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How I Left The U.S. And Became A Restaurateur in Rome

The author pouring wine at a tasting in Rome.

Lindsay Gabbard, sommelier and co-owner of Rimessa Roscioli, files her first report about Italian food and wine for Appetito as "An American Sommelier in Rome."

My passion for wine started before I was even legal to drink. Tasting some good French wines while I studied abroad piqued my curiosity. But being born in the Detroit area meant that really diving into my wine passion wouldn’t happen until I moved to Santa Barbara. It was there where I met Brian McClintic from SOMM, who ultimately encouraged me to begin studying more formally with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  

Like most, I assumed that wine knowledge and appreciation meant you had to follow that path, acquiring an infinite amount of memorized information, being able to blindly name the grape varietal, country, vintage and to be able to come up with aromas like a "freshly cut garden hose" or "Russian leather." Boy, was I WRONG.  Doing this, I annoyed my mom and my friends, talking endlessly about irrelevant technical information when they were just there to have a nice bottle together, talk about what's going on in life and to share a laugh.  

In fact, studying wine, I lost all my passion. So to get back to what originally moved me, I decided to use a bonus that I had won to travel to Spain, France and Italy, by myself—yes, the typical Eat Pray Love journey—where I’d ultimately meet sommelier Alessandro Pepe at Rimessa Roscioli, whom I developed a love story with and with whom I’d also come back to Italy to work beside. 

So, when I arrived in Italy eight years ago to start hosting tasting dinners alongside him for one of the most important restaurants in Rome, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. For an American who loved wine, this was a dream. For an American (a.k.a. NOT Italian), who wasn't an expert in Italian culture or wine, this was terrifying.  

The doubt and worries ran through my head daily. Would they think I'm not authentic? What if they have a question to which I don't know the answer? Would I let them down or get a bad review? People often make the assumption that I might have struggled being a woman in wine, but that wasn’t my story: The struggle was being an American expat working for one of the most important and authentic Roman restaurants.  

So, I studied like crazy, about everything, not just wine—food traditions, salumi, cheeses, geography, history, Rome, and let's not forget the language. I had to work 10x harder not being Italian if I was going to succeed. And then, something happened.

We started traveling around Italy to take videos of the winemakers that we were featuring in the wine club. The idea was to give our members the most authentic Italian experience from home. We then integrated those videos with easy-to-scan QR codes on the back of all the bottles that go in the wine club, and loaded those pages with information to help members enjoy the experience, including wine pairing ideas, recipes and more. 

When hosting wine tasting dinners at Rimessa Roscioli, I moved away from the technical info and books, and I started speaking about my experience, and there is nothing more honest and sincere than that. I was learning things I had never read about and watching how wine became the vehicle to learning about history, traditions, local cuisine, culture and creating deeper connections. Wine was not so much the focus, but the weaver of it all—that is what I have always loved.  

I don’t know anyone else who puts half the passion and energy into researching the best meats, cheeses, grains and artisan wines as Roscioli, literally visiting each producer personally at their farm or vineyard to experience how they work. Sometimes just seeing a client’s eyes light up when they experience a wine and food pairing epiphany, often with an acidic white wine like Verdicchio or Timorasso, paired with a great goat cheese, or Schioppettino and Cacio e Pepe—or even Moscato and tiramisu—is enough to make me feel like the day was a win. Every morsel of Roscioli food is a little piece of poetry, and when paired with the perfect wine, it creates a harmonious and magical symphony.  

Our experiences as we travel are the heart of what we communicate—and this means talking about much more than just wine, but about local festivals, history, traditions, issues in their territories and more. We’ve met some of the most incredible human beings, like 84-year-old Adamo, who can tell you about Contucci’s 1000+ years of winemaking; the Traclò brothers, who still use a 300-year-old palmento to make wine; Luigi Lovisco, who is making one of the last true caciocavallo with transhumance; and the Lieselehof family, who risked being put in jail for cultivating disease-resistant grapes because they believed in them.  

We’ve also started to put a heavy focus on sustainability for our wine club, and as of last year, we’ve begun shipping as many wines to the USA as possible via sailboats to lessen our carbon footprint. Our shipper is even working to pack the shipments with popcorn, literally, as it will be 100% biodegradable. And recently, we started to buy small vineyards in Italy with little homes for our wine club members to visit. All will be restored with sustainability in mind, and it will be a way to keep these plots of lands with respectable winemaking families which could easily be lost to large corporations. Sustainability also means sustaining local communities.  

I’m so grateful to see what I see, learn what I’ve learned, and experience what I experience daily here in Italy, and I will share it with you here at Appetito!

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