Grow Your Restaurant Wine Sales with David Keck, MS

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11/03/2024 Master Sommelier David Keck moved from opera to wine and is currently in charge of Stella14 Wines. While juggling vineyard responsibilities in Vermont, he offers insights on wine sales tactics, supplier cooperation, and sommelier responsibilities.

David Keck, Master Sommelier, took an unexpected turn into the wine industry after initially pursuing a career in opera singing. While traveling the world as a musician, he discovered a passion for wine, which led him to become a sommelier. David's varied background, which included a Master of Music degree from Rice University, an undergraduate degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, and opera performance training at Juilliard, paved the way for his later success in the wine industry.

After bartending and working in hospitality in addition to his operatic aspirations, David began his sommelier training with the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2010. His hard work paid off, as he earned the 149th American Master Sommelier and the 233rd worldwide in 2016. David was named one of Food & Wine's Sommeliers of the Year that same year, and his talent continued to be acknowledged, including the StarChefs Rising Stars Restaurateur of the Year award in 2019.

David's influence extends beyond his personal successes; he is a well-known personality in wine education, having presented seminars for respected organizations such as the Court of Master Sommeliers and GuildSomm. His expertise is in demand at prestigious events like as the Aspen Food & Wine Classic and TEXSOM, where he shares his knowledge with interested audiences.

Furthermore, David's passion for promoting wine culture inspired him to form the Houston Sommelier Association and launch LoireFest, a statewide celebration of the Loire Valley in Texas. His extensive beverage industry expertise includes positions in restaurant and wine bar management, sales, and wine program direction, demonstrating his adaptability and breadth of knowledge.

Despite his successful career, David's path has brought him full circle, as he now lives in his native Northeast, caring for a vineyard and creating wine with hybrid grapes in Vermont. We interviewed David, who provided his insights about growing restaurants and wine sales, which you can see below.

Place of work.

Stella14 Wines

Image: Stella14 Wines | Source: Google Images

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

I went from bartending and working in wine on the side to sitting exams, studying wine, and working in hospitality full-time in 2010. I started as a wine buyer for a small wine bar and have since worked creating wine bars, honky-tonks, retail shops, and restaurants as well as time in distribution and importation. When returning to Vermont in March of 2020, hospitality was in a tough spot. I found myself able to take over the lease of the oldest commercial vineyard in the state, moving from academic grape growing and winemaking to doing the thing!

Define your role and the tasks involved in your role.

I currently grow grapes in two different vineyards, managing the vineyards throughout the year, and harvesting and making the wine (after building the winery in our barn). I manage a small tasting room, as well as our wholesale and online sales. I also teach and travel a bit for wine education and help administer exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

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

What are your goals with the program? We all can have our goals and desires, but at the end of the day, we work for the owner and need to know cost goals, program aspirations, long-term and short-term growth strategy, and current commitments.

How can suppliers work with you to drive sales?

Suppliers have the amazing opportunity to tell stories and create excitement around the brands with which they work. They are our liaison with wineries, winemakers, and the families involved. Sure, they can work with us to achieve that perfect BTG price for something to move and get momentum, but they also can generate excitement with us and our staff around a winery they know intimately.

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

The constant and evolving balance of what is important and urgent, versus what is just important, and what is just urgent. The scale of priorities is crucial.

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

First and foremost does it have a story and is it a wine that I can feel good supporting? Secondly, does it fit with the program? Third, and certainly as important as the other two, how much does it cost and will we be able to move the wine?

What is the difference between the role of a sommelier and a wine director?

Ideally one should be both. I'd say the sommelier role involves more guest-facing work while a wine director is more defined by the work behind the scenes in organization and finances, but there should be a healthy amount of overlap for either of those jobs to be successful.

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

Humble, creative, curious, and hard-working.

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

I look at COGS, days in inventory, overhead, and carrying costs.


What are some of the most important skills for a sommelier to have?

The ability to read the room and understand what is needed at a table in any given situation. A comprehensive knowledge of not just the wine list in his or her establishment, but the ever-evolving world of wine. Knowing a guest's preference frequently has to do with understanding what they drink when they are NOT in your establishment.

What's the best part of your job?

It is opening a bottle that is new interesting and exciting to a guest.

What's the worst part of your job?

Hosing down picking lugs when it's cold and you've been bringing fruit all day.

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

I'll almost always be happy with Nebbiolo and Riesling. Don't make me choose producers or vintages, choosing varieties is hard enough!

Any favorite food and wine pairing suggestions for drinks enthusiasts?

Off-dry Chenin with Saag Paneer or Chicken Tikka Masala... or anything in an Indian Restaurant

The 2024 Sommeliers Choice Awards results are out! View the results here.