Many wine writers also have a day job. If wine isn’t your job, what is and for whom?
[Natalie] Before I started writing about wine, I was in high tech marketing for a California-based supercomputer company. I’d probably be doing that or anything to do with writing.
When did you start writing about wine?
[Natalie] Although I had taken a sommelier course for fun, the thought of writing about my hobby didn’t occur to me until I hadn’t slept soundly for three weeks. Shortly after our son Rian was born in November 1998, my life took on a biological beat: feed the baby, change a diaper, eat, change another diaper, sleep for twenty minutes (Rian, not me), cry for ten minutes (me, not Rian). I felt my brain starting to atrophy. One day, at the local grocery check-out, I picked up the store’s food magazine. Through my haze of post-partum sleep deprivation, I saw that it was beautifully illustrated and packed with recipes, but contained no information about wine.
Back home, I called the magazine’s editor to ask if she’d be interested in an article about wine on the web. I figured that I knew just enough about both areas to say something intelligent. She asked if I had been published before, and I said yes (praying that she wouldn’t ask me to send samples from my high school newspaper). Luckily, she didn’t; instead she assigned me a half-page article due in two weeks. I struggled to write that article more than I labored with the pregnancy since I was now operating on about six brain cells. But the editor was pleased with the result and gave me another assignment.
Now that I could say that I was a published wine writer, I developed enough confidence to call other editors. But I was still filled with self-doubt: most other wine writers had twenty or more years of experience, which counts for a lot with such an encyclopedic topic. Despite this, or perhaps because of a very fresh perspective, I started to get assignments from newspapers and magazines. I couldn’t believe that people would actually pay me to write-and in a sense, pay me to drink. I still feel that wonder and pleasure.
What prompted you to start writing about wine?
[Natalie] Six months later, when my maternity leave was over, I decided not to return to high tech, even though I had loved my work there. Writing about wine was irresistible: it was part of an industry that was all about enjoyment and people who were passionate about what they created. Plus, I could set my own hours, work at home and be there for Rian.
What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?
[Natalie] About two years ago, friends in other cities who don’t get local publications for which I was writing would ask me to e-mail the articles to them. Then I thought, “Hmm, if I’m doing it for them, I may as well actively market the effort and I started my newsletter with about 200 wine nuts here in Ottawa and in other cities. I send out my published articles after they’re off the newsstands (and I retain the copyright) or sometimes I write original articles for the newsletter. There are now more than 100,000 wine lovers in 36 countries who read my weekly e-newsletter — and it’s free! Anyone can sign up at my site www.NatalieMacLean.com.
How has your job changed since you’ve started?
[Natalie] The Internet. Word-of-mouth is a phenomenal thing on the Internet (a sign-up seems to come through on e-mail every few minutes – no exaggeration) and it’s interesting to see how pockets of people in different cities around the world circulate it. For instance, I’ll get a group of folks from an Australian wine tasting club all subscribing in succession. one gentleman, who is blind but wants to become a sommelier in the US, says mine is the only wine publication he can read because his specially-equipped computer reads it aloud to him. I get such a wide and varied background of people subscribing: the storm water reservoir manager in Tulsa, somebody from the IRS, customs inspectors, the emergency night nurse in Saskatoon. and on and on.
What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
[Natalie] Domaine Romanee-Contee 1956 with Aubert de Villaine in his cellar in Burgundy
What’s your favorite variety?
[Natalie] Pinot Noir
Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[Natalie] Absolutely: technology and knowledge of local soils/climate and the grapes suited t them have driven this.
What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[Natalie] Champagne and potato chips! You really can drink wine with just about anything. Zinfandel with your Tex-Mex? Not a problem. A little Chardonnay with your fried chicken take-out? Delicious. Pinot Noir and wild boar? Why not! That’s why I created a Drinks Matcher widget, a portable version of my site’s existing food-and-wine pairing tool. You can download the free Drinks Matcher widget in just three clicks to your computer desktop, web site, blog or social media page like Facebook, MySpace or iGoogle from www.nataliemaclean.com/matcher.
The variety of food-and-drink combinations has exploded in the last five years. Chicken isn’t just chicken anymore: Now we eat it stuffed with pancetta and fresh herbs, rubbed with curry spices or sautéed in an orange balsamic sauce. We’re looking for more interesting flavours, both on the plate and in the glass—and we want them to work together.
During the eight years that I spent testing the combinations for her Drinks Matcher, I found two extremes when it comes to food and wine pairing: Some people say that it’s complete nonsense, while others insist that there’s only one perfect match for every wine. Neither approach helps wine lovers.
People want some guidance, even though the pairings are subjective. It all comes down to balancing flavours and textures. I’m a thoroughly hedonistic researcher. Of the thousands of combinations I tried, some were delicious, others were a disaster. I share the ones that worked in the Drinks Matcher. I also created a mobile application works on iPhone, BlackBerry and other smartphones (www.nataliemaclean.com/mobilematch).
What are your interests outside of the wine business?
[Natalie] None, wine fulfills me in every way :) Okay: my family, reading and travel.
Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
[Natalie] My mother: a blend of courage, optimism and kindness