Internationally renowned sommelier and wine writer Natalie MacLean has no sour grapes about her personal pedigree. The author of Red, White and Drunk All Over, and Unquenchable; a Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines uncorks her Celtic heritage in our Seven Celtic Questions.
What are your own Celtic roots?
Both my mother, Ann Estelle (MacDonald) MacLean, of Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada, and my father, John MacLean of Mabou, Nova Scotia, are Celtic. The only non-Scot was my grandmother, who was a Brophy of Irish origin, so the family line is 100 per cent Celtic-grown. I was born in Toronto. Following my parents’ separation, my mother, a teacher, and I lived in Antigonish and Sheet Harbour before finally settling in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Why are those roots important to you?
I spent my summers at my grandparents’ home in Baddeck and attended the Gaelic Collegeto learn highland dancing and a wee bit of Gaelic, and pick strawberries when I was not interested in piping class. I excelled at picking strawberries. So my earliest childhood memories are infused with Celtic culture, landscape and language.
Eventually, I became quite serious about the dancing as there were no strawberry-picking competitions. When I was a teenager, we went to Scotland each year to compete in the world championships, and my best showing was when I was 17 and placed fifth after three men from Scotland and one woman from the U.S.
I also started to teach dancing in my basement when I was 15. I photocopied handmade notices and took them to the principals of the elementary schools in Lower Sackville and asked for them to be distributed. Before I left to work on my MBA at WesternUniversity, I had 300 students and five teachers working for me, and was able to put myself through university without debt. I’m sure that would make thrifty Celts proud.
What does it mean to you to be of Celtic heritage?
For me, being of Celtic origin means knowing that I come from a long line of proud, cultured people and that this line will continue. It reminds me of the interweaving Celtic design on my Claddagh ring symbolizing eternity. It is both comforting and humbling.
How are you involved with the Canadian Celtic community?
More than 300 MacLeans have found me online via Facebook and Twitter, so I guess that’s the modern version of a Clan gathering. I’d like to be more involved in the community, which is why I agreed to spill the Celtic beans here.
Why is it important to keep Celtic culture alive in Canada?
It’s important to know where you come from, regardless of your origins: it places you in the universe and is part of your identity. It’s also important to pass this culture on to our children, even resistant 13-year-olds like my son.
In your estimation, is enough being done to keep Celtic culture alive in Canada?
That’s a good question. I really don’t know. Time will tell I suppose.
What could we be doing better?
How about using social media more? It all starts with individual efforts. That said, you can find me at Twitter.com/NatalieMacLean and Facebook.com/NatDecants. Tweet me a Ciamar a tha thu and I’ll respond with Ceud Mìle Fàilte!