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Real Somm Stories

By Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddie

Jason Sherman, Wine Director of Brennan's of Houston, is rebuilding an iconic wine program

Three years ago, as hurricane Ike barreled through the Texas Gulf Coast, a fire in Houston gutted the inside of Brennan's of Houston.

In March 2010, a month after Brennan's re-opening, Jason Sherman walked into the restaurant. Eight months later, he was named Wine Director.

It's been three years since Sherman began rebuilding the Brennan's wine program. "We had lost the entire stock," he recalled for me recently as we sat at Brennan's bar." And it was all tremendous stuff. When I start thinking about the old ports that were lost...and the..."he looked up to the ceiling then back to me with a wistful smile recalling something lost forever. "I drool at the list that we had."

Brennan's had anchored Midtown's dining society with Texas Creole cuisine since 1967. Rebuilding its wine program, Sherman admitted, was scary and daunting at first -- for one thing, the restaurant seats over 400. But also because of the passion of its patrons, some of whom had been coming for 25 years. So what was Sherman's classy move? He asked those loyal customers what they wanted to see on the list.

"There's a lot of history behind this place for many, many people. And they remember the wines," he said. "It's been hard tracking down some of the older Bordeauxs and Burgundies, but it's also fun."

Wouldn't it be great, I offered, if cellar-building, hand-selling and researching could be the focus of the sommelier's job?

Sherman, who is also an Advanced Sommelier with the Court, laughed at the possibility of such a world, and for good reason. He has three somms working under him, so there's training going on. There are endless meeting on every conceivable business point. And then there's the never-ending "To Do" list of inventory control, stocking and accounting.

"When I was younger and just considering this line of work," he says, "I would have never expected to be spending so many hours each day typing at the computer," Sherman said. But he knows full well that it's all part of the internal mechanics that drive the kind of memorable wine program required in a place like Brennan's.

"When a guest calls back and asks,'What was that wine I had? I can't get it off my mind' -- that's probably the best part of my job."