When it comes to promoting the consumption of wine, Mike Gonze and Deb Mortillaro, owners of the Strip District's Dreadnought Wines, do it all: distribution, retail sales and special events. However, it's this duo's passion for wine education that really stands out.
"To us it's all about trying different things, and trying to find opportunities for people to feel comfortable in our industry without putting up a pretense," says Gonze.
To that end, the boutique offers a wide array of classes ranging from a three-course "Wine 101" series to customized sessions focusing on specific wine styles or regions. An especially popular option is the Casual Wine Class ($12), which is offered on the first and third Fridays of every month. The class begins at 5:30 p.m., and customers can walk in, and sample and discuss a selection of three reds and three whites.
Mortillaro's baseline for wine talk is simple: "Let's get you to the point where you can talk about the characteristics of what you like. Or what you don't like." After that, purchasing the right wine becomes much less of a challenge.
The store also sponsors a wine-of-the-month program whose goal is "to educate [participants] about wines they've never had before" says Gonze — "a new grape varietal, or a new region, to just open your mind." One of this month's selections, for example, is a wine made with Grüner Veltliner grapes — a white wine varietal that's popular in Austria, but not very well known in the United States.
Gonze and Mortillaro both argue that educated wine consumers have more confidence in their selections ... which is good for the wine community as a whole.
Just don't ask them what their absolute favorite wine is. With so much variety in winemaking, says Gonze, "There is no absolute."
Correction: In April, I wrote that Joe and Ruth Barsotti owned "the only wine-distribution business based in Pittsburgh." That was incorrect: Dreadnought itself is a distributor, as are other local businesses.