The SOMM Journal

October / November 2015

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Page 24 of 132

24 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 { real somm stories } CAMERATA AT PAULIE'S, IN HOUSTON'S INCREAS- ingly fashionable Lower Westheimer neighborhood, is probably what just about anyone would expect from a newish wine bar in one of America's hottest culinary cities. It's equal parts hip and casual and has a solid reputation for friendly service. Plus, a quick perusal of the wine menu reflects the obvious care that went into choosing the selec - tions. Co-owner David Keck says the list includes "great conversation piece" wines, but he had underlying ambitions as well: "A lot of the list was built to some extent as a study tool for the classic regions of the world. It's moved a little more progressive since then, but tasting through the classic regions and producers is a great way to begin learning." Tutelage is important to Keck, an Advanced Sommelier who also co-founded the Houston Sommelier Association, but so is the bottom line. When servicing the eclectic and evolving Houston market, it's been a learning experience. "It's been interesting to watch it shift around," Keck says of the shifting tastes of his customers. "I don't want to be too esoteric at the expense of our guests, but a lot of our clients are looking for what's new, what's cool. When I scrapped the Cabs in favor of Syrahs for our full-bodied reds, I anticipated some pushback, but it really didn't hap - pen. Whereas I was nervous about presenting a new aes- thetic in wine, they keep pushing it." While such artistic endeavors are among the more appealing factors of the trade, Keck also realizes that suc- cess in the industry is incumbent on a combination of fac- tors, including the minutiae of running a small business. It's a constant conversation, he understands, balancing the need to provide an income for the staff and being a profitable business while not sacrificing the integrity of a sommelier's grand plans. "At the end of the day, we need to make money," he says. "So, most of my days are spent looking at the Excel spreadsheets. It's easy to get sucked into the sexy side of things, but if you're not looking after the nuts and bolts then your beautiful, well-curated list will just go in the trash." Are good business decisions as fulfilling as finding a Plavac Mali from Croatia that no one else in the city can get their hands on? Well, no. Not quite, Keck admits: "They're different experiences. But I certainly enjoy looking at the numbers because there's also a lot of fun to be found in crafting a business." David Keck pays attention to the details while keeping an eye on the big picture. David Keck CO-OWNER, CAMERATA AT PAULIE'S, HOUSTON by Anthony Head / photo by Sarah Jacober

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