He gets around

You may recognize Gary Keller’s winning, non-stop smile from his thirteen years at the Brown Palace Hotel’s Palace Arms, where he first served as captain and then as assistant general manager.

Maybe you threw a large and raucous birthday party at Panzano’s one year, and there was Gary Keller, tending to your party like he didn’t have an entire restaurant packed with paying guests — suggesting wines for your appetizers, your entrees and then the birthday cake he discreetly hid away and delivered, candles lit, remaining helpful and happy as any sommelier could be.

Today, Keller graces the distinguished The Wooden Table at Orchard and University in Greenwood Village where he continuously exudes his charm, his aplomb and his dense, unstoppable wine knowledge.

Many the Colorado food and wine lover follows their favorite chefs. True vino devotees, however, know the thrill of following a sommelier who never tires of his craft, who never stops digging in and learning the nuance, the intricacies of wines as they come to market, as they mature in every sense of the word.

Keller’s been dishing on Denver’s wine scene for nearly 35 years and his resume shows it.

“In 1977 I worked at Basin Street on Larimer Square when Dana Crawford was involved with Larimer Street,” he says. “I then worked with the Duesenberg restaurant and yes, there was a fully restored and pristine Duesenberg sitting in the lobby – and attached beyond the bar area was a 50-car antique car gallery. The restaurant featured New American Cuisine, very trendy in the early 1980s. I worked there for two years as a Captain before going to Cafe Giovanni at 1515 Market downtown. Jack Goldsmith and Neils VanLeewan were early chefs. In addition to the cuisine, the wine list was one of the first to be featured as a computer printout done in-house.

“Wow!” he adds. “I am I dating myself!

“I’ve always taken it upon myself to read and study,” says Keller. “I am voracious about the academics of wine. I have about every major book on wine and wine education there is.”

Keller works tireless to shore up The Wooden Table’s Chef Brett Shaheen’s fine, Italian-infused fare, not just with cabernets and pinot noirs and the glistening chardonnay. He works within Colorado’s wine culture as well. “When we speak of Colorado wines,” says Keller, “they’re making inroads into quality. Many Colorado wines are making their way and they’re using the right grapes to put into the soil. That marriage of finding the right vines to plant in the right soil in this particular climate is key and Colorado’s wineries are finding their way.

“However, I love featuring wines that are also represented and recommended by the business community,” he adds. “Many have made their money and know their wines and we will likely adding nice, pleasant surprises from our expertise and from their knowledge.”

The Wooden Table’s packs a lunch crowd, as well as a loyal dinner following, and most every diner is awed by the hand-crafted bar, as well as the dining tables – all of which are crowned by a glorious, larger hand-hewn table mid-dining room. “The wood for the bar is a single cut from a Pennsylvania cherry wood tree,” says co-owner/manager, Jane Knauf. “And ‘The Wooden Table’ in the middle of the dining room is made of the rare myrtle wood.

“Having Gary included in all of our success is the icing on our cake here at The Wooden Table,” says Knauf. “He’s a perfect addition to our team and our diners often come back eager to see him again and again. He’s a master at his craft and at cultivating long-established clientele relationships.”

The entire dining room that Keller often oversees is softly lit by a room-length, south-facing window. An outdoor patio of inviting, umbrella-covered tables frames the scene.

“I love what I do and I thoroughly enjoy the vibe, the culture and helping to cultivate and educate a fine restaurant’s staff,” says Keller. “We are a true family and the clientele returns here over and over again due to our staff’s extraordinary, professional service and Chef Shaheen’s exceptional menu.”

Perhaps. But a few of us wine drinkers know that Keller’s the key when it comes to getting the great sip, the surprising shiraz, the exceptional, saucy zin. Visit The Wooden Table’s Wine List for living proof.