuity within our community across Texas. Like Bill Elsey and I discovered, for those who want to move up in their professional certification to pass the Master Sommelier exam, the competition is a proving ground for the exams in theory, tasting and service.”
 
Keck takes the benefits of Texsom seriously. He made a decision at Camerata to close the bar and let the staff go up to participate. It’s become that once-a-year opportunity when his employees take off their “bartender hats” to learn, compete and build professional relationships.
 
According to Keck, “The conversation in Houston’s sommelier community about Texsom is always who can get off work and how many days they can get away to spend there. It’s that big of a deal in Houston.”
 
TexSom or the Texas Sommelier Conference is an annual event. For 2016 dates and information visit Texsom.com
 
If you are interested to learn more about wines, or even in becoming a sommelier, the Texas Wine School offers wine education certification classes on many levels, as well as non-certification wine appreciation classes. One of the more advanced programs is the international Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which offers wine education on five levels, from beginner to expert. For more information, check out Texaswineschool.com.
 
PHOTO CREDITS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:  Russell Kane, Matt McGinnis and James Skogsberg
Article from Edible Houston at http://ediblehouston.ediblecommunities.com/drink/texsom-calls-houston-sommeliers
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