Italy in a Wine Glass: The Story of Italy Through Its Wines with Marc Millon


Which almost-forgotten grape Italian varieties deserve more recognition? What might surprise you about the stories and wines from Campania? What makes wine such a great narrative vehicle throughout history?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with author Marc Millon.

You can find the wines we discussed here.



Three of you will win a copy of Marc Millon’s terrific new book Italy in a Wineglass: The Story of Italy Through Its Wines.


How to Win

To qualify, all you have to do is email me at [email protected] and let me know that you’ve posted a review of the podcast.

It takes less than 30 seconds: On your phone, scroll to the bottom here, where the reviews are, and click on “Tap to Rate.”

After that, scroll down a tiny bit more and click on “Write a Review.” That’s it!

I’ll choose one person randomly from those who contact me.

Good luck!


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  • What was it like spending summers running up and down Mexican pyramids as a child?
  • How has Marc been influenced by his Korean heritage?
  • What does Marc remember most vividly about moving to England at 19?
  • What was it like being a writer and travelling the wine regions of multiple countries pre-internet?
  • Why was Marc motivated to write his latest book, Italy in a Wineglass?
  • What makes Italy in a Wineglass so different from other books about Italian wine?
  • How did the Italian pride in history and story stand out to Marc while researching the book?
  • What has been the most interesting feedback on the book so far?
  • Why did the stories from Campania surprise Marc the most?
  • What makes wine such a great narrative vehicle throughout history?
  • Which almost-forgotten grape varieties deserve more recognition?
  • How does the Ancient Greek symposium compare to modern Italian social wine-drinking customs?
  • Which wine story in the book is most reflective of Italian culture?


Key Takeaways

  • What makes wine such a great narrative vehicle throughout history? As Marc says, he read a lot of history books while researching this book. He thinks wine has a way of lubricating history.
  • Which almost-forgotten grape varieties deserve more recognition? Marc notes that Italy has more native grape varieties than any other country in the world for producing wines, as many as 2000 different grape varieties with about 600 in production. He adds that what’s really interesting is the story of how some of these grape varieties were saved by the efforts of really amazing wine producers who believed in the grapes, and who worked hard to save them from extinction.
  • What might surprise you about the stories and wines from Campania?
    Campania for Marc, is very exciting because it’s one of the most ancient wine regions in the world. The wine connections go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. And yet, he says that in Campania they’re only now discovering new areas, new grape varieties. Therefore, he believes that we can approach certain regions within Italy like a New World country with new wines, new wine areas to discover.


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About Marc Millon

Marc Millon is a food, wine and travel writer and communicator and the author of numerous books as well as magazine articles published on both sides of the Atlantic. Marc has been travelling, eating, drinking, learning and writing about food, wine and travel for more than 40 years. Born in Mexico, with a mother from Hawaii via Korea and an anthropologist father from New York via Paris, he was weaned on exotic and delicious foods. Marc studied English literature at Kenyon College, and came to England to study at the University of Exeter for his junior year abroad. There he met Kim, then a first-year fine art student, and the rest is history. Marc and Kim have lived in Topsham, Devon ever since.

From an early age, Marc and Kim’s interest – both personal as well as professional – in food, wine and travel became more obsessive. Their first book combined these three topics, The Wine & Food of Europe: An Illustrated Guide, published in 1982 by Webb & Bower. They have since gone on to write some 14 books on these topics, and Marc is currently at work on the next.


Bonus Interview – Bianca Marais


  • Why did I write “Wine Witch on Fire,” and how did I know when it was the right time?
  • What was the inciting incident that kicked off my no good, very terrible year?
  • How did my story and experiences with misogyny resonate with other women in various industries?
  • How do you balance telling your truth in a memoir and concerns about potential legal repercussions down the line?
  • Who was responsible for paying for the expensive legal reviews and edits of my manuscript?
  • Why did I choose the theme of witches as the connecting thread throughout my memoir?
  • How did I weave in references to deepen the witch metaphor throughout Wine Witch on Fire?


About Bianca Marais & The Shit No One Tells You About Writing Podcast

Bianca Marais cohosts ‘The Shit No One Tells You About Writing’, which is a popular podcast aimed at emerging writers. She teaches creative writing through the podcast and was named the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in 2021. She is the author of three previous novels,
the bestselling The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, as well as Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, and the Audible Original, The Prynne Viper. Her forthcoming novel, A Most Peculiar Tale, Indeed, will be published in early 2025.

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing is a podcast for emerging writers, who are looking to improve their work with an aim to having it published, or for anyone who would like a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry. Bianca is joined by her cohosts, ​literary agents Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra from P.S. Literary who read and critique listeners’ query letters ​and opening pages, and who also answer your burning questions in their Q&A segment. Guest interviewers join the show occasionally and independent booksellers and Bookstagrammers also chime in to help you find the perfect comp titles. ​Expect good advice, honest insights, and a few laughs along the way.




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  • You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
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Marc Millon (00:00:00) – It’s really interesting how Italy has more native grape varieties than any other country in the world for producing for wines.

Natalie MacLean (00:00:09) – How many does it have? Approximately.

Marc Millon (00:00:11) – There are probably as many as 2000 different grape varieties still grown here, but 600 certainly in production. But I think what’s really interesting is the story of how some of these grape varieties were only saved by the efforts of really amazing wine producers who believed in the grapes, and who worked hard to save them from literal extinction. An example would be the Fino grape. Now Fino, we’re seeing a lot more Fiona. Now, it’s not just grown in its heartland of Europe, which is inland Campania, but it’s grown in Sicily quite widely, a little bit in Calabria, and I’m sure cultivated outside of the country is well.

Natalie MacLean (00:01:03) – Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host Natalie MacLean.

Natalie MacLean (00:01:23) – And each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle, please, and let’s get started. Welcome to episode 287. Which almost forgotten grape Italian varieties deserve more recognition. What might surprise you about the stories and wines from Campania? And what makes wine such a great narrative vehicle throughout history. In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in our chat with Mark Millen, author of Italy and a Wine Glass The Story of Italy through Its Wines. Three of you are going to win a copy of Mark’s terrific new book, Italy in a wineglass. All you have to do is email me at Natalie at Natalie MacLean dot com, and let me know that you’d like to win a copy. I’ll choose three people randomly from those who contact me. If you haven’t won a book yet, now’s your chance and keep listening, as my goal is to offer lots more books and other prizes.

Natalie MacLean (00:02:43) – With every episode, you can qualify no matter where you live. As you may have noticed, I interview a lot of wine book authors on this podcast far more than I do winemakers. Why is that? I’m glad you asked, because I’m looking for fascinating stories that both entertain and educate you about wine. There are lots of knowledgeable winemakers out there, but those who can tell colorful stories with humor and insight are a smaller subset. I’ve had many of them on this show, including Randall Graham from California, Charles back from South Africa, and Sperling from Niagara, among others. With authors, storytelling is how they we earn our living. Sure, I’m biased, but my first priority is always to you as a listener. If you can learn about the wines of Burgundy, Jura, the French Alps and today Italy via these authors who in turn have interviewed many winemakers to mine their stories, why not? You’re still learning about wine, grapes, regions, pairings and cultural issues, but I think it’s more fun and often more densely packed with info nuggets that you’ll remember because they’re wrapped in stories.

Natalie MacLean (00:04:07) – That said, I’m going to make an effort to include more winemakers going forward. Stay tuned for these interviews. That will often be a bonus to the interviews you already get through this podcast. The other thing I’m changing going forward is how I share interviews from when I’ve been a guest on other podcasts. For those that focus on my book wine which on fire, rising from the ashes of divorce, defamation and drinking too much, I’ll include them as a bonus at the end of the regular wine interview on the same episode as I’m doing today with the wonderful Bianca marais, host of the podcast that no one tells you about writing. She’s hilarious and smart as a whip. That way, if you love hearing about the behind the scenes process of writing the book and the issues the book explores, as many of you have told me that you do, you can continue listening after the main wine related interview. If not, you can skip it. It’s gravy, not the main meal. When I’m interviewed about wine related topics on other podcasts, I’ll share those with you as the main episode.

Natalie MacLean (00:05:23) – Speaking of gravy, have you red wine? Which if yes, well then, have you bought a copy for a friend or family member? Please consider doing that. If you’d like to support this podcast that I do for you on a volunteer basis to ensure continues, you can order it for yourself or for someone else from any online book retailer. No matter where you live, it usually arrives in a day or two. And of course, the e-book is instant. It’s a fast read and every little bit helps spread the message. In this book of hope, justice, and resilience. You can send a copy directly to a friend or family member via the online retailers and make their day. I mean your friends and family, not the retailers. Well, I guess you’re making their day too. Anyway, when the gift arrives in the mail rather than a flyer for discount pizza, which isn’t very healthy for you anyway, I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at Natalie MacLean dot com.

Natalie MacLean (00:06:17) – Forward slash 287. I also offer a free companion guide that has book club and wine group discussion questions that can also spark a conversation between two friends or a partner spouse. It asks questions such as how you feel about your own relationship with wine, especially post-pandemic marketing tactics towards women and men, and whether social media is still a good place to connect with others. The guide also has wine recommendations, pairings and tips for organizing your own informal wine tasting. You can get that at wine, which on Viacom. If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I’d love to hear from you. If your book club or wine group plans to read it, let me know if you’d like me to join in via zoom. I also have a summary sheet that you can send to book club members who are deciding on upcoming books. Email me at Nathalie at Natalie MacLean. Com okay, on with the show. Mark Millen is a food, wine and travel writer for numerous magazines and books. In addition to his new book, some of his others include wine A Global History, The Wine and Food of Europe, The Wine Roads of Europe, and A Taste of Britain.

Natalie MacLean (00:07:34) – Mark hosts a weekly podcast called wine, Food and Travel with Mark Millen on the Italian Wine podcast channel, and he joins us now. Now. Mark, you’re close to Devon. You’re not in London. But for those of us who are not familiar with where you are welcomed, but let us know where you are.

Marc Millon (00:07:52) – Well, it’s so nice to be here and so nice to see you. Natalie, I’m on the River axe, which comes down from the city of Exeter towards Exmouth in the sea. So I’m very near the south coast in Devon. Beautiful, Devon. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of England, I think. I’ve been living here for more than 45 years, so we love it.

Natalie MacLean (00:08:12) – Wow. Yeah, I’ve heard things about how beautiful the landscape is there and the coastline. Before we dive into your wine career, let’s chat a little bit about your childhood. You were born in Mexico. What did your father do?

Marc Millon (00:08:26) – My father was an archaeologist, so he went down to Mexico while I was born in the 50s.

Marc Millon (00:08:33) – And he was fascinated by ancient civilizations and by the pyramids north of Mexico City, the city of Teotihuacan. Although in the 50s it wasn’t considered an urban area. But my father believed that you couldn’t have monumental architecture without urbanization. So he set about mapping the city, and it was his life work. He was a professor eventually at most of his career, at the University of Rochester, New York. So not that far from you. And he spent his life mapping the ancient city of Teotihuacan and proved that it was actually the biggest city in the New World. So it was an immense task he undertook. But for a young boy growing up, I mean, I only lived there for two years as a baby, but then we would spend our summers there. So I’d spent summers running up and down pyramids.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:26) – That’s something most people can’t say. That must have been wonderful. My goodness, what a magical childhood. You obviously picked up his love of history. Now your mother’s side was Korean. How did that influence you?

Marc Millon (00:09:38) – Well, my mother was born in Hawaii, but her mother, my grandmother, emigrated to Hawaii when she was only 16 years old.

Marc Millon (00:09:46) – She came over for adventure. She was a picture bride.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:51) – What does that mean? Picture bride is a catalog virtually.

Marc Millon (00:09:55) – She chose a picture of somebody to marry who was working in Hawaii, a Korean in Hawaii, and came over as a picture bride when she was only 16 years old. And she was a very strong character. She became a businesswoman in Honolulu. She was there, of course, during the time of Pearl Harbor, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. And yet she was a successful businesswoman, and it was a story we didn’t know as children so much. My mother, being second generation, didn’t really tell the story of her past so much, but it was a story we wanted to know. So my wife and I, when our son was only six months old, we spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and we wrote a book about my grandmother called Flavors of Korea, with stories and recipes from her Korean grandmother’s kitchen. So it was a food memoir. It was her story, but it was also sharing my mother’s story and my story.

Marc Millon (00:10:52) – So in some cases, we’d have three recipes for the same food bulgogi, Korean barbecue, for example. And when my grandmother did it the way my mother did it, and the way we do it.

Natalie MacLean (00:11:03) – Oh, I love that. What a great narrative thread as well to draw through those recipes. Now you are just 19 when you arrived in England 50 years ago. Describe what was happening then for you.

Marc Millon (00:11:18) – Well, I came over and came over Natalie for one year for my junior year abroad, so I never intended to still be here all these years later. England in the 70s and being in an English university was very, very different. For a start, the food was really, really bad. It was as bad as English food had the reputation to be. But I think that was institutional cooking, because English food is actually very, very good now and very exciting. But yeah, it was a totally new experience. The culture was very different. The accents were very different. But within a few months of arriving, I met a wonderful 19 year old who eventually was to become my wife and my partner in work as well, and that’s how I ended up staying here.

Marc Millon (00:12:05) – I went back to finish college. I was an English major and returned the following year. My wife, it was studying English and Fine art, specializing in photography.

Natalie MacLean (00:12:17) – Wow. That’s great. Now, the early days that you spent as a writer were pre-internet. I mean, you know, no email, no internet. How did you make do? Like, what kind of I was going to say clueless. But that’s a very technical term. What were the challenges of working back then as a writer?

Marc Millon (00:12:35) – Well, Natalie, I think because we didn’t know anything else, we didn’t know what we were missing. But for example, you know, I talk to students sometimes now about what I do, and many of them have never, ever seen a typewriter. They don’t know what a typewriter is. It’s something that you would actually see in a museum. Well, I wrote my early books on a typewriter. We had to write a lot of letters to make appointments. You wrote letters? You didn’t even pick up the phone.

Marc Millon (00:13:00) – It wasn’t that easy to travel around to contact people in France, in Italy, even by phone. So we wrote a lot of letters we planned. It was very different. The traveling was different as well. You know, we didn’t have satnav to move around, going around all the great wine regions of Europe. So yeah, it was difficult, but it was definitely doable. I don’t think you can ever go back to doing things the way they were. But yeah, I used carbon paper to make two copies of my manuscript to deliver to my publisher.

Natalie MacLean (00:13:33) – Wow. In a way, there’s almost a longing for that slower pace, more contemplative, more reflective. But I’m with you, though I don’t think I could do without the tools I have now, having had them. And just to wrap up that you also were traveling with a young family. At one point, you mentioned you toured all of France and Italy for two years in a VW camper van with a trailer and two young children and a nanny named Polly.

Natalie MacLean (00:14:00) – I don’t know how you did it. I mean, I can’t imagine that small space with, what, five people?

Marc Millon (00:14:06) – It was difficult. That was a very, very hard project. It was a very important project. There were two huge books. They were called The Food Lovers Companion, France and The Food Lovers Companion Italy. So covering the whole of both countries within two years, 500 photographs in each which my wife was taking. But of course this was filmed. Natalie. So we had to keep the film in the little tiny refrigerator that had to be dealt back to the UK for somebody to put in the refrigerator here. And yeah, it was quite a pressured project that was more difficult with a six year old and a one year old that said, my children were absolutely wonderful and it really shaped their character as well, and I really wouldn’t have wanted to have done it in any other way. We were married for ten years before we had our children, and I think we probably published five books within that time, 4 or 5 books.

Marc Millon (00:15:06) – So yeah, it was difficult, like writing a book without the internet. It was possible. And it’s who we were and what our family was. And if we wanted to do what we did, which we did, then we just had to find a way. And Polly, our nanny, was very, very good. And she’s still a dear, dear friend. We see her frequently.

Natalie MacLean (00:15:26) – I imagine she was very compact, too. As a woman, you couldn’t have had someone taken up like a six foot five nanny anyway.

Marc Millon (00:15:35) – No, she actually you’re right. She was very small and the children were very small.

Natalie MacLean (00:15:39) – So let’s jump into your latest book about Italian wines. What drew you to this story in the first place? I mean, you’ve been writing about Italy. It’s wine and food for a while, but what drew you to this story for this newest book?

Marc Millon (00:15:53) – Well, that’s a really good question, and I have to say that I have to go back about 30 years, probably when I was writing the Wine Roads of Italy and then subsequent other books, and I had a magazine column.

Marc Millon (00:16:05) – But what I kept coming across, Natalie, was that Italian wines can’t be looked at outside of the context of the people who make them and the places they come from, but also the. History behind them, the history of the areas, the history of the people, the history of the country. And I was getting a sense that really the history of Italy can be explored through wine. And that’s really the basis of this book history. It’s telling the story. It’s not the history of wine, it’s telling the story of Italy through wine. So it’s history and wine.

Natalie MacLean (00:16:40) – Yeah, I love that. And that’s obviously a central part of what makes this book different from others. But are there other aspects of this book that would make it very different from other books about Italian wines?

Marc Millon (00:16:53) – Well, I think this focus on history is quite unique. And the breadth of the book, I mean, we go from the ancient Greeks to Covid and indeed to beyond looking into the future. Even so, it’s quite a sweeping time span, but it works.

Marc Millon (00:17:11) – The wines fit naturally in to all of these different periods and personalities and movements and events, and I think in a very natural way, because the wines are so intimately entwined with the story of Italy.

Natalie MacLean (00:17:27) – Yes. Yeah. No, it tells some wonderful stories, wonderful characters. What was the most surprising insight that you learned or discovered while you were either researching or writing the book?

Marc Millon (00:17:37) – I think an insight that is really part of who Italians are is how proud Italians are, and how knowledgeable they are of their own past, of the past, of their locality. They’ll talk about events that happened hundreds of years ago as if they happened yesterday. I was sitting on a bus next to I was at vine, Italy, and we were taking the bus to the big exhibition hall, and I sat next to a wine producer from Calabria, an area I hadn’t been to, a part of a wine zone I hadn’t even heard of. And she told me in a very gentle voice, she said, Federico Secondo, that’s Frederick, the pornstar and Holy Roman Emperor.

Marc Millon (00:18:21) – She said he built a castle in her town, and she talked about him so fondly, as if it was her own son. And that’s the sort of stories you would come across again and again and again, this pride in history and story. And I think this pride in identity, these events, this history, these wines are the part of the identity of the Italians from wherever they’re from in the country. And that’s a wonderful thing to have that sense of identity. And I think for those of us who have moved around a lot in life, we, you know, social mobility is much greater in our countries to have that solidity and that sense of continuity, not just with place, but across the centuries, is quite extraordinary and remarkable and wonderful.

Natalie MacLean (00:19:09) – I love that story. It really brings to life that identity and the recency kind of thing. What’s the most interesting thing someone has said about your book so far? I know it’s just new out into the world, but have you had any feedback on it?

Marc Millon (00:19:23) – Well, I think what’s been most gratifying for me is I took the book to Italy this year, and I was able to present the book at some masterclasses that I undertook.

Marc Millon (00:19:33) – And what I think was most gratifying to me was the reaction of Italians themselves. I didn’t write the book for Italians. I wrote the book. I think for those of us who love Italy, we travel in Italy. We, you know, there’s so much we love about Italy the art, the food, the wine, the places. But it was so gratifying for me to have Italians themselves be quite startled by this approach and to enjoy it, and to be very complimentary about linking history and wine. So that was, I think, very gratifying.

Natalie MacLean (00:20:09) – Yeah. All that well. And what was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Marc Millon (00:20:14) – I think the most difficult part, Natalie, is knowing when to stop. I think this was a book that if I’d had another two years and if my publisher didn’t mind how long it was as it is, I did have to trim 25,000 words and lose some lines. And that hurts a writer that’s hard to do, to cut words that you’ve spent a lot of time on.

Marc Millon (00:20:36) – But it’s a big book as it is. It’s 350 something pages and it’s still 120,000 words.

Natalie MacLean (00:20:42) – Okay. Yeah, it’s like cutting a limb, isn’t it?

Marc Millon (00:20:44) – It is a bit like cutting. And then. And that said, I could have gone on and on. There’s so many whines, stories that could have linked their chapters that could have been written. So yeah, I think, but you know, with projects like this, you have to have a deadline, you have to know when to stop, and you have to actually look forward to book appearing in the world.

Natalie MacLean (00:21:08) – Absolutely. I always joke with my editor, you know, if we were back in the days when there was a physical manuscript being taken to the printer, as opposed to everything being electronic, I’d be chasing after the van, going, just let me tweak one more sentences like, let go, let go.

Marc Millon (00:21:25) – Actually, it’s easier to do that now, isn’t it? Sometimes we keep tweaking because we can electronically, but there was something about packing up that paper manuscript and taking it to the post office, putting it through the post office, forgetting about it.

Natalie MacLean (00:21:41) – Absolutely. So was there a wine region that surprised you most? I mean, you’re very familiar already with Italy, but perhaps in the research for this book, there was a wine region that really had some surprises for you.

Marc Millon (00:21:54) – Well, I think it’s interesting because I have an index of wines by region in the back of the book, and I wasn’t really aware of that when I was writing the book I wasn’t thinking about. I did want to make sure I had wines from each of the 20 regions, but I look back and I look at where the areas that had the most wines, and they were some of the most exciting chapters. And actually these areas, these regions go over many, many different chapters because the stories from Campania, for example, span a number of chapters and the stories from Sicily or Tuscany as well. So I think Campania to me is very, very exciting because it’s one of the most ancient wine regions in the world. You know, we have wines and wine connections that go back to the ancient Greeks, the Romans, of course, and, you know, through history.

Marc Millon (00:22:45) – But what’s exciting about Campania is that we’re only now discovering new areas, new grape varieties. There’s an area just to the west of Naples called the Campi Flegrei, the flagrant fields, the burning fields. This was where the Greeks first settled on the Italian mainland. At Kumi, the Sibyl of Kumari sat in her cave and gave prophetic judgments. And the. I think Lake Avernus was the entrance to the underworld. But the Campi Flegrei wines have only emerged reemerge in the last 20 years, and they’re just wonderful wines coming from the Campi Flegrei, from grapes such as Paddy Rosso and Fernandina. So I love that that we have ancient connections and yet we can almost approach Italy like a new world country with new wines, new wine areas to discover.

Natalie MacLean (00:23:42) – Yeah, what’s old is new and Valentina is one of my favorite fresh, zesty white wines to have when I’m dining out. I always look for it on restaurant wine lists, so it’s interesting that you highlight that I’m in sync there. Now, in your introduction, you mentioned the idea of wine as a narrative vehicle throughout history.

Natalie MacLean (00:24:01) – You’ve mentioned it. Can you expand on that beyond what you’ve already mentioned?

Marc Millon (00:24:06) – Well, I think it’s a good theme to explore history. You know, I wouldn’t have wanted to just write a history book. And I’ve read a lot of history books, as you can imagine, while researching this book. And I think it’s wine is a way of lubricating history is one way to look at it, and that these wines that have direct connections with the various chapters, and it’s not just the past, we’re coming up right to the present. And indeed, even looking to the future, perhaps with the Puy wines that are emerging now.

Natalie MacLean (00:24:41) – What are Puy wines?

Marc Millon (00:24:43) – Puy is a type of hybrid grape variety. I’m sure they’re being cultivated in Canada, Puy varieties that are particularly resistant to fungal diseases, which of course, this past year has been, you know, a real problem across Europe because of the climate change and humidity. So, yeah, that’s part of the ongoing story. And this connection with history does follow right to the present moment and the way wine is connecting with the concerns we have about climate change, about, you know, so many issues that are pressing to us, whether we’re in wine or not.

Marc Millon (00:25:23) – So wine can access to everything.

Natalie MacLean (00:25:25) – Absolutely. I’ve said it many times, but I always think you could do a liberal arts degree with wine as the hub and then the spokes, you know, religion, geography, science, commerce, agriculture, everything connects history especially.

Marc Millon (00:25:39) – Absolutely. No, that’s actually a lovely idea. I would love to be involved in that liberal arts course and teach one of those modules.

Natalie MacLean (00:25:48) – That would be fun. And then we could develop it further and go in-depth into a master’s of fine arts in wine and history. You could be the department chair.

Marc Millon (00:26:00) – I would love.

Natalie MacLean (00:26:00) – That. Now, you’ve mentioned new grapes have been discovered, but you also mentioned in the book specific wines that have almost been forgotten. Which of these do you think deserves the more recognition?

Marc Millon (00:26:12) – I think it’s really interesting how Italy has more native grape varieties than any other country in the world for producing in production for wines.

Natalie MacLean (00:26:22) – How many does it have? Approximately.

Marc Millon (00:26:24) – There are about 600, but probably as many as 2000 different grape varieties still grown here, but 600 certainly in production.

Marc Millon (00:26:34) – But I think what’s really interesting is the story of how some of these grape varieties were only saved by the efforts of really amazing wine producers who believed in the grapes, and who worked hard to save them from literal extinction. An example would be the Fino grape. Now Fino. We’re seeing a lot more fino now. It’s not just grown in its heartland of Europe, which is inland Campania, but it’s grown in Puglia or in Sicily quite widely, a little bit in Calabria, and I’m sure cultivated outside of the country as well. But it was only after the devastation of World War Two that a remarkable wine producer named Antonio Mastro Bernardino believe that the way to rebuild the vineyards of Campania, which had been so ravaged by war, he believed in the native grape varieties and he believed in grapes like Fiona, and he propagated Fiona, saving it literally from extinction, and began to produce Fiona commercially, I think, as early as the early 1960s. So that’s one example. But there are a number of other examples of grape varieties that have been saved.

Natalie MacLean (00:27:55) – And sorry, is vino a zesty white wine? I just want to clarify. Is it Fiona?

Marc Millon (00:28:01) – I wouldn’t call it zesty. It’s a white grape. Pliny the Elder referred to a grape in his Naturalis Historia, this great Roman natural history tome. He referred to the opium, this grape that was so sweet that the honeybees were very, very fond of it. And it’s conjectured that Fiona was possibly that grape, but it was a difficult grape to cultivate. It suffered from, I think it was during flowering. The flowers wouldn’t set up particularly well, particularly if there was any moisture. And so you’d have uneven bunches. It was low yielding, and you could see at a time when quantity was the goal rather than quality, that growers would say, well, let’s get rid of it, let’s grow something more productive. And Fiona is one of those grape varieties that was at risk. Fernandina was another one. So those are a couple of examples of grape varieties that the world wouldn’t know. And you love Fernandina I love Fernandina.

Marc Millon (00:29:06) – I love Fiona. You know, the wine world would be much poorer without these really heroic individuals who believed in these great varieties and believed in that they were worth saving, that they could make wines that weren’t just good wines, but that are great wines that the world will come and love. And I think that, you know, the wine world is at risk of having too few flavors, too few grape varieties, especially, you know, with varietal buying wines variety. You know, of a handful of grape varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc for whites, you know, Cabernet, Merlot that these handful Syrah, these handful of grape varieties that can be cultivated around the world, perhaps losing connection with place. But in Italy, we have this wealth of of native grape varieties that are linked to place as well. It does make Italian wine confusing though.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:04) – Yeah it does. It’s a challenge.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:05) – You need a big book like yours to figure it out. And with the homogenisation of Cabernet, Chardonnay and so on.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:12) – Of course, that’s not across the globe, but there are more and more that are just sort of your basic chocolate and vanilla flavors. And there’s nothing wrong with somebody who wants consistency and wants to know, you know, doesn’t really want to dive into the whole thing. But yeah, the wild diversity of Italy is so intriguing. And what I find about Fallon, Gina in particular, is that it has this floral notes that aren’t over the top. For me personally, it’s subjective, of course, that aren’t too perfumed, but still has this lovely floral quality. Now you describe the symposium and its cultural significance in ancient Greek society. How did this ancient practice compared to modern Italian social wine drinking customs?

Marc Millon (00:30:53) – That’s a really good question. You know, the symposium was an opportunity for people to get together and share wines, but it was a vehicle to discuss, have arguments, to read, poetry, to discuss philosophical arguments as well. And I think there’s a lot of that in Italian culture today. Wine is a vehicle again for pleasure and discussion and argument.

Marc Millon (00:31:21) – And although it may not be so formal as it was in ancient Greek times, I think that when Italians get together and the wine is opened and food is on the table as well, it’s an opportunity to provoke discourse. And I would say that’s the legacy of the Greeks, this provoking discourse and thought.

Natalie MacLean (00:31:46) – So which wine story in your book do you find is most reflective of Italian culture? I know they all are to varying degrees, but is there one that stands out?

Marc Millon (00:31:56) – Well, I think that Italian culture is so represented by wine in so many different ways, but I think it’s the way that Italians are always wanting to try new things, but at the same time remain rooted to tradition. And so in my chapter called Tower of Power, for example, I talk about kampung and Nismo, and this is the way that Italians love not just their own region, their own neighborhood, their own city, their own quarter of that city. And that reflects in wine and food, too. So it’s this love of their own.

Marc Millon (00:32:38) – Foods are the best. The wines from their own area are the best, and even wines from 20 miles down the road. You know, Chianti Classico from the province of Florence may not be drunk and enjoyed so much by people that live in nearby Siena, and it’s this pride in what is their own that I think is so reflective of Italian culture.

Natalie MacLean (00:33:02) – I wish that would rub off on Canadians, because I guess because we’re a young wine culture, perhaps we just don’t have the confidence yet. Everyone but a large majority do not drink as much Ontario wine in Ontario, for example, as we do all other wines. And yet that was also my experience, Mark, when I traveled to both Italy and France, like in Bordeaux, all you could get was Bordeaux, and similarly in Burgundy, you know, they didn’t have California on the list for sure, let alone other French regions. So I love that because it’s very, I don’t know, like all the movements these days by local support, local, you know, smaller environmental footprint when you do.

Natalie MacLean (00:33:40) – I think that’s a great and telling kind of characteristic that the Italians certainly do that in spades. Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Mark. Here are my takeaways. Number one. What makes wine such a great narrative vehicle throughout history? As Mark says, he read a lot of history books while researching this book, and he thinks wine has a way of lubricating history. Certainly does. Number two, which almost forgotten grape varieties deserve more recognition. Mark notes that Italy has more native grape varieties than any other country in the world for producing wines as many as 2000 different grapes, with about 600 in production. He adds that what’s really interesting is the story of how some of these grape varieties were saved by the efforts of really amazing wine producers who believed in the grapes, and who worked hard to save them from extinction. His example was piano, that zesty white wine. And three. What might surprise you about the stories and wines from Campania? Companion for Mark is very exciting because it’s one of the most ancient wine regions in the world.

Natalie MacLean (00:34:55) – The wine connections go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. And yet he says that in Campania they’re only now discovering new areas, new grape varieties. Therefore, he believes that we can approach certain regions within Italy, like a new world country, with new wines and new areas to discover. I love that. And now for that bonus interview with Bianca marais, host of the No One Tells You About Writing. We explore topics such as how did my experiences with misogyny resonate with women in other industries? How do you balance telling your truth in a memoir and concerns about potential legal repercussions down the line? And why did I choose the theme of witches as the connecting thread throughout my memoir? Here’s our conversation.

Bianca Marais (00:35:48) – Today’s guest was named the world’s best drinks journalist, has also won four James Beard Foundation journalism awards. She’s the best selling author of Red, White and Drunk All Over and host the New York Times recommended podcast Unreserved Wine Talk. She lives in Ottawa, and it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome Natalie MacLean Natalie, welcome to the show.

Natalie MacLean (00:36:12) – It’s so good to be here with you. Bianca and I absolutely love your podcast. You’re doing good work, so thank you for what you give to the literary community.

Bianca Marais (00:36:22) – Well, thank you so much for that and much appreciated. So for our listeners, we are chatting today about Natalie’s memoir, which is called wine which on fire rising from the ashes of divorce, defamation and drinking too much. Holy heck, when we talk about a hook, it’s all there in the title, man. It’s it’s all there. So. So before we dive into that, because I have a lot of questions about the which theme, etc., etc. but something that I was really fascinated by is at the end of Natalie’s memoir, we have something called Post Morticia, and I’m going to read this to you because we hear so often on the podcast from memoirists who say what kind of place you should write from when you’re writing your memoir. And I feel like memoirs get dictated to a lot in terms of where they should be emotionally, etc., etc. when they write their reasons for writing.

Bianca Marais (00:37:17) – Whereas for novelists, you know, we have many different reasons for writing. I, for example, write from a place of absolute rage, and that’s fine. No one bats an eyelid because it’s fiction. But here we go. Let’s let’s go through this. So Natalie writes, I didn’t want to share the story. I couldn’t even look at notes I’d locked away for years. It was too exposing, too shameful. I’d be vandalising my own privacy, memoirist Glennon Doyle advised write from a scar, not an open wound. But why even write about it after the healing is done? Poet Sean Thomas Doherty had the answer why bother? Because right now there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words. Memoir. Gather different parts of my life that I thought were separate, but with just two sides of an open wound. Words were my sutures to sew my life back together, the scars they created on our patterns of meaning that are stronger than the flesh before the injury. Right.

Bianca Marais (00:38:18) – So just bouncing off of that. Natalie, I know you’re writing from a place now, I think 11 years in the future after most of this happened. But there is a simmering, bubbling anger under all of these words, and I was here for it. I was totally here for it, because if this had happened to me, I would be furious and I would want to write from that place. So can you take us through this a bit? Tell our listeners why you wrote this memoir and and the place you wrote it, for sure.

Natalie MacLean (00:38:48) – So as you’ve just read, I really could not even contemplate writing this story for a number of years. And then eventually the story ricocheted around in my head so long that I had to get it out on paper, at least as a private exercise in making sense of what had happened. And then over more years, because this happened a decade ago. But I do think the themes, the feelings, the issues are more relevant today than they were back then.

Natalie MacLean (00:39:14) – So over the years, you know, I was hearing more and more stories from women in the wine industry, but also from women friends in other industries, you know, tech, sport, finance. And the stories were so similar. The specifics, of course, were different. But the themes, the feelings, they were just so, so similar. So I thought, well, you know, maybe if I share this story, I know the cliche for memoir writers is someone will feel less alone, but there’s a reality to that in that with memoir, I think when we read a memoir that moves us, we’re reading, of course, about somebody else’s stories, but they’re putting into words our own feelings, and we’re looking for a piece of ourselves in their story and through the safety of their story. I think that can be healing. When we read how they can come out on the other end. So, you know, another old adage, it’s it’s not what happened to you, it’s what you did with it.

Natalie MacLean (00:40:09) – I think that’s core to a memoir. So you know the specifics of my story. An online mobbing, a divorce after 20 years being sort of blindsided by both everyone else’s situation is probably not going to be anywhere near or close to that. But the feelings that can arise from, you know, longing for love or loss or loneliness or fear of the future, that’s the power of a good memoir. Putting those feelings into words through someone else’s story and being able to read that. So that’s why I did it. I mean, so in a sense, yes. So that someone out there would feel less alone. But also so that I could connect with others, and I myself could feel less alone because I think as writers, that’s what we do. That’s how we connect with the world and with others.

Bianca Marais (00:40:57) – Yeah, very much so. I mean, that’s a reason to sit down by my chair and put pen to paper. But, you know, there was so much in you in terms of personal universal elements.

Bianca Marais (00:41:07) – So when we say to our listeners, when you’re writing a memoir, why is a stranger going to want to pick up your book and spend how many dollars on this thing that you have experienced? What is it about it that is going to appeal to them and resonate with them? And people pick up memoirs for many, many different reasons. The thing in here that really simmered with me was, you know, the misogyny that was rife in the wine writing industry. Well, not just wine writing, the critics, etc. at the time when you were being sort of dragged over the coals in terms of the defamation, can we can we first just put that into context for our listeners and then we can discuss it a little bit further from there?

Natalie MacLean (00:41:52) – Do you mean what.

Natalie MacLean (00:41:52) – Happened, the inciting incident?

Bianca Marais (00:41:54) – Yes, the inciting incident.

Natalie MacLean (00:41:56) – Don’t don’t we need sound effects?

Natalie MacLean (00:41:58) – Okay, so it was just before Christmas. My family had all gone to bed and we’d had a very festive, very merry dinner with lots of wine, of course.

Natalie MacLean (00:42:07) – And I was checking email one last time. It was just before midnight. And this Google alert pops up in my inbox and says, Natalie MacLean, world’s best wine writer or content thief? And my heart dropped. I mean, it just went right through to the soles of my feet because, as you know, Bianca, as a writer, that is the worst thing we can be accused of. So doctors lose their license for malpractice. Lawyers get disbarred for misrepresentation. Writers. We get our careers and reputations cancelled for anything to do with copyright issues. So I just didn’t. I just felt it all coming at me, like the words were burning into my retinas, and it took me a while to absorb it and to understand what is it that they’re saying, what happened here? And that’s how I open the story, by putting you right into the middle of it and trying to make it as visceral as I can, because this is all online, where many people will say, oh, you know, just turn it off.

Natalie MacLean (00:43:10) – Sticks and stones will break my bones. But, you know, name calling, nasty comments, they’ll never hurt you. But when you make the majority of your living online and through words, you can no more turn it off than a surgeon can operate outside the hospital. This is your everything. It’s your livelihood. It’s how you support your family. It’s who you are. It’s your reputation. It’s your self-worth. So I had to try to make that more tangible, more visceral for readers, especially readers who are not writers, and might dismiss it as, oh yeah, the internet’s mean, get over it. So the story unfolds from there. That’s it starts there. And then I start to back up with what led up to that. And then we return midway through the book to that scene, my what I call my Nightmare Before Christmas. And then we move forward again to what happened and the resolution. Yeah.

Bianca Marais (00:44:03) – So for our listeners, you know, we started in medias res, right? Yes.

Bianca Marais (00:44:07) – It’s the inciting incident. But what what Natalie does is she puts us right there in the action. Then we kind of go back and we get context, etc., etc. then we move forward. So she’s chosen a very interesting structure and timeline in terms of the structure of the memoir, which we’re going to discuss in a little bit more detail. But the thing that really stood out to me in terms of that personal universal element is not that people had a problem with the way you used the the wine reviews, just referencing the critics initials, etc., etc. it’s the way they came for you did not allow you to kind of speak for yourself, would not accept an explanation or an apology, but then how very personal it became, and how so many of these misogynistic comments that were made online were about your appearance. We’re about your breasts. We’re about your hair. And you as a woman, to the point that someone actually threatened to rape you if you did not shut up. And I swear, the rage that I feel like that because, you know, as we are three women who ran a podcast, we’ve had more than our fair share of these kinds of comments coming to us.

Bianca Marais (00:45:21) – What the hell do we know? We’re just stupid women, women’s shut up, etc., etc. but just that I think there are so many women listening right now who have experienced that at some point or another. Maybe they haven’t had this online vitriol, but certainly they’ve had men in their companies comments on their appearance and things like that in these ways that are just it’s infuriating as mine. Blowing, in fact. And this was only ten years ago. So can you take us through after you. You wrote the memoir. I’m sure you must have heard from hundreds of women that could relate to that who were saying, Natalie, oh my God, we may not be in the wine industry, we may not be in this industry, but boy, can we relate to this kind of behavior.

Natalie MacLean (00:46:07) – Absolutely. I mean, the letters just kept flooding in, like direct messages, emails and so on. And I mean that that has just been so gratifying. I mean, just that, you know, they were so specific, these emails and letters, like you wrote my story.

Natalie MacLean (00:46:22) – You you wouldn’t believe it. We I feel like you’re my sister and I’ve finally, you know, we’ve just reunited. I don’t know, I think, though, that it has to go back to the feelings because the situational specifics are different. And, you know, you’ve touched on it a few times. Bianca, women’s anger and fury. I mean, we are taught to be nice girls, to smile to, you know, brighten up someone else’s day, usually a man’s. And we don’t talk enough about our anger with that. We, you know, throughout this memoir, there’s also an evolution of how I deal with my own anger, you know, all of that’s tied together the witch theme, the anger, the fire, the scorn, the fury. Because up until writing this book, you know, I’d always been I just was more of a humor writer than anything else. I, you know, would make fun of the wine industry, but in a lighthearted way. I would play nice, I’d play by the rules and so on.

Natalie MacLean (00:47:20) – And I had a lot of success with that. I treated my writing career like one gloriously long English class. If I kept my head down and I did good work, I get, you know, the A grade top marks, and actually the world doesn’t work that way. Certainly the wine industry doesn’t. And and many other writers did not feel that way. So it was an awakening for me and a whole process that I went through from always trying to be a good girl and play by the rules, to making light of even my own skills as a writer, as a woman, to at first feeling sad and depressed that all of this was happening, and then to opening up to my own anger and saying, hey, this isn’t right. And there are all of these. Well, they were all men, so I may as well just say that, not people. All these men are telling my story. I’m a writer and I should be able to tell my own story. I should be able to write this last chapter.

Bianca Marais (00:48:17) – Amen to that. So. So we’re going to get to the witch structure because I love that. And for the memoirists out there, we have said, you know, memoir should not be something that you approach going, okay, this is when I was born. I’m taking the story in a linear way. This is what happened when I was 20. This is what happened when I was sitting. And this is where I currently am. You know, there are so many different ways to structure memoir. And the way Natalie pulled in the witch theme, I thought was absolute genius. And I want to unpack that some more. But something you’ve just said is something I want to touch on. So writing a memoir like this, in which you defending yourself so much against the allegations that were made against you, you know, how are you able to do that? How are you able to tell your truth without worrying about implicating people who might want to sue, legal concerns, etc.? There are some names that you don’t mention, the names you’re obscuring the names.

Bianca Marais (00:49:07) – There are some men who you mention blatantly, and obviously those were ones who made their comments in very public forums, in which case you are able to quote them from those public forums. For our listeners out there who are writing something similar, how do you balance the truth telling against worrying about legal repercussions down the line for writing your truth?

Natalie MacLean (00:49:29) – So first up, you can’t worry about it at all when you are writing your early drafts. Otherwise, you’re trying to have your foot on the gas pedal and on the brake at the same time. You won’t get it out there. You won’t get it down on paper, is what I should say. You have to let the story out first. So that’s the first thing. Then, as you get further down the road to more iterations of your drafts and it’s starting to take shape, and you’ve had a developmental edit and you’ve had other edits and so on, that’s the point at which you can start thinking about legal ramifications. I should note, Bianca, that I had changed everybody’s name.

Natalie MacLean (00:50:06) – So not just family members, but also all of these men who are commenting publicly about me. And then, you know, even the crude things they were saying and so on. And the lawyer went through the manuscript for the first time. He said, you know, if you change their name, you’re violating their copyright, you know, to quote them. And they’re vile things, vile things. They said I had to use their full names. So in the end, I didn’t want to name anybody. Like, for my family, it was like privacy. But for the trolls, it’s like, let’s not shed more light on these trolls. That’s not give them more attention. That’s what they feed on. But in the end, I had to name them because I was. Quoting whether it was online or various sources. I had to do that for copyright, but I also came to the conclusion in the end that they deserved full credit for what they said and did.

Bianca Marais (00:50:56) – Can I just say the irony there in terms of the copyright? And since the irony is just, oh, love it, karaoke.

Natalie MacLean (00:51:02) – I know. Right.

Natalie MacLean (00:51:04) – So yeah, writing this book was like the law school that I should have finished. I actually dropped out of law school anyway. So the next step that you always need to do is put in that sort of author’s note at the front of the book. That is clear. It’s not in the mice type of the copyright page, but I can share that with you if that would be helpful to listeners. Okay, so this is what I said because there’s two purposes for this. One is that it’s a shot over the bow for frivolous claims. You don’t want people coming after you with no basis. You want them to know this has been reviewed by lawyers. And the second part is that this actually would be used in my defense, if anyone were to bring a suit, which has not happened. Ha! Anyway, here goes. I wrote this book with positive intent for everyone in it, even those involved in traumatic moments. They’ve all made me who I am today. As flawed as that remains, some people’s names, physical characteristics and company affiliations have been changed for privacy.

Natalie MacLean (00:52:05) – Otherwise, this memoir remains a true narrative. The events and dialogue are based on my memories, conversations, journal entries, emails, texts, online posts, screenshots, and recordings. I asked family, friends, colleagues and several lawyers to review the manuscript. The opinions in this memoir are mine alone and intended only to share my experience. I don’t represent any brand, company, or organization mentioned. My story isn’t unusual, but I hope my journey helps. Others who travel this way feel less alone. I raise my glass to you. So that’s that’s just putting it out there and up front for the reasons that I mentioned, you know, shot over the bow for frivolous claims. Part of my defense, should it arise that said, that does not save you from being sued for defamation, invasion of privacy or copyright claims. If you haven’t used copyright correctly in your book, that’s not like a, you know, get out of jail card. That author’s note you still need to be very careful in how you talk about others.

Natalie MacLean (00:53:13) – And so when I bring others into my story, I only bring them in to the extent that they overlap with my story. I go no further, even though many times I wanted to with other details that really didn’t tell my story, or with characterizations that would be might be considered defamatory, I had to stick to the facts, but in the end, sticking to the facts was far more powerful. It got rid of all of the fluffy, you know, it got down to the the muscle and bones of the story without all the fat. And so in the end, it was a good thing that I had to work with these restrictions that also benefited me legally.

Bianca Marais (00:53:55) – Yeah. Just see, this is why I can’t write a memoir, because I would write so-and-so, who everybody agrees is a ginormous asshole, said this and this, you know, so so I would I would really get sued back to the lawyer stuff. So, Natalie, I know when I signed my contracts with my publishers, even though I’m writing fiction, there’s always a clause that says that if I get sued, that’s my problem.

Bianca Marais (00:54:18) – Pretty much. It’s not the publisher’s problem. They are not settling lawsuits on my behalf. So when it came to the lawyers, how were these all at your costs? Were you lucky enough to know lawyers that did this for you for free? So this is all stuff that you had to do contractually yourself before this book could get published. Could you take us through that?

Natalie MacLean (00:54:38) – Sure. So in the contract with my publisher, they said the wording was such that if the publisher feels the need for a legal edit, that they would get one done and pay for it, but they didn’t feel the need. Even though this book centered on a variety of legal issues and was such a personal book that involved, you know, both my ex-husband and all of these writers online, you know, you just think that’s a cauldron bubbling cauldron waiting for a lawyer to, to put out the fire. They decided that it wasn’t necessary because ultimately, as you said, Bianca, I’m on the hook, not them. You are a indemnified them.

Natalie MacLean (00:55:23) – You’re responsible for their legal fees and any damages in a suit. So that can just take the wind right out of your sails, out of your lungs. So I knew for my own peace of mind, I could not publish this unless I had not just one legal read, but two. So sort of as the manuscript was evolving to the point where I thought, you know, this is close to public. To a final read of the final manuscript, and it was expensive. You know, we’re talking like $5,000 a read. Yeah.

Bianca Marais (00:55:54) – And can I just ask what kind of lawyer? Because this is obviously very specialized. This is not just, you know, your cousin who’s a lawyer down the road. Like, what kind of lawyers are we talking about here?

Natalie MacLean (00:56:04) – Those who specialize either in entertainment law. But even more specifically than that, I went with a lawyer who specialized in the publishing world. He was a lawyer in the publishing world who only reads book manuscripts for three things copyright, defamation, and invasion of privacy.

Natalie MacLean (00:56:23) – And I’d highly recommend him if anyone wants to get in touch after the show, feel free to reach out. To me, it was worth all the money because it was. It was peace of mind. But also I learned a lot like, you know, going through his comments, going through the manuscript, made the manuscript better. My editor at the publisher was afraid that the lawyers were going to ruin it. They were going to take all the juicy bits out, neuter the whole manuscript. But in the end, I think it made it stronger for the reasons we’ve discussed. But also it it really made me weigh every word. And you need to do that in any book. You need to be right in there, in the detail, in the minutia, as as much as we do a line at it. We need to do this sort of legal edit when we’re dealing with issues like this, and especially in memoir, because you have to say, am I really behind that sentence? It might feel good to say it, and I want to say it, but am I willing to defend it in court? And I know that sounds like a really cautious way to write, but you’re not writing that way.

Natalie MacLean (00:57:29) – The writing is largely done now. You’re in the editing mode and your every sentence has to pass that test.

Natalie MacLean (00:57:36) – Yeah.

Bianca Marais (00:57:36) – And why are we talking about the writing? You know, we’ve we’ve focused so much during this interview on the legal implications because this is something we get a ton of questions on the podcast. And you were the perfect person to to ask about this. But I do want our listeners to know that wine, which On Fire is beautifully written. It is excellent on the sentence level. It evokes emotion, it evokes anger and gets you on board with, you know, Natalie as the protagonist. I like to talk about memoir as as a protagonist, rather than saying, getting on board with you, Natalie, per se. It was just the writing was wonderful. So let’s talk a bit about that now as well, because what I want to pick your brain about as well is the witch theme and how you use that to your benefit. In terms of the structure of the novel, we’ve got section names, we’ve got chapter names, that which theme is stitched carefully through the entire thing.

Bianca Marais (00:58:32) – And, you know, the book begins with a mob who’s coming for Natalie. Now, back 400 years ago, this mob would have been a mob of men with pitchforks coming to Natalie’s house to burn it down. In this day and age, it’s a mob of men who are coming on social media, on Twitter, on blog posts, etc. so was it from the beginning that you saw that witch theme and you want to sort of use it as as a hook, as a theme throughout? I know you say when you appear on the Canadian show The Social, you decide to start dressing as a wine witch for that Halloween special. Is that when it came in? Take us a bit through the intentionality of choosing that theme.

Natalie MacLean (00:59:12) – Sure. So I always say you might think from the title win Witch on Fire. This is about an angry woman who drinks a lot of wine and owns a lot of cats, but it’s not.

Bianca Marais (00:59:22) – And I would read that memoir. I just want anyone out there to know I would read this out of that memoir.

Bianca Marais (00:59:27) – But anyway, Carry on Natalie.

Natalie MacLean (00:59:29) – Are so witches resonate with me because their strength comes from within, not from external validation. It’s a real release. You know? My favorite childhood stories were always about witches. So the good and the bad, Wizard of Oz, you know, the battling duo of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West who’s always goes unnamed. But I was entranced with those opposing forces that I saw in myself. You know, I even loved the straight up badass White Witch of Narnia. You know, I was cackling alongside her when she canceled Christmas and Frozen Narnia. It was a very satisfying outlet for, you know, a little goody two shoes. Of course. You know, I’ve come around since then to realize that certain stereotypes of women can be damaging, including the word witch, and that’s why I hesitated. Use it one of many reasons I hesitated using the word witch in the title and as a theme throughout the book. But now you know. I believe a witch is a wise woman who’s been through the fire of life.

Natalie MacLean (01:00:25) – Come out on the other end stronger, wiser, fiercer. So I had to get over my notions of what a witch was first. But then, you know, when did I start thinking about this for the book? So during the online mobbing, there were lots of comments about pitchforks and witch hunts and so on, but I couldn’t even remember those comments until years later. When I went back through the posts and the screenshots, and at first I was very wary of the metaphor because I did not want to equate my experience with the horrors that women faced in the 17th and 18th centuries. But, you know, over time, their stories really did rekindle with me a desire to call out sexism and misogyny in a in a modern sense. And, you know, the methods are more subtle, I think, today, but the results can feel as devastating. So during my no good, terrible, very bad vintage, I did feel like a witch in all the worst ways, you know, outcast, despised, scorned, hunted.

Natalie MacLean (01:01:22) – And even the stories of so-called witches like in literature inspired me. You know, I was thinking back to all of these stories that I loved as a child. You know, Hester Prynne was forced to wear the Scarlet Letter A on her chest, and she embroidered it ornately with gold thread and I think made something creative out of her shame. And she transformed that badge of humiliation into her own emblem of individuality, her way of taking back the story. So all of these themes were bubbling in in my own cauldron. And I think for many of us today, you know, online can be so amorphous, like, what is it? But Google search algorithm is our modern scarlet letter A, especially for women. If there’s anything negative about you online, it’ll be on the first page of results. Regardless of when it happened or whether it’s been fact checked. Doesn’t matter. And we all wear that a on our virtual chest. So in the end, I really came round to, you know, weaving this thread of the witch through the story, the old metaphor to illuminate a new story, and then also to turn it around and to see those old stories about women as witches in a new light.

Natalie MacLean (01:02:30) – So that’s the sort of overview. But, you know, carrying through the metaphor through the book is another thing.

Bianca Marais (01:02:35) – Is that something that comes with layering? So, for example, what I do when I am writing, I’ll focus on one note of my character, let’s say their misbelief that they are unlovable. And I’ll focus on that for a lot of time. And then there’ll be something else about their character. Like, for example, they feel very insecure about their body image, and I’m not able to generally write those two notes at the same time. But when I come back with editing, I’ll be like, lookout for where the body dysmorphia or the, you know, self-image is a problem and where you can factor that in. And so I’m able to weave that in during the editorial process later on. So is that something that you were also very conscious of when editing, saying, oh wow, I didn’t see this the first time around, but this is something that really can be compared to X, Y, and Z when it comes to witches.

Natalie MacLean (01:03:29) – Exactly. So I had a stockpile of little witch stories, and then when you have those sort of in the back of your mind, they become readily apparent as you’re reading your manuscript for the 98th time, where they might fit without being heavy handed, without milking the metaphor, you know? So once I decided to go with the witch theme, I really had to go all in. Otherwise it would come off as superficial or disrespectful to the women who were persecuted. So it was this balance of, okay, you need to go deep, but you can’t overdo it. And so there’s that fine, fine line. So, you know, leaning into that metaphor was, I think, more fruitful for the writing itself. It was a way of showing, not telling. So for example, when I started responding to the comments, the defamatory comments and others online, I would get flaming responses from the trolls. And then when I backed off and didn’t post, they’d accuse me of running away from the issue.

Natalie MacLean (01:04:29) – So that reminded me of the story of one way to tell if a woman was a witch in Colonial Salem was to strip her down to her undergarments, bind her, and throw her into a lake. Since witches rejected the sacrament of baptism, the water would reject her, make her float. An innocent person would sink to the bottom according to this logic, so you’d either sink and drown or float and get dragged to the stake and be burned. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Sounds like the forerunner to social media, so trying to weave the two of them together like that. But I had like, so the story, like I had a file of stories of all of these things about witches. And, you know, when I started going back to the passage of I can’t win here, I’m trying to respond. And then when I think that that’s just fueling their fire, I don’t respond. I can’t win that way either. So you weave in these small snippets that are firmly rooted in the metaphor.

Natalie MacLean (01:05:26) – They serve kind of as a touchpoint for the reader that shows up in new and interesting ways, I think, through the manuscript, but they also allow me to share more satisfying reflections, as well as the vulnerability and surprise and fear.

Natalie MacLean (01:05:40) – Yeah, you did that.

Bianca Marais (01:05:41) – So incredibly well, and there were so many moments where I was like. There are times that it feels like we’ve come so far, and there’s times that it feels like we haven’t even taken that first step. When you compare, like the modern day context to things that you’re comparing happen to however many years ago, it’s, you know, and that was the touchstone for me each time we brought it back, brought it back, brought it back, and it it was not overdone. It was not heavy handed. It was just perfect. I loved as well the chapter headings. So for our listeners, Natalie went between sort of witch themed chapter headings and also wine themed. So we have things like Game of Thrones, a marriage of true vines, good witch hunting, Tempest in a wine glass, so so really, really creative and interesting there as well.

Bianca Marais (01:06:31) – Natalie, we past our time. I have so many other questions, but unfortunately we are not going to get to them. Can you tell our listeners where they can find you? Tell them about your newsletter, tell them a bit more about where all you are.

Natalie MacLean (01:06:46) – Thank you Bianca, so you can find me at Natalie MacLean dot com. That’s easy to misspell. So if you want to try wine which on fire com you’ll find everything about the book. And that just redirects to my website for listeners who might also be interested in how I put together a book club guide with not only discussion questions about the book, but also tips on organizing your own informal wine tasting. I have interesting themes there, from sort of a gathering of your your own personal coven to the perfect wine tasting for a divorce party. You can go to wine which on, so feel free to borrow whatever is helpful there. As you mentioned, Bianca also host the podcast Unreserved Wine Talk, and I really try to interview people who are weird and wonderful in the world of wine and can tell stories.

Natalie MacLean (01:07:37) – We’re not comparing Hungarian to American Oak or anything like that. My newsletter is at Natalie MacLean dot com. I have free mobile apps that will scan the barcodes, front labels of bottles and bring up my wine reviews. You can find it all there at either Natalie MacLean dot com or wine which on fire com amazing Natalie.

Bianca Marais (01:07:56) – Thank you. And Natalie does have two other books out before this one. Can you quickly tell our listeners about those?

Natalie MacLean (01:08:02) – Sure. These are far more lightheaded. Lightheaded? Well, they are lightheaded and light hearted. The first is red, white and drunk all over a wine soaked journey from grape to glass. As you can see, I do put the entire book in the title and subtitle, and the second one is unquenchable A Tipsy Search for the World’s Best Bargain Wines. So there are just adventure stories. I work in a day in a life as a sommelier, so that you know how to order from a restaurant list. I work the harvest so you know how wine is made.

Natalie MacLean (01:08:26) – They’re all based on stories so that you can learn about wine in a more fun, entertaining way. Amazing.

Bianca Marais (01:08:32) – We’re going to link to all of these on our affiliate page. Remember, if you buy the books there, you support an independent bookstore and you support the podcast. Natalie, thank you so, so much. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you.

Natalie MacLean (01:08:45) – Bianca. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me here to share this story. But also thank you again for what you do for the the literary community. This podcast is at the top of my playlist. I love the discussion, the tips I get every week. Thank you for continuing to do that. I hope you also enjoyed this bonus chat with Bianca. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversations with both Bianca and Mark. Links to their websites, books and podcast, and the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live and where you can order my book online. No matter where you live, I can find you or the book can.

Natalie MacLean (01:09:28) – I should say that’s just creepy. You can also find a link to take the free online food and wine pairing class with me, called the five Wine and Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner and How to Fix Them Forever at Natalie MacLean dot com forward slash class. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie MacLean dot com forward slash 287. Email me if you have a SIP tip question, or would like to win one of three copies of Marc’s terrific book, Italian Wine Glass. I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve read my book or are in the process of reading it at Natalie at Natalie MacLean dot com. If you missed episode 183, go back and take a listen. I chat with Stevie Kim about Italian wines and the world’s largest wine fair, vine, Italy. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Stevie Kim (01:10:20) – Italian wine is just like the Italians. They’re incredibly creative and imaginative, and it’s not by chance that they excel in cuisine, in fashion and design.

Natalie MacLean (01:10:32) – Gucci.

Natalie MacLean (01:10:32) – Versace. Cars. Yeah, they are.

Stevie Kim (01:10:35) – Completely individualistic and fragmented.

Natalie MacLean (01:10:39) – Is that a history of kingdoms?

Stevie Kim (01:10:40) – I don’t know, but Italians are incredibly individualistic. So that means that you have so many denominations and so many different grapes. So we’re talking about 600 odd grapes and 400 plus denominations.

Natalie MacLean (01:10:58) – Denominations meaning little regions or designations within regions.

Stevie Kim (01:11:02) – Yes. Yeah. So that is very difficult to wrap your head around when you are a wine lover. And that’s one of the reasons we’ve been making small booklets to make it a little bit more digestible and approachable.

Natalie MacLean (01:11:21) – You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Mark. If you liked this episode or learned even one thing from it, please email or tell one friend about the podcast this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in learning more about Italy and its wines. It’s easy to find my podcast. Just tell them to search for Natalie MacLean wine on their favorite podcast app, or they can listen to the show on my website. Thank you for taking the time to join me here.

Natalie MacLean (01:11:52) – I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a wine from Campania that you’ve discovered recently? You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media.

Natalie MacLean (01:12:15) – So subscribe for.

Natalie MacLean (01:12:16) – Free now at Natalie MacLean.

Natalie MacLean (01:12:19) – Com forward slash subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.


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