A Service Dog and Her Winemaker

Posted by Keith Wallace

This article is one of the few articles written about Keith’s life before founding the Wine School.  It prominently features Rosie, his dog of many years. Sadly, Rosie passed away in March 2013.

The Chestnut Hill Local originally published the story in 2008. The article is reprinted solely for educational purposes.  It is intended to offer insight into the history of Wine Education in Philadelphia and our place within that history. Links to the original article and author are given below.

Miracle dog helped owner overcome tragedy


Rosie And Coco
Rosie and Coco. Rosie, on the left, was Keith’s service dog.

Not too far away from Chestnut Hill lies the “only full-time, independent wine school in the country,” according to Keith Wallace, founder and president of the Wine School of Philadelphia. Located at 2006 Fairmount Ave., across from the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, the school has grown steadily in size and reputation since beginning in 2001. Last year, 200 students enrolled in the academic programs, and over 2,000 attended individual classes.

All this success has not, however, gone to anyone’s head at the school (although sometimes the wine does). “This is a fun place to learn about wine,” says Keith. “Prices are low enough for anyone to afford, and our students include both industry professionals and people off the street. We demystify wine. You won’t find anyone arrogant or judgmental here. No BS.”

The only thing they do judge is wine, and this they do independently, not as industry reps, which, says the long-time Mt. Airy resident, allows students to acquire a more well-rounded understanding of the often-confusing world of wine. “You can be an informed buyer, save money and enjoy wine more,” he says.

Among the courses offered are Introduction to Wine, Building a Wine Collection, Investing in Wine, and Pairing Wine and Food. “The Sommelier Smackdown” is a popular culinary competition that pits different wine professionals up against the school’s top wine educators. Those attending try each of the food-and-wine pairings and get to choose the winner. The Wine School staff includes instructors Brian Freedman, David Snyder and Frank Cipparone, all well-known authors, critics and experts on wine.

Students can also choose to enroll in an online “American Wine Foundation” course leading to a “Diploma Oenotropae,” named after the granddaughters of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (also known as Bacchus). In addition to his duties at the school, Keith hosts a biweekly internet wine show, “Philly Uncorked,” with co-host Maria Valetta, and writes for Philly Style and Dining Out magazines.

Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, Keith Wallace comes from a long line of ministers dating all the way back to John Edwards, a Calvinist minister of the colonial era. “I’m definitely the black sheep of the family,” he says. Growing up, Keith worked first as a dishwasher and then as an executive chef while still in college earning his English degree. After working in journalism and public relations for a while, he went back to school at the University of California, Davis, for their extension program in wine, and then worked for a time as a wine consultant. He discovered that he really enjoyed teaching and seemed to be good at it.

He began looking for a pleasant, livable East Coast city where he could set up shop. Eventually, he settled on Philadelphia, a decision based largely on the gregarious people and dog-friendly open spaces that he found in the Mt. Airy /Chestnut Hill area. Culinary amenities like The Cheese Shop, Groben’s Seafood, and the bakeries and farmers markets helped seal the deal.

Keith said he “liked the fact that Mt. Airy made a conscious effort to be religiously, economically and racially diverse.” (Maybe even a witch or two, like the ones burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts.) He lived in Mt. Airy and Roxborough for several years, and presently resides in the city’s Queen Village section. “When I finally grow up and buy a house,” he says, “it will definitely be in Mt. Airy. I’ll have a few more dogs, too. I’ll be that guy who takes in problem dogs.”

Presently, Keith has two dogs, both of whom have cleaned up nicely under his patient tutelage. Coco is a three-year-old lab mix who was considered untrainable by her previous owner, and Rosie is a hound-basenji mix who has been Keith’s best friend for 11 years.

“Rosie and I have been together since she came up to me on the waterfront in Baltimore and pooped at my feet,” he said. “She was only a few months old and very sick. Nursing her back to health was the most important thing I’ve ever done.” Only a few months before, Keith had been involved in an auto accident in which his fiancée, Jen, was killed.  The accident had left him facing a lifetime of debilitating seizures.

“I needed Rosie through that dark and lonely time” he added. “Without her, my life would have been much different. The ability to protect and shepherd someone and develop mutual trust has been a privilege.” He named the pup Rosie after “Rose of Sharon” in The Grapes of Wrath, a character who changes into a mature woman after she helps a starving stranger.

After Keith adopted Rosie, she wasted no time in expressing her tenacious individuality. She learned how to open the fridge, eat all the peanut butter, then hide the jar before Keith came home from work. When he responded by locking her in the bathroom when he went out, she dug through a plaster wall and happily greeted him on the couch upon his return. The stories go on and on. Bottom line, these two have had a lot of fun together over the years, and fun is a word that Keith uses a lot.

“I’m a lucky man,” he says. “I get to do something fun and unique and give back to the community at the same time.” Giving back is clearly something Keith believes in. TheWine School helps nonprofit organizations by donating items for fund raising, and Keith personally has some favorite charities that he supports. “I’m not cheap,” he says, “but I’m Scottish, and I want to make sure my money is well spent.” For a guy who drinks for a living, he certainly has his head on straight.

-Jim Harris

Jim Harris, of Germantown, is a musician and animal activist who writes the weekly

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