Meet movers and shakers of Houston wine scene
Some of the folks I'm dishing about today, none more so than Rick Jamail, are flat-out legends in the local market, and others are new. But you need to meet them, too, and it's a given they are being welcomed as family because that's just how wine people act in Houston.
I'm told our nonwine people are the same, but I don't cross paths with many of them.
The erstwhile boy wonder from Pearland, Gausepohl has left Mark's American Cuisine, which will be closing at the end of the month, for Brennan's. Equal parts passion and palate, he'll re-energize one of Houston's most expansive cellars, just as he did for Mark Cox and the Ibiza program before moving from Midtown to Montrose.
Monsterville Horton IV
The only thing monstrous about Monsterville is his wine knowledge, and now the former Cova Hand-Selected Wines guy is launching a wine club. He thinks big, telling me he's going after Costco - at least in terms of a model plan. Here's now Monsterville's Wines, his new company, will work: You pay a membership fee, ranging from $895 to $2,500 (plus tax), and you get both his expertise and hands-on sommelier services. He'll first do an extensive interview with you to ascertain your wants, needs and desires in the way of wine, then tailor a buying program to precisely fit your profile. Then he'll do the legwork, guarantee the bottles you buy and keep the markups between 3 and 9 percent of his wholesale price, depending on your level of membership. His website isn't quite finished, but the first of several public launch parties is scheduled for 5 to 8:30 p.m. May 26 at the Belvedere Lounge, 1131 Uptown Park Blvd., No. 1. It's free, but he asks that you RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-530-4800.
After more than three decades with Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC), Spec's and, most recently, Dionysus Imports, Jamail will be taking over as wine director of Bill Floyd's two new spots downtown in Marvy Finger's luxury apartment complex across from Minute Maid Park. Floyd (Reef, Little Big's, Jackson Street BBQ) and Jamail have been buddies for 30 years, but they've never worked together. Why now? "Because nobody knows more about Italian wine than Rick," said Floyd, whose high-end spot, Brocca, will have a list that's 75 percent Italian when it opens, hopefully by Labor Day. Floyd's partner in Brocca and the more casual Il Panchina next door is Astros owner Jim Crane. Floyd says they're going to keep the wine markups as low as he employs at Reef (under 100 percent, for the most part).
Having made her mark at Vino Vino, generally ranked as Austin's best wine bar when she presided over its expansive program, Johnson detoured through the Houston suburbs before taking charge recently at B&B Butchers Restaurant on Washington. She's a certified sommelier, and we're lucky to have her.
Guy Stout, the director of beverage education for Glazer's, has been the city's lone certified Master Sommelier for a good while now, and apparently the apples don't fall from the tree. Son Ian attended St. Thomas High School, where he played football, then went to Texas Christian University before moving to Napa Valley to work for the Rombauer Vineyards. He acknowledges getting into the wine business was probably inevitable, saying, "I saw how much fun my dad was having." Now, his 2011 Stout Family Cabernet Sauvignon is available at many top Houston-area restaurants. Stout père says the average price is $100.
She presided over one of the finest, most creative Marriott hotel kitchens I've ever experienced (and I've got Lifetime Platinum status in the chain's reward program) as the first executive chef of the new J.W. Marriott downtown. But she decided it was time to get equally serious about wine. So you'll see her up close and personal now behind the bar at Camerata on Montrose.
You might not recognize the name yet, but you will. Toon recently moved to Houston from Wichita, Kan., expressly to join David Keck's Camerata gang, whose intense pursuit of wine knowledge is all-consuming. By the way, Keck and three Pappas Bros. somms - Bill Elsey, Steven McDonald and Brandon Kerne, who relocated from St. Louis last fall - plus RNDC's Ben Roberts have been in Aspen, Colo., the past two days sitting for their Master Sommelier certification, something fewer than 250 people in the world have obtained. They'll find out whether they have joined Stout's elite ranks sometime Wednesday morning. But the fact that five Houstonians are in the hunt at the same time says everything you need to know about how seriously we take wine in these parts.