Rosemary Liss’s mother was right: learning Photoshop turned out to be essential, although not in a way either of them could have predicted. The Baltimore native attended Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts (where she mastered Photoshop) for her bachelor’s degree in studio art, then returned home and strung together a living in Baltimore as a freelance artist and working in restaurants.
In 2014, when Liss was working for the Belvedere Square-based Hex Ferments, she saw the episode of the show The Mind of a Chef in which chef David Cheng visits the prestigious Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark. On a whim, Liss emailed the lab and found out they weren’t taking interns, but when they reopened the application later that year she was ready. In Copenhagen, Liss did a residency at the lab and was introduced to natural wines, which were not yet popular in the United States. “We were eating at some of these really cool restaurants that were part of the scene at the time and they were pouring these crazy wines,” Liss explains. “Some of them are orange and the bartenders were talking about biodynamic agriculture but they never called them ‘natural.’ Later on I learned that’s what I had been drinking. I had always thought wine was the stuff that my mom would get from the grocery store where it’s, like, super oaky, big Zinfandels and I thought, wine is gross.” In Copenhagen, “I realized that wine didn’t have to taste like that.”
When she returned to Baltimore, Liss got a job waiting tables at Bottega and met Will Mester, then the chef de cuisine and now her business and romantic partner. The next year Mester went to France for two months and spent time at the Le Comptoir du Vin in Lyon and worked in the kitchen there. After visiting friends in Copenhagen, Liss wound her way to see Mester in Lyon and insisted they start seeking out natural wines immediately. “At the time, Will was just drinking five Euro Côtes-du-Rhône he bought at the grocery store, so I said, ‘We gotta go now!’” Liss recalls. “[The wines we tried] blew his mind and then we were on this mission to find natural wine.” The couple decided pretty quickly after that trip that they wanted to open their own business centered around natural wines.