Southern Glazer’s Julie Milroy talks to Natalie Maclean about her books Red, White and Drunk all Over and her upcoming memoir Wine Witch on Fire
Natalie Maclean is an award-winning, wine professional powerhouse. Her story is familiar and important to women in the beverage community. She shares what inspired her books and her hopes to inspire others.
Tell us about the first book you published, what inspired and motivated you to write it?
I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity about various aspects of the wine world, but I didn't want to write an encyclopedia. I wanted to dive into the stories of interesting people in the industry.
How would you describe your book, genre, and writing style?
This wine-soaked blend of Kitchen Confidential and Sideways goes behind the scenes of the international wine world, visiting its most evocative places and meeting its most charismatic personalities.
I taste sensuous pinot noir in the ancient cellars of Burgundy while discovering the mysterious tenets of biodynamic viticulture from such colorful characters as the tiny, ferocious Lalou Bize-Leroy, part-owner of France's acclaimed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. I pull on sturdy boots to help with the grape harvest at California’s Bonny Doon Vineyards – and get to the root of the anti-establishment philosophy of owner Randall Grahm, notorious for his experimental wine techniques and love of unfashionable grapes.
I take a job as undercover sommelier at a five-star French restaurant, spend a day helping customers in a high-end New York wine shop, wade into a famous feud between Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson (two of the world’s best-known critics), and back home, invite friends over for a casual wine tasting.
Along the way I teach us–painlessly and often hilariously–how to face a telephone directory-sized wine list without fear, what questions to ask to get exactly the wine you are looking for, what those scores out of 100 really mean, and how properly to expectorate (it’s best to start out in the shower!).
What makes your writing and storytelling unique and different from others?
The style is conversational, as though we're sitting at the kitchen table sharing a glass of wine. I also take a day-in-the-life approach by doing the jobs of those about whom I write, from sommeliers to liquor store staff.
Can you share a teaser for your next book coming out? Coming May 9, 2023 to Canada and June 6, 2023 Worldwide
Wine Witch on Fire
Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much
A powerful memoir about how one woman resurrects her life and career in the glamorous but sexist wine industry.
Natalie MacLean, a bestselling wine writer, is shocked when her husband of 20 years, a high-powered CEO, demands a divorce. Then an online mob of rivals comes for her career.
Wavering between despair and determination, she must fight for her son, rebuild her career, and salvage her self-worth using her superpowers: heart, humor, and an uncanny ability to pair wine and food.
Natalie questions her insider role in the slick marketing that encourages women to drink too much while she battles the wine world’s veiled misogyny. Facing the worst vintage of her life, she reconnects with the vineyards that once brought her joy, the friends who sustain her, and her own belief in second chances.
This true coming-of-middle-age story is about transforming your life and finding love along the way.
Praise for Wine Witch on Fire:
Courageous—that’s the first word that comes to mind while reading Natalie MacLean’s new memoir Wine Witch on Fire. MacLean is an accomplished wine writer, but this deeply personal book takes us behind the scenes, revealing one woman’s journey and extraordinary determination to become herself.
- Karen MacNeil, bestselling author of The Wine Bible
Natalie Maclean has written a harrowing, heartfelt and often hilarious account of the backlash she endured breaching the largely male-dominated world of wine writing. This highly personal odyssey is an eyes-wide-open take on betrayal, the insidious lure of addiction, and the sheer mettle required to rise above those seeking to cast a poisonous spell.
- Rosa Harris, bestselling author of Boomerville, and editor for several major U.S. publications
Wine wizard wordsmith, enchanting interviewer, battle-tested survivor, fierce mother, witty, wise—Natalie MacLean is the whole package. Sip a great wine while you savor her memoir.
- Gus Clemens, nationally syndicated wine columnist, Gannett/USA Today
Natalie MacLean has written a book that will resonate with women from many different generations and fields. Filled with grit and vulnerability, MacLean examines the hardest parts of being a woman in a man’s world with honesty and poise. A read filled with healing and hope.
- Victoria James, author of bestselling memoir Wine Girl (2020, HarperCollins)
In her powerful memoir, Natalie MacLean bravely takes on the harsh reality of a crumbling marriage and shocking, painful divorce. Thanks to MacLean's aptitude for vivid storytelling as well as her keen self-awareness, including the weaknesses holding her back, her experience becomes painfully relatable. It will speak loudly to anyone who has navigated the nastier sides of a committed relationship or the complexities of parenting. By supplementing her personal story with tidbits of wine writing, MacLean offers readers a look into the magical world of wine, addressing head-on its problematic treatment of women throughout the industry. I came away from this book feeling less alone, as if I'd shared a great bottle with a friend and talked through the life problems we all experience at some point.
- Rachel Signer, bestselling author of You Had Me at Pét-Nat (2021, Hachette) and editor of Piquette magazine
In Wine Witch, Natalie MacLean takes us inside the compromised competitiveness of the wine industry, and the wildly unfair challenges faced by women who choose nobly to enter the profession only to be repelled by its male power base. She opens her heart with authenticity to the pain of love lost, the joy of discovering new love, and the endless questions of balancing parenting with being a working professional. Her love of language is a joyous counterpart to her love of viticulture. I learned so much from this fine memoir and I have a strong sense its appeal to the artist in all of us is limitless.
- Ken Goldstein, bestselling author of Endless Encores and From Nothing
Do you have a charitable organization that you passionate about? Can you tell us about it?
Batonnage, along with several other industry groups, is an amazing voice for women in the industry. Their programs for mentoring those new in the field is excellent.
What is your favorite toast?
“May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances. And may we always have old wine, old friends and young cares.”
About Natalie Maclean
Natalie MacLean's first book Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass and her second book Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines were both selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year.
She was named the World's Best Drinks Writer at the World Food Media Awards and has won four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. She is the only person to have won both the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award from the James Beard Foundation and the M.F.K. Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames d'Escoffier International.
Natalie is the host of Unreserved Wine Talk, named one of the seven best drinks podcasts by the New York Times and one of Apple's Best Listens of the Year. She studied the Romantic Poets at Oxford University with Jonathan Wordsworth. She graduated with honors from the Master's of Business Administration at the University of Western Ontario. Before joining the wine world, she worked at Procter & Gamble in brand management (Pringles, Crisco, Duncan Hines), and then at the supercomputer company SGI in Mountainview, California, now the headquarters of Google.
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