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Featured Friend in Wine: Mary Shea

We at Grape Tours have a special approach to the world of wine. From the moment we started doing wine tours, we’ve always preferred to show our guests the smaller wineries where we get to meet real people who have a personal story to tell instead of the marketing glitter that you’ll find at the “famous” wineries, that is designed to dazzle and impress. 


To us, wine is as much about people and personalities as it is about a drink.

This is why we thought it would be nice to introduce you to some of our favorite ‘wine people’, here on our blog!


Some have become good friends of ours & and going to their wineries almost feels like ‘home’.

Today you’ll meet one of them, Mary Shea, Marketing & Events Director at Querceto di Castellina Winery in Castellina in Chianti.


Mary Shea & Jacopo Di Battista

1. Mary, tell us a bit about yourself... where do you come from and how did you end up in Italy? 

I'm originally from Long Island in New York and grew up in a small, lovely town on the water called Port Jefferson. It was a bit of a winding road that led me to Italy but looking back at it all, it feels like I was ultimately meant to be here.

 

I went to NYU for university and minored in German (majored in journalism), and ended up studying abroad in a tiny little town in Bavaria one summer. There was an Italian girl named Chiara Coffele in my program whose family owned a winery in the Veneto, Soave to be exact, and we became immediate friends. She kindly shared her vino with me and told me about her winery, Coffele, that was my first introduction to the wonderful Italian wine world and I fell in love. 

 

After college I started to work in advertising and marketing in NYC first and then Boston but fortunately Chiara's work for her family winery would bring her to the US at times and I’d take time off and join her for any wine tasting events and such. 

 

Eventually, I moved to Soave in my late 20s and worked at a local wine bar in the town, helped Chiara out at her winery, and did some consulting work for a winery or two. This was an unbelievable experience and adventure for about 2 years but work brought me back to the US, Boston specifically. 

 

I worked for a fantastic ad agency in Boston but started to desperately miss being surrounded by wineries and vines so I moved to where I could re-create this as best as possible in the US - Napa Valley. 

 

And it was at an Italian restaurant in Napa Valley 10 years ago where I met my Tuscan husband and vintner, Jacopo Di Battista. We met, fell in love, and then about 2 years later I moved to Tuscany (we live in Florence) and started working with him and his family at their organic winery and agriturismo in the heart of the Chianti Classico, Querceto di Castellina. 

 

The winery and agriturismo, Querceto di Castellina

2. What was life like as an expat when you first moved here and what is it like today? Is this an experience you would recommend, perhaps for a short period? 

 

I don't know if I had what would be called the typical "expat" experience when I first moved to Tuscany about 8 years ago because I had already lived in Italy, studied the language, and had an Irish passport so I didn't need to deal with a lot of the challenges many expats do when moving over here. 

 

I also had a support system with my husband's family and even my first time living in Italy back in Soave, Chiara and her family and everyone in Soave welcomed me with open arms. 

 

With that said, it still took me a bit to find my footing and community after moving to Tuscany/Florence but I'm rather fortunate as my job as the marketing and events director at Querceto allowed me to meet a lot of people and it expanded my world immensely. 

 

I'd say a big difference between when I first moved here and now is that I now have an unbelievably supportive and inspiring group of friends (mainly women but a few fantastic fellows) who have changed my world - both personally and professionally. I don't know what I would do without them. 

 

As far as whether I'd recommend experiencing life as an expat even for a short period...definitely! Florence is such a vibrant city and there is no lack of interesting events, artistic exhibitions, and cultural experiences, not surprisingly, it's fantastic for food and wine. I'm also a big supporter of taking risks, traveling and experiencing different cultures, and not always staying in your comfort zone. 

 

But it's also important to be aware of the potential challenges such as visas and/or permissions to stay in the country and the not-so-easy-to-navigate bureaucracy here - to name a few. 


Castellina in Chianti is one of the 11 official sub-regions of Chianti Classico

3. Wine is the passion that brought you here along with your husband Jacopo. How did your work in this industry start & was it a natural change from your previous career?

Before working with my husband at Querceto I mainly did marketing consulting work in the wine world and as I mentioned before, I'd help out my friend Chiara at wine-tasting events but that was more so for fun and to learn. 

 

My last role in the US was heading up the creative department at a PR firm in LA that specialized in the hospitality space and I had a few winery clients. It was the ideal position to have before moving to Tuscany and working with Jacopo as I was exposed to the PR side of the business as well. 



4. Today you are one of the 'minds' behind the many initiatives of Azienda Agricola Querceto; besides producing excellent wines, you are also very active in hospitality & special events. What do you have in store for 2024?

 

That's incredibly kind of you to say. We love hosting events at the estate and we've become rather well-known for the vineyard dinners we put on every summer but we have a few more creative events and initiatives in the works for 2024. I can't share the details quite yet but stay tuned! 


The vineyard dinners at Querceto are extremely popular and have long waiting lists

 

5. Are there any other personal projects you have in mind? Can you tell us anything about it? 

 

A passion project of mine would have to be my travel business, which I launched about 2 years ago. (https://maryshea.co/)

Despite not having done very much promotion, I have a wonderful group of clients who first engaged me to plan their trips to Italy and now have me planning beautiful trips for them all over the world (Australia, France, Scandinavia, Greece, and even in the US). 

 

I was one of the very first European-based travel agents of the Departure Lounge (https://departurelounge.com/), a US-based travel agency with an unbelievable network of resources and preferred partners, and am part of the Virtuoso luxury travel network (https://www.virtuoso.com/). 

 

I take a highly personal approach to working with my clients and as you can imagine, within the world of expertly designed travel, relationships are incredibly important. 

 

My partnerships with the Departure Lounge and Virtuoso are grounded in mutual admiration and I feel incredibly fortunate for the benefits attached to these special relationships, which I can share with my clients — such as upgrades and behind-the-scenes access to special and unique experiences.

 

Italy is obviously my area of expertise with a focus on food and wine but I can plan trips across the globe and always give my personal touch and, you could say, la dolce vita flair to any trips I craft! 



The Chianti Classico L'Aura is one of the wines featured in our Wine Club 2024!


Written by Ilaria Miele

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