• Palate Partners

Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Wine & Spirits: Deb Goes 3 for 3 in WSET

Updated: Mar 9


Only three women in North America have achieved all WSET Level 3 Awards for knowledge of wine, spirits and sake. WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust of London) is the foremost international body in the field of wines, spirits and sake education.


Our co-founder, Deb Mortillaro, is one of the them, and the reason wine and beverage programs in Pittsburgh’s burgeoning restaurant scene are lauded nationwide.

As a trusted educator and advisor, Mortillaro is an industry innovator that restaurant owners, hospitality professionals and CEOs alike turn to when they have questions about standards and trends.


Events and classes developed and taught by Mortillaro appeal to everyone from beginner-level enthusiasts to industry professionals. The wine, spirits and sake she curates from around the world for distribution by Palate Partners’ sister business Dreadnought Wines, have elevated restaurants including Mary’s Vine, The Pennsylvania Market and Poulet Bleu to new levels.


Ian Harris, WSET CEO, praised Mortillaro’s achievement. “Many people pass all levels of WSET qualifications in one subject, either wines, spirits or sake,” he said. “But to gain the WSET Level 3 qualification in all three is a feat which is extremely rare. I congratulate Deb on being one of the few to have achieved this goal.”


Mortillaro’s journey began in 1977 when women were not always welcome in the food and beverage industry. Upon her enrollment in the Culinary Institute of America, the ratio of students was 1:20 female to male. Mortillaro graduated with honors near the top of her class, following up with a residency in Italy.


After serving as a private chef in Pittsburgh for 14 years, she joined forces with Mike Gonze of Dreadnought Wines, and they co-founded the Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits. Years of study in France, Portugal, and Japan led Mortillaro to seek advanced certifications from WSET, as well as her most recent certification of Advanced Sake Sommelier. She is currently studying for WSET’s Diploma-level certification in wine.


As a leader in a male-dominated industry, Mortillaro is committed to helping women and other underserved groups thrive through education, philanthropy, and mentorship.


“I hear it way too often - many people think they’re not welcome in the beverage industry. They think they’re not the right age, ethnicity, or gender. Well, we’re shaking up the industry, and everyone is welcome! I’m living proof,” she said.




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