Focus on your bottom line and stay curious says Master Sommelier David Keck

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22/11/2021 An intriguing conversation with opera singer turned Master Sommelier David Keck

Currently, a winegrower at Stella14 in Vermont and a wine director at VT Wine Shepherd, Master Sommelier David Keck has worn many different hats throughout his working life. He discovered his love for wine while pursuing a career—and traveling the world—as an opera singer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you begin your career and how did you progress into this role?

I started bartending when I was 18, but really dove into wine fully when I was working in a wine shop/bar on the side while in graduate school. I started to dive down the rabbit hole further and then in 2010 took my introductory course with the Court of Master Sommeliers and never looked back

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role

I'm currently working to help shape the portfolio for VT Wine Shepherd and train their sales team while also maintaining a vineyard and producing wine

If not a sommelier, what else would you have been?

I'd probably have continued on my previous career path toward being an opera singer

What questions would you ask the restaurant owner before you plan your wine sales growth strategy?

Who are our clientele? Who are our target guests, what do they drink now, and what would we like them to drink in the future?

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

The supply side of the industry is crucial to sales and a lot of it has to do with logistics-- gauging inventory levels and also working with producers to constantly evolve and meet the market where it is

What are the three main things you focus on daily in your role?

Education for myself and the team, proper inventory management, and prioritization of work in the field

What are the points you look at when selecting a new wine for your wine program?

Does it have a story? How does it taste?! And will it sell at the price.

Define a good sommelier and what qualities you would look for when hiring one.

Hospitality and curiosity are the two things that I think cannot be taught. Wine can be taught, service can be taught, but the instinct for hospitality and the curiosity to continue to explore and grow are two things that are crucial and very difficult to instill later.

What do you look for when you have to evaluate the effectiveness of a wine program?

There are so many factors, but honestly, it's the bottom line. If the program is financially viable, that's the first step because otherwise, it's just a passion project. THEN, if it is viable financially, does it say something? Does it have a point and focus or is it just a mixed bag of cool wines?

David Keck

If you had to pick one red and one white wine as your personal best, which wines would they be?

Truly an impossible question, because what does best mean? What do I want to drink more than other wines? Probably some great Nebbiolo for red and delicious Chardonnay from Chablis for white.

Wine involves a lot of storytelling, what’s your go-to wine story?

There's a story for every wine if that wine is worth opening!

Is Price = Quality in Wines? What’s a value for money wine that you would recommend.

Price is almost always subjective. Beaujolais is still one of the great values in the world of wine, as is a bunch of the cool new stuff in Spain and Portugal.

The best and worst part of your job

Depends on the day! I love being in the vineyard with the vines, but some days are sitting on a mower or sprayer all day. In the distribution warehouse, no one loves doing inventory, but I love revisiting some labels and talking about them with the team in sales meeting.

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions

Ah, so many, but off-dry Chenin with some mackerel sashimi is pretty awesome.

Favorite Song, Podcast, and Book

Song: Depends on the day and time, but I'll listen to The Marriage of Figaro pretty much beginning-to-end any day of the week. Podcast? Hmm, I listen to a lot of TED talks. Book: I love poetry as it's easier for my short attention span-- I'm from Vermont and Robert Frost has always spoken to me. Also been reading Czeslaw Milosz recently.

Interview By: Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier