A degree in English may seem like unusual preparation for a professional oenophile, but Laura Wickiewicz Battiato ’05 is a wine expert because of words.
Battiato is the Italian fine wine specialist at Palm Bay International wine importer, a crucial role since half the firm’s product line is Italian.
She says that strong writing skills are integral to her job. She educates distributors and restaurateurs about Palm Bay wines. “If you can write, you can communicate. So much of selling wine is storytelling,” says Battiato, who earned an associate degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America and is a diploma-level sommelier with the London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
“Understanding wine is a matter of understanding the families who are producing an agricultural product. Wine comes from a family and a farm.” She travels throughout the Italian boot three times a year to consult with vintners, study the vines, and learn about the products.
As a first-year student on College Hill, Battiato thought she’d major in biology. She had excelled in math and science in high school, and her father was a doctor. That changed when she encountered “the mind-blowing courses at Lafayette.”
“I wasn’t so much an English major as I was a Professor Washington major,” says Battiato, referring to Bryan Washington in the English department. She studied poetry and the writings of James Baldwin, but it was Washington’s food writing course that opened an unlikely door. The class work involved critiques of essays by The New York Times’ Amanda Hesser and other notable culinarians.
In New York, 12-hour days are not uncommon, but she says “it’s a blast” to present her wines to restaurants such as four-star Del Posto. She especially likes meeting with client-friend-Alpha Phi sister Carrie Lyn Strong ’99, sommelier at Aureole. As they sample Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Sicily or Fontanafredda’s Serralunga d’Alba Barolo from Piedmont, they toast their English degrees from Lafayette.