Dayton loses its Pied Piper of wines

This photo of Tom Davis comes from the University of Dayton Alumni —Dayton Community Facebook page announcement of his passing.
This photo of Tom Davis comes from the University of Dayton Alumni —Dayton Community Facebook page announcement of his passing.

The Dayton wine scene has lost its most impassioned wine evangelist.

Tom Davis, a retired University of Dayton business professor who taught a wine-appreciation course to a generation of UD students, passed away June 11. He was 82.

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It’s difficult to overstate Tom’s impact on the local wine community, both through the “Wines of the World” mini-course he taught at UD — which was typically wait-listed for two years or more — and through his attendance and generosity at Dayton-area wine dinners and special events organized by local groups such as the American Wine Society.

Davis always plucked a few rarities from his own wine cellar to bring to these dinners and events, and his knowledge of wines and winemakers from all over the globe was nothing short of encyclopedic. He was a familiar sight at drop-in wine-tastings at venues such as Arrow Wine & Spirits, where he shared that knowledge with enthusiastic students from his UD wine class.

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Tom would routinely buy bottles that other wine “experts” believed should be drunk right away or soon after release, then defy those experts by aging the wines for years, even decades, in his cellar.

Tom would take delight in pulling the corks of these wines at local wine gatherings. Whether those wines were clearly over the hill, or, more often than not, tasted much better than conventional wisdom dictated they should, Tom would find something to love in each one. His friends coined an affectionate term to describe those wines — they were said to be “in the Davis zone” — and the term will endure long after Tom’s passing.

Kettering wine enthusiast Dusty Gillson met Tom Davis at a special wine dinner featuring the wines of Burgundy at Jay’s Restaurant in 2009. Tom poured a glass of grand-cru Burgundy he had brought from his own cellar into Gillson’s glass and struck up a conversation that would turn into a friendship.

“Never before have I met anyone with such an unending passion for wine,” Gillson said. “Not only did Tom collect and cellar an extremely diverse array of wine over four decades, but knew the story, the people, and the vineyards behind every one of them — and exactly where they were in his cellar. And one of his greatest joys was to share his wines with as many people as possible.

“When Tom created the ‘Wines of the World’ course, going on 18 years ago, the University of Dayton would not allow the students to actually taste wines as part of the course” even though they were of legal drinking age, Gillson said. “Instead he would pass around empty bottles and discuss the typical characteristics of the wines of a certain region or style of wine. It was not long, however — about three years — before Tom’s persistence won out, and the course was permitted to taste through a number of wines as part of the curriculum.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

What you should know about wine.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

“Dayton has an incredibly thriving wine scene, and I personally would give Tom a lot of credit for that,” Gillson said. “You don’t have to mention the name Tom Davis but once before someone recalls a tasting, an event, or a dinner where he was the patriarch and the lively guru at the table.”

UD officials said Davis was long-time faculty member in the School of Business Administration (SBA) who joined the MIS, Operations Management & Decision Sciences Department as a full-time faculty member in January 1990, following a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force.

He retired in May 2013 after serving 23 years on the University of Dayton faculty.

Tom taught a variety of courses but was best known by business students for teaching the Business Statistics courses. He taught with a passion and level of engagement that reflected his strong commitment to higher education and to his students, UD officials said. He received a Professor of the Year Award from students and was also honored by his peers with the SBA 1994 Award for Teaching Excellence. Tom also served as the advisor to Delta Sigma Pi, the professional business fraternity, and in 1993 won the Advisor of the Year award.

As part of teaching his Wines of the World mini-course, Tom collaborated with Chef Herbert Schotz on the university’s annual wine dinners, special events that routinely sold out quickly.

“Tom has had a deep and lasting impact on students, and has enriched the minds, and the palates, of many of his colleagues in the UD community,” UD officials said in a release.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held for Tom at the University of Dayton Immaculate Conception chapel at 10 AM on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Friends may call at the chapel from 9 AM until the time of Mass on Saturday. Interment in Arlington National Cemetery will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Military Outreach USA at, UD officials said.