Which physical aspects of working in a restaurant might surprise you? Why is it hard to get a good wine education? How can an emotional guide to wine deepen your pleasure in it?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with sommelier and author, Jane Lopes.
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- Why did Jane decide to study Renaissance literature at the University of Chicago?
- How did Jane transition from academia to the wine industry?
- What were the sensory and social aspects of wine that initially attracted Jane?
- Why is it hard to get a good wine education?
- Which physical aspects of working in a restaurant might surprise you?
- How did Jane incorporate creative wine pairings and experimentation in her time as wine director?
- What was the inspiration for the name of Jane’s first book, Vignette, and what types of stories does it contain?
- What are the three different ways you can read Vignette?
- Why did Jane include resources for alcohol use disorder in her book?
- What was the most surprising insight that Jane discovered while writing Vignette?
- How did writing help Jane find purpose despite her health problems?
- Why did Jane agree to be a part of Esquire’s television series Uncorked, despite her anxiety?
- What happened when Jane decided to take Sudafed before her advanced sommelier exam?
- Working in a restaurant is incredibly grueling both physically and emotionally. Thos in it are prime to excessive drinking and that’s why the hospitality industry, which includes both restaurants and wineries, has the highest rate of substance abuse among any profession.
- Jane makes some excellent points about why it’s hard to get a good wine education, both in terms of cost and the variety of wines you need to taste, especially if you want to make it your profession.
- I love her approach in her first book as an emotional guide to wine to deepen your pleasure in it.
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Wine can be very academic, but I really liked that that knowledge was connected to a sensory experience. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
Wine acted as a constant companion, punctuating my life in really lovely ways. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
One of the hardest parts about anxiety or depression is that not only do you have to deal with the symptoms, but you also have to deal with hiding it from people. - Jane Lopes Click to tweet
About Jane Lopes
Jane Lopes is a Nashville-based sommelier, author, and importer. She has worked at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, Chicago’s The Violet Hour, and most recently as the wine director at Attica, one of Australia’s most celebrated restaurants. Jane was featured on Esquire network’s 2015 television series Uncorked, which follows six New York City sommeliers in pursuit of the Master Sommelier title (which Jane attained in 2018). In September of 2019, Jane finally put her University of Chicago literature degree to good use in publishing her first book, a personal and educational guide to wine called Vignette: Stories of Life and Wine in 100 Bottles. In 2020, Jane and her husband Jonathan Ross co-founded their own Australian wine imports company: Legend. Jane’s second book, How to Drink Australian (co-authored with her husband), will publish in September 2023.
- Connect with Jane Lopes
- Rossignol Winery in Prince Edward Island
- Upcoming Launch Events for Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much
- Ottawa Writers Festival – Friday, October 27th at 6 pm
- Virtual Online Wine Tasting – Thursday, November 9th at 7 pm
- Treat yourself and your friends to a live online wine tasting and inspirational conversation between Menna Riley and yours truly about my powerful new memoir. All you need to do to join this private online party is purchase wine from one (or more) of the following top-notch wineries:
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- Wine Witch on Fire Free Companion Guide for Book Clubs
- My Books:
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 168: Wine’s Buzz, Italy’s Food Culture and Audrey Hepburn’s Influence with Jaime Lewis
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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Jane Lopes (00:00):
It was the combination of all that wine offered because wine can be very academic, very intellectual. I remember a lot of nights coming home from my job at the retail store and pulling out a wine book, but I really liked that that knowledge was connected to an experience, a sensory experience. I could study the wines of the Northern Rhone and the soil type and the wine making and the attributes of the Syrah grape, and then I could taste that in a glass. That to me, was very exciting, and I also really loved the social aspects of it. When it came down to spending my twenties in a library or talking to people and serving great wine and pairing it with food and food, the latter seemed a lot more appealing.
Natalie MacLean (00:41):
Absolutely. I’m with you on that because wine does get you out of your head all the time if you’re inclined to be there and gets you reconnected with your senses and your body and the emotions.
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 McLean, 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 253. Which physical aspects of working in a restaurant might surprise you? Why is it so hard to get a good wine education? And how can an emotional guide to wine deepen your pleasure of it? In today’s episode, you’ll hear those stories and tips that answer those questions in our chat with Jane Lopes, a sommelier, author, and wine importer.
Thursday evening, I hosted an event at KIN Vineyards for the law firm Gowlings and their clients, and it was a spectacular evening as the sunset over the vines. And we tasted some terrific wines under a large tent that was open along the sides. We also had quite day lively discussion about the issues raised in my new book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking too Much. Everyone went home with a signed copy at the end of this magical evening.
I’d like to give a shout out to Rossignal Winery in Prince Edward Island for stocking Wine Witch in their winery tasting room and supporting its message of hope, justice, and resilience. I’ll put a link to their winery in the show notes. If you visit a winery or work at one, please encourage owner or tasting room manager to stock the book.
Here’s a review from Suzanne Scott in Collingwood. “I was hooked quickly by the very readable prose that carried such interesting details that made me want to learn more. Immediately. I was intrigued by the story. Natalie is able to give you a very honest look at her life and in turn, let you look at your life in a new light. Forgiveness is a powerful thought that gives us hope for the future. The witch theme is wonderfully sprinkled throughout with interesting facts and comparisons. Fascinating wine details are woven throughout the book, along with the ups and downs of the world in which we all find ourselves. There are moments that will make you laugh, making it a readable, enjoyable novel that will shine a light on life and have you looking at yourself a little more carefully. Well done”. Thank you, Suzanne.
If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I would love to hear from you at [email protected]. If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it and this podcast that I do on a volunteer basis, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread this message. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all the retailers worldwide at NatalieMacLean.com/253.
Coming up, I’ll be hosting a wine tasting and book launch event at the Ottawa Writers Festival on Friday, October 27th at 6:30 PM. Register at WritersFestival.org. I’ll also be hosting an event on Thursday, November 9th at 7:00 PM that you can attend no matter where you live. Treat yourself and your friends to a live online wine tasting and inspirational conversation between Menna Riley and yours truly about my new memoir. In case you don’t know, it’s the story of how one woman must resurrect her life and career in the glamorous but sexist wine industry fighting for her son and her reputation. I’ll share the juicy behind the scenes stories about those who make market and write about wine in this national bestseller. This true coming of middle-aged story is about transforming your life and finding love along the way.
All you need to do to join this private online party is purchase wine from one of the following top-notch wineries. You can also buy wine from two wineries or three. It’s your choice. Quails Gate in BC. Wescott Vineyards in Ontario. Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia. All three wineries ship across Canada to your doorstep, and we’ll include a copy of the book if you already have it. Give it as a holiday gift as I’ll be sending sign book plates. For every copy, you’ll receive a Zoom link at the email address you use to buy the wine. Do you live outside of Canada? You can still participate. Email me for details at [email protected].
Get warmed up for your season with this inspirational discussion of one of this year’s best gift books and savour some top-tier delicious wines. Make this a holiday gift to yourself. Can’t make the live event. No worries. Everyone who registers will be sent a video recording after the event that you and your friends can watch and taste along at your convenience. Make it a holiday tasting party. Please let your friends, family, and colleagues know about this special holiday event. Join them online for this tasting and chat. Please let me know if you can join me at one or more of these events. I’ll include links to all of the events and the wineries in the show note at NatalieMacLean.com/253.
Okay, on with the show. Two of you are going to the lucky recipients of a copy of this guest’s book, so one of you will win her first book Vignette: Stories of a Life and Wine in 100 bottles, and one of you will win her latest book, which has just been published. It’s all about Australian wines. All you have to do is email me at [email protected] and I’ll pick two one each randomly to win the books.
Alright, back to our guest. Jane Lopes is a sommelier, author and importer. She’s worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, including New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Nashville’s the Cap Bird Seat, Chicago’s the Violet Hour and Attica in Australia. Jane was featured in Esquire Network’s 2015 television series Uncorked, which follows six New York City sommelier in pursuit of the Master Sommelier title. In September of 2019, Jane finally put her University of Chicago literature degree to good use, as she says in publishing her first book, A personal and educational guide to wine called Vignette: Stories of Life and Wine in 100 bottles in 2020. Jane and her husband Jonathan Ross, co-founded their own Australian wine importing company called Legend. Jane’s second book (which she co-authored with her husband) How to Drink Australian has just been published. And Jane joins me now from her home in Nashville. Welcome, Jane.
Jane Lopes (08:14):
Oh, thanks so much for having me.
Natalie MacLean (08:17):
Most glad you were here. Alright, so before we dive into your wine career, Jane, tell us why you chose to study Renaissance literature at the University of Chicago.
Jane Lopes (08:28):
Great question. I started off my college career at USC in LA as a business major that just wasn’t the right fit for me and I had a really influential English literature teacher, specifically renaissance literature, my first year of college at USC. And I was a research assistant for the Norton Anthology literature and specifically the renaissance section. So that kind of set me on that track of just really enjoying that era of literature. So then I transferred to University of Chicago and just stayed on that track and just just really had a blast and didn’t quite know what I was going to do with it, but I figured best to just sort of enjoy it at the time and figured that out later.
Natalie MacLean (09:13):
So a good quarter of the students at the University of Chicago go on to get PhDs and become academics. Were you on that track and if so, why did you decide to jump off of it?
Jane Lopes (09:24):
Yeah, I was. By the time I graduated I thought, well I really like this environment. This is fun. I can keep doing this. And so I didn’t apply for graduate programs my senior year of college just because that seemed like a lot to do in addition to writing my senior thesis and all of that. So I was planning to take a year off. I had applied to work in the admissions department at my college and really thought I was going to get that job and I didn’t. And so I just needed a job and I applied to work at a wine shop. I had really loved wine in the two years I’ve been drinking it since I studied abroad in Italy when I was my junior year in college. So I thought that would be a fun job, just a good thing to do for a year and pretty quickly after I started working in that wine shop, I just really felt like, I don’t want to leave this yet. I want to see where this goes. So I stopped writing my grad school applications and funny enough, the admissions department came back to me a few months later and offered me that job and I already kind of knew I wanted to stay on the wine track and just kind of see where that took me.
Natalie MacLean (10:32):
And was there an aha wine or was it just the business of selling wine was so interesting to you? What solidified it for you?
Jane Lopes (10:40):
A little bit of both. There definitely was an aha wine in terms of like, wow this is what wine can be, and who knew? But I think more than anything it was really just the combination of all that wine offered because wine can be very academic, very intellectual. I remember a lot of nights coming home from my job at the retail store and just pulling out a wine book or a study guide on Guild Somm and just sort of learning more. But I really liked that that knowledge was connected to an experience and then a sensory experience a lot of the time where I could study the wines of the Northern Rhone and the soil type and the wine making and the attributes of the Syrah grape, and then I could taste that in a glass like that to me was very exciting. And I also really loved the social aspects of it when it came down to thinking about spending my twenties in a library or talking to people and serving great wine and pairing it with food. And I know the latter seemed a lot more appealing.
Natalie MacLean (11:40):
Absolutely. I’m with you on that because wine sort of does get you out of your head all the time if you’re inclined to be there and gets you reconnected with your senses and your body and the emotions and so on. So what was that aha wine, by the way, do you remember one in particular?
Jane Lopes (11:56):
I do. It was Louis Latour classic kind of negotiant Burgundy producer. It was Chevalier Montrachet 1983, and I think I’m getting the vintage right, I think it’s 83, and I was having this in probably ’07 or ’08. A friend of mine who worked in consulting, not the wine industry at all, had invited me to a wine party that one of his bosses threw periodically, and that was sort of the boss always opened a special wine in the beginning to get people to get there on time, which was a great strategy. So I got to taste that wine and I hadn’t tasted, probably hadn’t never tasted, grown through Burgundy. I probably had never tasted wine that old and it just blew my mind. I just couldn’t believe all of the different things I was tasting and smelling and how vibrant it still felt. And yeah, I was really blown away by that wine.
Natalie MacLean (12:53):
Wow, okay. Now you’ve noted that it is hard to get a good wine education. I mean, it’s definitely expensive if you’re not in the trade, but what did you mean by that? It’s really hard to get a good wine education?
Jane Lopes (13:06):
Well, if you think about a lot of other fields, even something like people maybe argue is impractical, like studying literature. There are very specific and well-defined channels to pursue that field. You go to college at every college, there’s dozens if not hundreds of different literature courses offered, and you can do an undergraduate program, you can do graduate programs, you can do master’s programs. It’s very kind of well-defined steps, and certainly you want to be a doctor or a nurse or an accountant or whatever it is. There’s this very well-defined kind of educational path, and there just isn’t that for wine. There certainly a few culinary schools that have some great wine programs throughout the US but that’s less than a handful of schools in the entire country. And then there’s Court of Master Sommeliers. But yeah, there’s just not as well defined path as for many other professions. So I think that causes some, I don’t know if the word is issues. It is a situation in our industry that is totally unique in the world, but certainly is individual to a handful of professions. And so we’re just sort of left to our own devices to figure out how best to learn wine, to learn wine service, to learn wine writing, to learn wine imports and distribution and kind of all of the different facets of the wine industry.
Natalie MacLean (14:33):
It’s true. Yeah, it’s more of an apprentice or learn on the job or whatever. And there’s even far more, I think, channels to learn cooking a hundred percent than there is wine. There’s so many schools and courses and certifications. Yeah, good point. So you’ve worked at some really great restaurants and you’ve spoken about the physicality of a restaurant job. In what ways would the physical aspects of working in a restaurant surprise us?
Jane Lopes (14:58):
In restaurants we certainly give a lot of thought to sort of shoes we’re wearing and things you don’t think about. What the floors of a restaurant are like. When I started working at Eleven Madison Park, the floors are terra, they’re just incredibly hard and harder than certainly carpet or even wood, that it just is really hard on your joints, your knees, your hips. I just remember when I started working in that restaurant, just waking up in the morning and just aching just on your feet for a very long time and you’re moving around kind of rapidly for most of that time. And then of course there’s the schlepping boxes and stuff like that. I mean, when I was at Eleven Madison Park, we probably fit about double the amount of wine into that cellar than was the actual capacity. And so there were lots of cases kind of stacked up high. So almost every day you were on a ladder with a case of wine on your shoulder, climbing up a ladder, putting that case up there, taking cases down.
Natalie MacLean (16:01):
And when we’re down here, how much does that weigh a case of wine. it would depend on if it was a heavy wine bottle. But what is that like 20, 30 more pounds? I do not.
Jane Lopes (16:09):
Yes, I would say 35. I’d say 30 to 40 is kind of pretty average.
Natalie MacLean (16:16):
That’s a lot though, especially just trying to hoist it up.
Jane Lopes (16:20):
Yes, climbing I definitely developed some new muscles in that restaurant.
Natalie MacLean (16:27):
And then the working hours are late and so on. So yeah, they are very, very hard jobs. Those diners often don’t appreciate just what’s going on behind the scenes, especially as you say, if you have an overstuffed cellar. You’re probably having to move boxes every time you try to find a wine. It’s not like you’re just pulling them out of a slot. I think it was as wine director, at Cat Bird restaurant in Nashville, you started experimenting with how you served wine. Tell us some of the creative ways you started what you were experimenting with.
Jane Lopes (16:57):
I think at that point I sort of didn’t know enough to know I think how heretical I was being in a sense. But when I moved to Nashville to take on the position at Cat Bird Seat coming from Chicago, and at the time certainly there was just a lot more access to wine in Chicago than there was in Nashville. And so there would kind of be in the way that the flow of the week worked at the Cat Bird Seat is the chefs would usually change one or two or sometimes more dishes every single week. So the menu was changing really rapidly, so it was sort of on me. They would usually give me a description on a Saturday of the dish that was coming on the next week, and I sort of just had to scramble to come up with a pairing on the fly. And then sometimes I would taste the dish on when it was going live and maybe my pairing worked, maybe it didn’t.
And so there was this need to be really flexible and adaptable. And so for example, there was the wines from Sicily, very famous sort of natural wine producer in Sicily, and they had this really sort of wild, volatile quality to them. And I really wanted to pair a wine like that with this sort of vinegar rich pork dish that one of the chefs had come up with. And that wine wasn’t in Nashville. So I sort of made it myself by combining a sort of very classic Sicilian red wine , a Nero d’Avola I think it, was a with a red sour beer. And it also really gave me the flexibility that if that dish came out and it was a little more acidic than I was even anticipating, you could up the beer and if it was less, you could pull it back. And I think with that dish, I actually served it on the side and let the guests combine it themselves. And that also sort of provided this really unique interactive feature with the wine pairings.
Natalie MacLean (19:05):
So a glass of beer and a glass of wine, you’d serve them side by side. You weren’t pouring them together yourself.
Jane Lopes (19:10):
No, I think for that one, I let people do it themselves. And it was sort of like the beer was in a little sidecar so people could taste it themselves. But I did say these are meant to be combined. You can put a little bit in, you can put a lot in, see what works for you, see what you like.
Have fun. Yeah. And I think, it was fun. And definitely we had lots of regulars at that restaurant who sort of came to expect pairings like that.
Natalie MacLean (19:33):
That’s great. And then another one, I forget the exact combination, but you rinsed a wine glass with bourbon and then did you put Tokai in it or something else?
Jane Lopes (19:43):
Yeah, exactly. So it was this dish that was on the menu for a long time. It was like vanilla cake with, I’m not going to remember it exactly, but I think cherries. And then there was I think a bourbon ice cream and then also these little encapsulated bourbon pearls that literally you put in your mouth and it would burst open and be bourbon. It was delicious. And so I kind of just wanted to incorporate a few aspects of the dish. And so I used an atomizer and just would spray the glasses with bourbon and then pour in the Tokai. And it did a really nice job of. It sort of took the sweetness edge off of the Tokai. Obviously it was still quite sweet, but it just sort of gave it a little bit more of a savoury edge and that really worked with the dish and it was just fun. And again, I think you can’t sort of overstate the power of getting people to really engage in something like that. I think sometimes people do pairings and you’re a bit on autopilot and you’re just getting poured wine after wine. Sometimes it can be amazing, but I think it’s really fun to get people to kind of be like, whoa, what’s going on here? We’re doing something different. And just really engage with it and have fun with it.
Natalie MacLean (20:50):
Absolutely. Because done with food all the time, from molecular rising asparagus into foam to all kinds of other things. So why not with wine, have fun, be heretical and have fun. And for those who are not familiar with Tokai being this sort of sweet dessert wine from Hungary that has a beautiful peachy preserve, apricot kind of sweetness, which would’ve been I think beautiful with that dessert, but needing that bourbon edge as you said. Was there any other little unique combos that you can recall?
Jane Lopes (21:22):
Yeah, let’s see. Did a sparkling Rosé with Sake for a dish. That was really good.
Natalie MacLean (21:30):
And why did that work? What was the inspiration there?
Jane Lopes (21:33):
Oh, I don’t remember.
Natalie MacLean (21:36):
It’s okay. Many combinations ago.
Jane Lopes (21:39):
And I think again, it kind of spoke to. There probably just wasn’t a lot of, now you can find sparkling sake in a lot of places. I think at the time I kind of thought about sparkling sake for that dish because I wanted the texture of sparkling wine, but I wanted the flavours of the Sake. And there wasn’t access to that in Nashville so I was like I’ve got sparkling wine. I got Sake. Create it myself.
Natalie MacLean (22:00):
Just do it.
Jane Lopes (22:01):
Yeah. So I’m trying to remember other ones. I did Falernum, which is a clove lime rum liqueur. And I did that with a Pinot Gris. It was for a foie gras dish that I kind of wanted those flavours but not in a. I wanted it in the form of a wine. I wanted the texture and balance of a wine but with more of those flavours. So I just played around a bit.
Natalie MacLean (22:30):
That’s great. Alright, so let’s talk about your first book. Why did you name it Vignette?
Jane Lopes (22:35):
The working title for that book was Oenophilia, which the publisher sounded like some sort of disease and they’re not wrong. So it’s a book with a lot of individual stories about my life and how that relates to wine. So it really just came to me one day was Vignette. That’s perfect. Its short story but it’s also has this vine in the word. So I’m very happy. I kind of just happened upon that name. I don’t know where else we would’ve ended up. It ended up being perfect.
Natalie MacLean (23:11):
And it sounds feminine, too. Vignette sounds like the feminine version of something, whatever the masculine version might be or whatever. Veno. And you call it an emotional guide to wine, which I absolutely love. Tell us more about that. What do you mean by that?
Jane Lopes (23:25):
So yeah, it is really stories from my life starting kind of chronologically and my parents sort of drinking cheap, oaky Chardonnay when I was growing up and how I got into wine and then following me through starting my career and working in various places and taking these exams and meeting my now husband and our relationship. Wine kind of acted as, this maybe sounds bad, but sort of this constant companion. Not in I’m going to get drunk to forget my worry sort of way but in this sort of punctuating my life in really lovely ways. And I remember a lot of the bottles that I was drinking in the important moments of my life and how they helped bring me closer to my goals in my career, helped bring me closer to people in my life. And that was really something I wanted to impress upon people.
I think a lot of wine books are focused on the land, the people who are making wine, the history, which is all really wonderful. But I think something that I really want people to take away from wine is that it should just be this beautiful thing that can be a great part of your life, and you can have this really wonderful sort of emotional connection to even if you don’t want to learn all the vineyard names and soil types and grape percentages and all that stuff. That wine can just be this really kind of fun, lovely part of your life that doesn’t depend on it being super academic. But I did want to include an academic component as well because that was so important to my journey… learning about wine. So I can show some. This is that book kind of matching my…
Natalie MacLean (25:17):
There’s your book. And for those who are listening, we’ll put a link in the show notes. Yes, lovely.
Jane Lopes (25:22):
So after each chapter, there’s a piece of educational content and I really wanted them to be fun, approachable, maybe offer a different lens for the expert and offer approachable entry point for the novice. And so this is a flow chart I did after a chapter that talked about blind tasting and it just kind of breaks down blind tasting and not certainly as you can see not in a really basic way, but in a way that simplifies it a bit. I think we’ll talk about tasting a bit later, but it’s intimidating because people are like, oh am I supposed to taste the marigold in this? And if I don’t taste that aspect then I’m not going to know what it is.
And it kind of breaks it down to a little bit more of a simple flow chart of like, okay, if I get a red wine and I get jammy fruit off the bat, I’m looking for oak presence and that’s going to lead me to my next kind of tier on the flow chart. And basically you can make sort of a few key judgements about a wine and ascertain a lot of information about it where it doesn’t require you being able to identify all these crazy little nitpicky things. So there’s just a lot of stuff like that that I had.
Natalie MacLean (26:38):
And you illustrated this yourself, didn’t you? Throughout the book, you’ve also included a lot of illustrations.
Jane Lopes (26:43):
There are a lot of illustrations. They’re not mine. That is not a talent I have. It’s this woman named Robin Coucher who’s really incredible. So this is a sort of up to the camera strip about the master song process. And so there’s just a lot of fun sort of irreverence stuff but it’s that line where it’s not dumbing it down. It’s presenting a lot of high level information, but in a way that hopefully is a bit more fun and accessible.
Natalie MacLean (27:14):
You sort of touched on this, but just to clarify you said there’s three ways to read the book. Presumably you could go through it just for the wine education, all those bits that’ll teach you about wine. What are the other two ways? Just looking at your life Vignettes, the memoir aspect?
Jane Lopes (27:30):
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I definitely heard from a lot of people that they’re like, I kind of skipped over the wine education the first time around. I just wanted to read your story. And then the third way is sort of just as a list of wine suggestions. Every chapter has one to three bottles listed depending on the style. So the first chapter is Champagne and the bottle is Krug. And that’s because that bottle was integral to that story and it was about the Master Sommelier exam, how they always serve Krug at the reception. But then in the back I do a little compendium that lists some value bottles because some of them – obviously we’re not going out and drinking Krug every day or Chevalier Montrachet. So here’s a list of five bottles that if you want to taste Champagne and get a good idea for what this style is all about, here’s some more affordable bottles. And then went through for every single style in the book. So if you really wanted to just get a great sort of tasting education when it came to wine, the book really covers pretty much every style of wine you would want to taste.
Natalie MacLean (28:38):
Excellent. Wow, that sounds great. And then you also included resources for alcohol use disorder I guess they call it now, alcoholism, in your book. What inspired that?
Jane Lopes (28:49):
Yeah, I think wine to me has been this really sort of beautiful part of my life and I feel really lucky that it’s been able to be that. People who have alcohol use disorder, it’s not able to be a beautiful part of their life. I really do believe that it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a disease like any other. And I’ve had people close to me who have suffered from it. And in that case, most people in that situation have to not drink anything. That there really isn’t sort of a grey area. I do think there’s certainly alcohol abuse in our industry and at large that maybe doesn’t go as far as being alcohol use disorder, alcoholism. And there are definitely those cases just moderation can come into play. But I think that it’s really important to talk about that side of it. That it’s not all fun games. That alcohol can be abused and it can be dangerous and it can be fatal. And we just need to all be aware of how we’re using and abusing alcohol and make sure we stay on the healthy side of things.
Natalie MacLean (29:59):
Absolutely. No, I commend you for doing that. Do you think the wine industry encourages excessive drinking?
Jane Lopes (30:06):
I guess not overtly, right. There’s not this overt oh gosh you have to drink all the time and this is what’s right and you must do it. But it’s definitely very easy to fall into excessive drinking in the industry because there’s always a tasting or an after party or an event. And a lot of times it’s really tasty stuff and you want to socialize with people in your industry. And so it is easy, I think, to fall into excessive drinking. And so I think it is just important to be conscious of it.
I think our bodies are pretty intelligent and they tell us when something has crossed a line and to not being healthy anymore. And I think if we all pay attention to that, we’ll probably be able to. And I think it’s probably different for everybody. A healthy amount is, I know for me personally as I’ve gotten older, it’s become less and less and I’m very intentional about when and what I drink. And still I always want this to be an enjoyable, healthy part of my life. So I’m not kind of the person who’s going hard for the holidays and then taking January off. I’m kind of just the person who’s always sort of a very balanced moderate level. So it never sort of gets to a level where it feels even a little bit out of control.
Natalie MacLean (31:24):
And I think it’s important that we do talk about it. I talk about it in my new book, too, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising for the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. I just don’t think we acknowledge it enough and that people do look to us, those in the industry. I don’t about you, Jane, but I get a lot of texts and emails, especially from women but men as well and others saying how much is too much? Or looking at my consumption as some sort of guideline, well if she’s drinking that might must be okay. So I’m cognizant of that, too. I don’t. know, not example but norms you establish even within your writing or what you post on social media can have an impact.
Yeah. Okay, cool. What was the most surprising insight that you discovered while you’re writing this book?
Jane Lopes (32:10):
I think, and I detail some of my problems with anxiety and sort of just other health problems in my book. And I think one of the kind of great gifts that this book gave me was sort of, I guess, finding some purpose in that. I think I’d always viewed it as this thing that was really dragging me down and that how much better would my life would be with if I just didn’t have any of these problems at all. And this was the first time where I felt like I’ve created something in the world, not in spite of these problems, but because of them. And that was really powerful to feel like there was some purpose, some reason. If you don’t believe sort of, it all happens for a reason sort of thing, but just finding purpose in things. Where I found a way that this could both be really sort of cathartic for me and I could sort of get this out there.
I think one of the hardest parts about anxiety or depression, mental illness or just kind invisible illness, undiagnosed illness, is that not only do you have to deal with the symptoms you’re dealing with, but you also kind of have to deal with this hiding it from people because it’s hard to just say oh yeah I’m kind of sick but doctors don’t know why. And you kind of just have to hide it from people. And a lot of times it’s really hard, too. And so it was really valuable for me to just be able to like okay I’m not hiding this anymore. It’s just out there and…
It’s totally freeing. And then a lot of people reached out to me who were dealing with similar problems, especially in the wine industry, especially taking exams in the wine industry and dealing with these problems. And I don’t know if I was able to help those people, but I think just being able to talk about it with someone who knows what you’ve gone through is a big first step.
Natalie MacLean (34:07):
I think that’s healing. And again, maybe cliche, but to know you’re not alone because then you don’t think I’m just the weird one out here. It’s all me, my issues. And then to realize just how incredibly common some of these issues are. And until you talk about them, no one else feels comfortable talking about them. Then the floodgates open and it is so freeing. And what’s the most interesting thing someone has said about your book?
Jane Lopes (34:33):
Obviously there were lots of people reached out to me with kind of very kind words. And when I’m on the road a lot for my current job, I still definitely get, especially young women a lot of young women who are like oh your book got me through this really hard period or got me through this exam or made me want to work in this industry or made me want to keep working in this industry. And so all of those things were really heartening. The funniest thing was a review on Amazon, which I kind of stopped reading them. They’re mostly positive but of course there’s always going to be someone. And there was just this guy who was like, oh, lots of good wine information, but just skip over all the Millennial drama.
I was like okay no one’s ever accused me of Millennial drama before.
Natalie MacLean (35:21):
People will take what they want from the book and often what they say in those reviews has nothing to do with your book and everything about who they are and how they perceived your book.
Jane Lopes (35:30):
Totally, totally. I thought that one stuck with me. I thought that was funny.
Natalie MacLean (35:35):
It is. You could read mean tweets. I’ve always been tempted to read mean reviews but then I think I’ll probably just get a little aggravated if I start doing that.
So despite your anxiety, you agreed to be part of Esquire’s television series Uncorked, which as I mentioned, followed six New York City sommelier in pursuit of the Master Sommelier title. Why did you agree to be part of that series?
Jane Lopes (36:00):
Another great question that I definitely asked myself a lot. I think a lot of people watched the Somm movie, the first one.
Natalie MacLean (36:11):
The documentaries, yes.
Jane Lopes (36:12):
And especially a lot of women didn’t see their face in there. It followed four men. I know Jason Wise, the filmmaker very well, and he’s a good friend. And there were certain kind of circumstances that led to that being all men. And it wasn’t his intention so this is no shade on him. But I did think it was important that there was a female representation in that world.
And they had approached me and one other woman and she ended up dropping out. So I just felt like oh if I don’t do this, this is just going to be all men again. And I also kind of felt like well if I’m suffering from anxiety, maybe I just kind of put myself in the most high anxiety situations I possibly could and maybe this sort of is a form of exposure therapy that can help get me kind of over it. Which I don’t think was that effective.
Natalie MacLean (37:05):
Did it work?
Jane Lopes (37:06):
Natalie MacLean (37:07):
Jane Lopes (37:08):
But I think there’s different forms of anxiety. I think it’s chronic anxiety, generalized anxiety or acute anxiety, whatever it is, is very different than I’m afraid of spiders and I’m going to go let a tarantula crawl my hand to get over it. I think that’s very different than just someone who really suffers from anxiety. So yeah I think the exposure therapy works less well in the latter, but I’m still very glad I did it. I think (a) just good for a woman to be up there but then also you see the results of my anxiety in a very visual way in that show. And…
Natalie MacLean (37:50):
Jane Lopes (37:52):
There was one episode that was a competition. It was a top somm competition. And I had to double decant, which of course, kind. So you pour the bottle into a decanter and then you pour the decanter back into the bottle. And this is typically used – it can be used for aeration, it can be used for sediment, but of course then you need to rinse the bottle before you put wine back into it – so yeah, it can be done for a few different reasons, but for whatever reason, you want to get the wine back in the bottle so people can see the label so it’s not in just a sort of anonymous decanter. So they asked me to double decant.
Natalie MacLean (38:28):
This is during a service exam?
Jane Lopes (38:29):
Natalie MacLean (38:31):
Jane Lopes (38:33):
Of course. And I actually have a water jug here so I can kind of show you. Here’s a bottle of wine, so you pour the bottle of wine into the jug and then you have to pour the jug back into the bottle of wine.
Natalie MacLean (38:45):
Without dripping, presumably.
Jane Lopes (38:47):
Yes. And so when you’re decanting you’re sort of dealing with an opening at least that big, and then when you go back into the bottle a much smaller opening. So it is sort of a skill that requires a steady hand.
Natalie MacLean (39:02):
Hard enough to do it when you’re not being judged, I would imagine. But here you’ve got judges staring you down.
Jane Lopes (39:06):
Yes. And cameras right.
Natalie MacLean (39:11):
Right. And competitors. And
Jane Lopes (39:13):
So you can see my hand shaking. I haven’t gone back and watched it in a while, but in my sort of sense memory, pretty violently shaking. But I didn’t spill a drop which is pretty miraculous. And it kind of made me feel like, okay this sucks; it was really hard; it was really stressful; but I could still get the job done.
And that was a little bit sort of heartening where it was like, okay this is going to be something I have to deal with but I can still get the job done. And also it resulted from that, one of the judges actually reached out to me and they were like, hey have you ever tried beta blockers? They really help with shaking. And I was like, why didn’t someone tell me this sooner? And so this is not a long-term anxiety medication, it’s just something you would take. I would take a half an hour before a service exam or a competition or something and it actually really helps.
Natalie MacLean (40:09):
And a lot of people do. Speakers, even television actors and so on. It slows your heart rate and it just gives you a bit of a calm. It doesn’t deaden you but it’s a nice effect, too, if you’re shaking and feeling really uptight.
Jane Lopes (40:22):
Totally. And I actually found no other kind of effects on me except it really just did help with the shaking. So that was another good thing. I think it’s one of those things where no one can help you with your problems until they know what they are, where it was like this came out and then someone was able to help me. When in the past, I would’ve never told anyone really tried to keep that hidden. When it did come out, I was able to get help.
Natalie MacLean (40:47):
Was this the one, the competition or was it the Master Sommelier exam where you actually tried to self-medicate by taking some Sudafed?
Jane Lopes (40:56):
That was my Advanced exam. And I actually was in a very good place with my anxiety during my Advanced exam. I think I was sort of normal nerves but I was sleeping through the night. I was kind of feeling really good going into that exam. I was having the normal sommelier anxiety about your nasal passages, which if you ever go to one of these exams there’s like a neti pot in every room. Everyone’s just doing everything they can to keep their nasal passages clear. And so I was feeling like I was getting a little stuffy and I was just a little nervous about it. And this guy from Canada was there and he had some Sudafed, the real stuff that you can’t get over the counter in the US. Which is of course a stimulant. This is what’s used to make meth. That’s why you can’t get it over the counter in the US and…
Natalie MacLean (41:47):
Those Canadians, they’re all up with their drugs.
Jane Lopes (41:51):
It may not be the case anymore, I don’t know.
Natalie MacLean (41:54):
No, no, we’re still taking it up here.
Jane Lopes (42:01):
I kind of just didn’t really realize it was a stimulant. And I don’t do well with stimulants. I can’t do caffeine. And I took a Sudafed and I was like both my heart was racing but I also felt like I could barely keep my eyes open. So this was through the morning exams and through lunchtime and I was like what is going on? And I eventually kind of realized it was probably that, but I ended up going to the hospital. I passed out and couldn’t feel my limbs and finally regained sensation in my hand. And I was in the hotel and I called the front desk. I was like hey I can’t really move. I mean, it was really embarrassing. They sent paramedics, came up, put me on a stretcher. I had just gotten out of the shower. I think I was in a t-shirt in my underwear, pushed me through the lobby of the hotel.
All the Master Sommelier are like what’s going on?
Oh my gosh.
And this was the night before the exam started but it kind of left my system pretty quickly. I went home later that evening from the hospital. And in a sense was I think in hindsight at least, it was sort of good. I sort of was like, well, you know what? I’m not going to stay up till 4:00 AM studying and cramming information. I’m going to get a good night’s sleep. I’m just going to feel as good as I can waking up tomorrow morning. So that was a unique experience.
Natalie MacLean (43:30):
Absolutely. And for those listening, I mean, you want to keep your nasal passages clear whether the neti pots or the Sudafed or antihistamines, because you’ve got to be on point to taste a lot of wines and all the tiny subtleties. I mean, your exam marks are on the line. There is a blind tasting component to the Master Sommelier. So if people aren’t familiar with the exam itself, that’s kind of the motivation there to keep your passages clear.
Jane Lopes (43:56):
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Natalie MacLean (44:04):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Jane. Here are my takeaways. Working in a restaurant is incredibly grueling, both physically and emotionally. Those in it are primed to excessive drinking, and that’s why the hospitality industry, which includes both restaurants and wineries, has the highest rate of substance abuse among any profession. Number two, Jane makes some excellent points about why it’s hard to get a good wine education, both in terms of the cost and in the variety of wines you need to taste, especially if you want to make it your profession. And number three, I love her approach in her first book as an emotional guide to wine to deepen your pleasure of it. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Jane links to her website and books, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, where you can order my book online no matter where you live, and links to my upcoming wine tasting and book launch events. That’s all in the show [email protected] slash to five three. Email me if you have a sip tip question, or if you’ve read my book are in the process of reading [email protected]. I would love to hear from you. If you missed episode 168, go back and take a listen. I talk about wine’s, buzz Italians, Italy’s food culture, and Audrey Hepburn with Jamie Lewis. I’ll share a short clip with you now to wet your appetite
Jaime Lewis (45:36):
To be a writer about cars, a writer about tech, a writer about alternative medicine, whatever it is, you first must be a writer because you cannot communicate about anything unless you have the skills, the creativity, and I think the curiosity to do that, and perhaps a tiny bit of the mental illness that helps to draw connections between disparate things is an important part of the craft of writing. But a big part of why I transitioned out of the drinking it’s impossible to keep up wine I’ve heard before, is the number one consumer product with the most skews of any product. People are opening up different wineries, they’re starting new labels every year. It doubles. Well, I can’t keep up with that. No, it’s true. I don’t work in a wine shop. I don’t have close ties to anybody who would be willing to share with me at a wine shop, and I’m the mother of two and a very busy person. I can’t possibly crack that many bottles at a time.
Natalie MacLean (46:38):
If you like this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines tips and stories we shared you won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Jane Lopes. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that touches an emotional cord with you. 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. So subscribe for free now at natalie mclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.