Leslie Rosa began a successful career in the art world, where she worked for museums like The Museum of Modern Art and curated exhibitions in New York, London and Mexico City. A desire to study Italian and a job offer in Venice took Leslie to Italy, where she began to discover new wines and her career started to take a turn.
Shortly after completing her sommelier certificate through the Association of Italian Sommeliers, Leslie moved to California and founded La Dolce Vigna , a boutique travel company specializing in wine and culture tours. Both of Leslie’s passions, art and wine, are brought to bear as she puts together intimate experiences for small groups of no more than ten.
With itineraries that include regions from the north to the south of Italy, Leslie also offers day tours in California and has expanded into Argentina.
Wine Tourist Magazine recently caught up with Leslie and asked a few questions.
WTM: What was it about Italian wine that inspired you to become a sommelier?
Leslie: The sheer diversity of Italian wines sparked my curiosity. After many ah-ha moments while casually sharing a bottle of wine among friends in Venice, I decided I wanted to understand more profoundly how these unique wines were made.
WTM: How does your background in art influence your approach to wine tourism?
Leslie: There are two ways it shows: First, and more importantly, my tours offer a humanistic and more complete way of learning about what’s in your glass. I create a context for my clients through meeting the producer, understanding the region and its culture, and enjoying the local cuisine. My choices for what to include in a tour are made with this in mind. For example, many tours will take clients to the most expensive wineries or those that receive high point scores (which are almost always coming from larger wineries that have the time and resources to dedicate to this type of marketing), or because they receive kickbacks for bringing clients there. The wineries I choose, however, are respected producers who are making quality wine that is an expression of the territory.
My curating background also comes in handy with the way I organize a tour. I have an overall plan for the week, including winery visits, meals, activities, etc., but make sure that each day is balanced and tells a story. In fact, this is what I think clients respond to the most—that each and every day is the best day!
WTM: Were there specific challenges involved in your transition from art to wine travel?
Leslie: Everything flowed surprisingly well. The only thing is that I sometimes slip and refer to a winery as a gallery.
WTM: What do you think is the best-kept secret in Italian wine travel?
Leslie: There are certainly regions that have not been discovered in a mass-tourism kind of way: Marche, Friuli and Calabria are a few. I’ve actually been spending a lot of time in Marche and Calabria recently and can sing their praises for the rest of the interview! I am organizing a couple of private tours in these regions this year and I am excited to introduce clients to their eno-gastronomic wonders.
The other secret—that I hope does not remain so—is that the little guys are the best! Smaller wineries, restaurants, hotels will offer you the more authentic experience every single time. They are not always easy to find, but that’s where knowledgeable tour companies can help create a trip of a lifetime!
WTM: What attracts you to Argentina as a travel destination?
Leslie: Argentina was a country I started to travel to when I was still living in Italy—both for the epic wine and tango! Argentina’s wine industry is really owed to the Italian immigrants who came en masse around the turn of the last century, and their influence is still apparent today—in the last names of the families behind most wineries, in the warm hospitality, in the importance of enjoying wine with food together, etc.
Another reason Argentina was attractive to me is because I can offer my clients, who are all based in the Northern Hemisphere, an escape from winter! I grew up in New York City and those are some dark, cold months.
WTM: If you could do anything else, what would it be?
Leslie: I really enjoy what I do, but I would probably have to say an author. Writing for Wine Tourist Magazine and for my company’s blog has made me realize how much I enjoy the craft of writing and how much I love sharing my experiences and expertise. Perhaps there will be a book in my future. My cousin, Adam Silvera, is a New York Times best-selling author, so I’m hoping it runs in the family!
I also wouldn’t mind being a singer either. I had a band in Venice and I’m starting to dream of a wine-paired cabaret show. “Singing Sommelier” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
WTM: Is there any specific advice you can offer to readers interested in a wine-travel career?
Leslie: Don’t go the wine influencer route! Study, get your wine specialist or sommelier certificate, and spend time cultivating genuine relationships with producers you believe in—not those who give you kickbacks. My tours would not be nearly as successful without my sincere interest in the places I take my clients.