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Our Travel Team

Who We Are

Debra Mortillaro

Queen of Quaffing

After 15 years as one of Pittsburgh’s private chefs, Deb decided to dive into the wine business partnering with Mike Gonze of Dreadnought Wines. Her professional drive within not only Dreadnought, but also its two sister businesses Palate Partners and Soiree Partners, ensures customers an amazing experience.  

Traveling the world as both a distributor and wine educator, Deb has a truly unique insight into the industry. Her hands-on approach shows through in her teaching, giving students and event-goers a real glimpse into the fun and fabulous world of wines.

Deb’s exceptional wine knowledge, coupled with her culinary prowess brings an expertise to Palate Partners that allows us to give our customers experiences they truly can’t get anywhere else. Want to really see our Queen of Quaffing in her element?

Join her on a travel adventure!

Deb’s Certifications:

·     Graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America

·     WSET Level 3 in Wine

·     WSET Level 3 in Spirits

·     WSET Level 3 in Sake

·     WSET diploma candidate

·     Advanced Sake Sommelier

·     RAMP Certified

·     Completed WSET Educator Training Programme.

Mike Gonze

Connoisseur in Chief

Connoisseur and Chief... The Grand Poobah of Wine... Our fearless leader, Mike Gonze, is a man who wears many hats. As President of Dreadnought Imports, LTD, the successful 43+ year old wine and spirit importing company, he brings an amazing representation of boutique wines and spirits from all over the globe to establishments and consumers here in Pennsylvania.


In 1995 he created Pittsburgh’s premier wine school with his partner Deb Mortillaro helping to educate and expand palates. Mike’s key relationships with wineries and winemakers alike allows Palate Partners to showcase some of the most amazing wine and spirits collections Dreadnought has to offer.


Mike’s extensive knowledge of wine and spirits comes from years and years of studying and traveling to some of the most renowned vineyards and wineries in the world. For a truly fantastic experience, join Deb and Mike for one of their  international wine trips.

Mike’s Certifications:

·     Certified by the Wine Academy of Spain

·     Certified by French Wine Academy

·     WSET Level 3 in Wine

·     WSET Level 2 in Spirits


Marco Scapagnini

Niche Italy Founder and Travel Specialist

Marco Scapagnini is an expert tour operator, and a food and wine journalist who focuses on authentic Italian regional specialties. He began his career in Italy with the Mondadori Editorial Group, writing 23 guidebooks on travel and the food and wine of Italy. He then became the Italian specialist for DK Guides, published in London under the name Eyewitness Guides, where he discovered and reviewed hidden spots in Italy, including charming inns, secluded restaurants and small and authentic food and wine stores.

Marco worked then for Rizzoli Corriere della Sera Group (RCS) on their editorial column called Chat@Winwriting, featuring 50 destinations in Italy and the rest of Europe (he also authored an online blog for them!). A new turn to Marco’s career was its consulting activity with Italian food and wine purveyors, advising on how to sell their products on the world market. He also consults with foreign travel agents about how to create unique, customized tours of Italy, utilizing his personal contacts with restaurant owners, their chefs and the owners of charming hotels. Marco has spent the last decade between Italy, especially Sicily, and the United States, consulting and writing for top food and travel magazines such as CDG, the inflight magazine of a major European airline. Marco is an enthusiastic ambassador of authentic Italian food, wine and tourism.

Gabriele Mastrilli

Group Leader, Niche Italy

From the highest peaks in the Dolomites to the ocean waters around his native Sicily, Gabriele skillfully and passionately guides groups of all sizes through Italy’s incomparable culture and countryside.


Kind, funny, compassionate, and organized are words participants most often use to describe their hiking and nature tour experiences with Gabriele. A 25-year veteran of guiding groups of all sizes and nationalities, he is capable of handling any situation that arises with care and concern. In addition to master’s degrees in Ecology and Biogeography, Gabriele is an Official Guide for Pantelleria National Park.


An accomplished photographer, writer and storyteller, Gabriele is committed to continuing to explore the world, preserving nature, and sharing his knowledge of food, wine, history, and culture with new friends along every step of each new adventure.


Follow Gabriele on Instagram: @gabriele.mastrilli


Organizer Testimonial: Deb Mortillaro, Dreadnought Wines & Palate Partners (Pittsburgh, PA)

“Gabriele has been our tour guide for several trips and is a group favorite. His experience and background, love of travel, impeccable English and friendly manner make him a master at his craft. I feel very comfortable entrusting our groups to his capable leadership.”


Participant Testimonial: David Conti & Alyson Walls (Atlanta, GA)

“We were so impressed with Gabriele on our trip to Venice and northern Italy. He was prepared every morning for group outings, made sure all the logistics of transportation, tickets and meals were taken care of, and always shared interesting facts and warm conversation, making everyone feel at ease.”

Niche Italy

We have been working with Niche Italy on all of our Italy trips for many years.  They always have thoughtful and exciting accommodations and have made travel to Italy hassle-free!

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