Online Mobbing, Dark Humour and Change in the Wine Industry with Luke Whittall of the Sipster’s Wine Podcast



How do you deal with the mob mentality of social media when it’s a part of your work? How can you find the humour in the dark moments of life? What has changed in the past ten years in the wine industry when it comes to inequality and discrimination?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Luke Whittall, host of The Sipster’s Wine Podcast.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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  • What makes Wine Witch on Fire closer to fiction than nonfiction, despite being a memoir?
  • Which series of events in 2012 ended up as the worst vintage of my life?
  • What was it about that initial incident in 2012 that caused the issue to escalate so much?
  • What are some of the challenges of working on social media and balancing your personal values?
  • Does social media encourage a mob mentality?
  • What has changed in awareness and the responses to harassment on social media in the past 10 years?
  • Has my writing changed as a result of my experiences?
  • How am I able to inject humour into the darkest moments of my life?


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About Luke Whittall

Luke Whittall has worked in cellars, vineyards, and wine shops since 2005. He has authored or co-authored 4 books on wine and is currently a wine instructor at Okanagan College. HIs most recent book, The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try BC Wines, Volume 2 (Touchwood Editions 2023) follows up on the success of volume 1 of The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try BC Wines, and continues to mark a new direction in wine writing. It features more of the most amazing wines ever produced in British Columbia. His first book, Valleys of Wine: A Taste of British Columbia’s Wine History was published in 2019 and he co-authored the 6th edition of The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide with John Schreiner in 2020.




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Luke Whittall (00:00):
Congratulations on your new book. It’s a fantastic read. I’m not a fast reader, but I could not stop. It really turned into a drama that pulled me along.

Natalie MacLean (00:10):
It really was a mind blowing experience to learn how to write a completely new genre. You found it read like a drama. A memoir should whisk people away into a story where they feel like they’re part of it. They’re going up and down on the rollercoaster with the main character that’s the author, and experiencing those feelings and the tension and everything else with her.

Natalie MacLean (00:41):
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 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 240. How do you deal with the mob mentality of social media when it’s part of your work? How can you find humour in the dark moments of life? And what has changed in the past 10 years in the wine industry when it comes to inequality and discrimination? In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions and more in my chat with Luke Whitthall on the Sipster’s Wine Podcast. Luke is the author of four books, including the Pocket Guide to 50 Must Try BC Wines. He’s also a wine instructor at Okanagan College. Luke is interviewing me on his podcast.

Now. A quick update on my memoir. Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. In yesterday’s National Post, the critic Pat St. Germaine reviewed the book “A few truly icky, sexist pigs won’t have any trouble identifying themselves in award-winning wine writer Natalie MacLean’s memoir, neither will you. She names names. MacLean faced down those trolls, then got on with her remarkably successful life. The book isn’t about revenge, but hey doesn’t living well make for a nice finish” And I love that play on finish. So I’ll link to the full review in the show notes.

By the way, many readers, including many men, have mentioned in their reviews that this memoir is not a rant against all men. Here’s a review from Suzanne Garrett who lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “I had read so many reviews of this book online that I thought I’d tried out for myself. I’m so glad I did. No, this isn’t a man hater book, though there are challenges that we as women have had to face. There are also lots of interesting facts about wine I never knew”.

I call out only a few individuals in the book. Several people asked me why I use the real names of the men who were involved in the online mobbing. Well, at first I had actually changed all of their names as I didn’t want to give them more attention in the book. That’s the oxygen that trolls live on. However, after several lawyers reviewed the manuscript, they told me that if I quoted what these men said without using their real names I would be violating their copyright. And that would be ironic in a book about misunderstanding copyright. So I use their real names and I believe now that they deserve full credit for what they said and did.

Meanwhile, Toronto Life Magazine published an in-depth interview about the book with this provocative lead in “The longtime oenophile dishes on her candid memoir that documents her dealings with sexism, alcoholism, and nasty competition inside the tight-knit wine and wine drinking industry.” Is it also ironic that the magazine’s wine columnist was one of the men named in the book? Who knows? I mean, sometimes I just have to throw my hands up in the air. Toronto Life posted the story on Facebook and there’s been a lot of interesting comments on it. A link to that in the show notes as you’re welcome to weigh in with your own thoughts.

If you’ve read the book, I’d 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, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread the message of hope, justice, and truth in the book. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at Okay, on with the show.

Luke Whittall (05:08):
This week’s conversation is a biggie. Natalie MacLean is one of Canada’s most recognizable wine personalities. She’s appeared regularly on tv, newspapers, and magazine columns as well as online through her website. She has written two other books previously that I know you’ve seen in the wine sections of bookstores before. Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape Glass and then Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines.

Her new book is called Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much. It’s a memoir and it’s out now and available everywhere, but she is offering some juicy bonuses if you buy the book on her website at So how did she find out about my little podcast? I asked her actually about this, and apparently somebody as an early preview reader of her book suggested my name to her.

And so I woke up one morning about a month ago with an email from Natalie herself. So thank you to whoever it is that suggested me. That’s really nice of you. So she sent me a PDF copy of her book and honestly, I was hooked. It was a really gripping read and bravely deals with a lot of really heavy topics, ones that most wine books would never touch and frankly actively avoid talking about them all together. This includes things like divorce, obviously, which is in the title, but also alcohol abuse, sexuality, misogyny, and online bullying. These are all themes in this memoir and it makes it very relatable to people and on a lot of different levels. So of course there’s wine tidbits sprinkled all through the book, which is wine is a part of her life, and so it’s going to be a part of the memoir’s as well too, of course. So here we go. My conversation with Natalie MacLean. Enjoy.


Thank you for being a guest on the Sipster’s podcast. This is really cool and congratulations on your new book. It’s a fantastic read. I’m not a fast reader, but I could not stop. And you call it a memoir, and I started thinking when I read it, I thought of it as a memoir, but it really turned into a drama. I mean, it really kind of reads like a drama. And I’m not saying that in a sort of ooh drama kind of way. It’s really fascinating for me. Anyways, it pulled me along and so I forgot that yeah, it is actually a memoir in that way.

Natalie MacLean (07:39):
And I love to hear when people say that. Memoir does have to be true, but it shares more in common with fiction than non-fiction. So my first two books Red, White and Drunk All Over and Unquenchable were non-fiction books about wine and traveling around the world. This one is also true, but the techniques I had to develop made it a completely different animal writing wise. So fiction, what’s important in fiction? Plot, character development, narrative arc, conflict, resolution, all the story beats. And I felt like by the time we had finished all the edits on this – 97 of them – I felt like I got a…

Luke Whittall (08:22):
I got off light with my last book. Damn.

Natalie MacLean (08:26):
Well, I’m just obsessive too. It’s mostly me, not the editors. It’s like if I had my choice or my preference, I’d be running after the manuscript on its way to the printer going just one more thing, one more thing. But it really was a mind blowing kind of experience to try to learn how to write this a completely new genre. So I’m glad. Circling back to your comment that you found it read a drama because it should, a memoir should, it sticks to the truth, but it should whisk people away into a story where they feel like they’re part of it. They’re going up and down on the rollercoaster with the narrator, the main character that’s the author, and experiencing those feelings and the tension and everything else with her.

Luke Whittall (09:11):
Maybe at this point for listeners who are not aware of what happened, can you recap the things that happened in 2012? I mean, it was early on in social media. And I know for me, because I do remember when this happened. And as I was reading it, I’m like wait a minute. I remember the original incident being there and I believe I actually made a comment on there too at one of the early stages. And I know that the comment was taken down, and I really hope I wasn’t adding any fuel to that fire because I know that for me personally, I was fresh off of my own battle of trying to get one of these content sites to take down stuff that they were using for mine. Do you remember they had those little aggregator things that people would put tweets and it was like the Realtor Daily is now out and click here. And it wasn’t a big site that it was just one of these little services and they were everywhere. And I always found them really annoying and somebody was taking a lot of the stuff that I was doing. So I had just had a big set of emails with them, not anything in public, but, and I remember hearing about this and going, well, let’s find out more about it. And I think I posted something, but I don’t remember what it was or anything like that.

But do you think people might have been a little bit heightened about that kind of thing at that point? I mean, as you said, there was no guardrails for that kind of thing in social media at that point.

Natalie MacLean (10:27):
As you say, there were a lot of content aggregators. I actually didn’t, doing quoting the reviews from the government site the LCBO in Ontario until I got another Google alert a year earlier where another wine site had been quoting my reviews on their site. So the idea to do this didn’t actually come to me until that Google alert popped up and I thought, okay well a couple things. It must be okay because no one’s saying anything about this. They’re quoting it from a government site, must be in the public domain. That was also wrong. And they haven’t asked me, so it must be kosher. And so since I’m a glass half full kind of woman, not the other way, I didn’t approach them to remove my wine reviews. Instead, I just started quoting the reviews from the government site as well.

Luke Whittall (11:17):
That’s just how things sort of rolled at that point, it seemed.

Natalie MacLean (11:20):
Yeah, exactly. I’ve become certainly more educated about this, but the amount of time we spent on that particular question or issue, and as I said, I just ended up deleting any reviews except for my own from my site, was a tiny percentage of this whole thing in terms of how it spiralled.

Luke Whittall (11:41):
And it spiraled pretty quick.

Natalie MacLean (11:43):
It did. It did. Now from South Africa to New York. It was like oh my God everywhere on websites, in newspapers. It just took on its own life. And people talk about wanting their post to go viral, this is not the way you want.

Luke Whittall (11:59):
Yeah, this is not what they mean when they say that. So now other than I know Jancis Robinson weighed in, I don’t know when that was though, but you did mention that. Were there any other female writers that were involved in either spearheading the initial approach or was it largely male? And then did you get support in any way when they realized that hey this is not about the original issue anymore. This is now something, this is very different and this is an attack.

Natalie MacLean (12:28):
It was almost all men. I can’t remember a woman commenting on that blog post in the comments section. And Jancis emailed. She didn’t comment on that blog. She emailed in response to another male writer who had emailed her and copied more than 30 editors and writers around the world about the reviews even after I’d fixed them. So there was no acknowledgement that I was actually fixing them. So she gets an email and it looks like oh my God what’s happening? And so she just replied to the email and then I replied to her saying I was already in the process of removing all the reviews, not even trying to fix because there is such a thing as fair use.  You can quote other reviews, but it was so beyond that, I didn’t even want to go there.

Luke Whittall (13:19):
Well, when you say that you were fixing it, this isn’t just sort of adding in a search tool and going find and replace and delete all this stuff. This is actually hard. We’re going through every single post. Is that what that is? I mean, this is 10 years ago now, so the technology wasn’t quite the same to be able to do this kind of stuff. Was this a month long or months long project to do this?

Natalie MacLean (13:40):
I had to do this by hand to edit it, and that’s fine. I accepted that responsibility. But there was just no room to wait for a response, even though it said this is what’s happening already and just give me time to get these all off. No one wanted to wait for that or these commenters did not want to wait for that.

Luke Whittall (13:58):
It just didn’t seem it was happening fast enough for them. But again, it wasn’t really the point, I guess in some ways, too.

Natalie MacLean (14:05):
Not after the fact. They had moved of that because that issue was resolved. What were they left to deal with? Well, it was just going after me individually.

Luke Whittall (14:15):
I’ve always found that social media, and this is something I was not comfortable with early on, but nobody was really talking about it around that time. But I’ve always found, and I did a podcast about this a couple weeks ago about social media not really lining up for me personally with my values. And so there’s a bit of a sort of group mentality or a mob kind of mentality that happens with social media and in some ways that can come for some interesting things. Like Dan Albas, the Member of Parliament for Penticton here, who was able to get through Bill C-311 in Parliament later in June in 2013. He called it the Twitterati when I spoke to him about it. Because a lot of people on social media really got behind that Bill and were very public tagging other Members of Parliament and things like that to get this bill passed, which he credited with helping to get that Bill passed.

But in doing that, are we as social media kind of unleashed this kind of easy peasy mob and squeezy and that doesn’t make sense, but you know what I mean? Does it release that kind of, or does that bring that out in us more? And does it still happen? I mean it did then clearly, but does that still happen now do you think?

Natalie MacLean (15:22):
Absolutely. There’s both pro and con to social media. I think increasingly we’re seeing the dark side, whether it’s young girls responding to Instagram and the problems they’re having with self-image or the pile ones. Brighter aspects, social media can be a force for good, like changing a Bill that needs to be changed or giving voice to people who are oppressed in a regime that will not allow for free speech. But too often social media and free speech are abused as excuses to say anything about anyone that you like and hide behind it as an unknown or as a cloaked with your identity.

People don’t have to stand up and be responsible for what they say. They say things they would never say to someone in person. And so social media is a really mixed bag, but I’ve learned to manage it because I think everyone has to manage social media if you’re on it for the sake of your own mental health, whether that’s blocking negative accounts, just not reading certain streams, choosing wisely which channels or which platforms that on which you’re going to participate. Everyone has to make their choices, including how much time you want to spend on social media, because that’s the big thief for all of us. I mean you probably heard this if you are not paying for something, then you are the product. They’re selling our attention spans, our eyeballs, our time. And that’s I think, one of the greatest losses that we all have when it comes to social media.

Luke Whittall (16:53):
Yeah. Has anything changed in that time? I mean it’s been 10, almost 11 years now since this. Do you see any changes in that? And I mean there are positive things like Me Too wouldn’t have come out without social media.

Natalie MacLean


Luke Whittall

But is there any change? Are we now largely accepting of that kind of dynamic happening and now assume that it happens or it could happen?

Natalie MacLean (17:13):
Yeah, I think we’ve become numbed. So I don’t know if that’s a good thing in that if you get a pile on it perhaps, I don’t know, not the end of your career, although it still can feel like it. But I think in terms of what changed, especially if we look at the wine world. In comparison, the restaurant industry is far more organized and has had these a greater awareness of these issues publicized with sexual harassment by celebrity chefs exposed. But I think the wine industry is much smaller and less formal. Most wineries in Canada and the US have fewer than 20 people working there. And most don’t have an HR department let alone a harassment policy. And even when there is one, it’s often not communicated well to employees.

As you know Luke, the entry level wine making sommelier positions, there are apprenticeships. They’re usually one-on-one with a mentor. These employees, entry level employees, are often young so there’s a power imbalance. They’re highly dependent on their mentor for their next job and a referral. So these power differentials can be easily manipulated. Most of them aren’t, but it creates an environment where they easily can be. And even a 2018 survey of UK hospitality people said 89% of female workers had been experienced on the job sexual harassment. And that doesn’t include other forms of power abuse. And as you know, in 2020 the New York Times published Julia Moskin’s scathing multipage article about the wine industry’s rampant sexism. That’s 2020 only a couple years ago with 21 women reporting they had been sexually harassed, manipulated, and insulted by male Master Sommelier. The fallout was swift. So the awareness is increasing. But the short answer is yes, that’s changed. A lot still needs to be done.

Luke Whittall (19:07):
The fallout with swift from the Court of Master Sommeliers, but then we haven’t really heard about it very much over the last couple years either.

Natalie MacLean (19:13):
No, it’s sort of died down and I dunno what’s happening now, so I can’t comment on that. But you know.

Luke Whittall (19:20):
It’s interesting how that happens. So after going through your experiences, I’m always curious for writers – and this is maybe less a wine question, more a writing question now – but has your written voice changed as a result of doing this? I mean, it’s a memoir. You know, you wrote about wine for years, and this is already a little bit different. But do you approach things differently now than you did before? And has it changed the way that you do sort of, for lack of a better expression, transcribe your thoughts into text?

Natalie MacLean (19:51):
Sure. Well, I think it does blend wine and writing. Humour has always been my way of dealing with tough times. And maybe that comes from my Celtic roots. Because I think as we talked about, we need to find levity even in darker moments. I remember the comment at one funeral of one of my deceased relatives and someone said, he’s still showing up late. And I don’t want to trivialize the serious subjects in this book in Wine Witch on Fire but we need comic relief in life, in writing, everywhere.

Luke Whittall (20:22):
Sorry, have you used your Air Miles yet?

Natalie MacLean (20:26):
(Laughter) You’re referring to my epitaph based on wine purchases. So in the book I say I probably have 300,000 Air Miles based on wine purchases. On my tombstone it would say too bad she expired before they did.

Luke Whittall (20:42):
That’s the thing, it’s kind of a dark humor that you use in this, which is fantastically funny. I find it funny, but that’s just me.

Natalie MacLean (20:49):
Well good. You’re my people. But I always say, well given that the subtitle of this book is brought to you by all the dismal letter Ds. It’s Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. My publisher’s marketing team insisted we take out depression, destitution, delirium. They said we’re not going to be able to sell this. No, I’m kidding. But for all that, it’s a hopeful book. There is a lot of humour in it, but I think what’s changed for me is that my humour used to be very quippy. And Red, White, and Drunk All Over, it was kind of a defence mechanism for keeping people out and not revealing my feelings. And now I hope I have a gentler approach both to humour and writing that lets people in with maybe a softer chuckle.

Luke Whittall (21:39):
Used it more of a deflection than before?

Natalie MacLean (21:41):
Exactly. And with the lens of time, I can step back. They say comedy is pain plus time. So with time I’ve been able to stand back and see some of the more absurd things that happened that do border on comical. Now, someone reading this book for the first time might think oh my gosh how can you inject humour there? Even though they do appreciate it, but that’s because they’re reading the book for the first time. Whereas I’ve had that benefit of 10 years to look back and say here’s what I learned. Here’s what I can recognize now is bizarre, both in terms of my own behaviour and others. Here’s what doesn’t make sense. And so that it all comes together. So I’d say that’s a very important piece of how things have changed since writing this book.

Luke Whittall (22:27):
That’s amazing. That’s really cool.

Natalie MacLean (22:34):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Luke. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with him, links to his website, books and podcast, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, where you can order my memoir online no matter where you live, and that controversial Toronto Life Magazine interview that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode. That’s all in the show notes at Email me if you have a sip, tip, or question at  [email protected].

If you missed episode nine, go back and take a listen. I chat with Ezra Cipes of BC’s Summerhill Winery about whether vegan and vegetarian wines are better for you. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Ezra Cipes (23:24):
Our vineyard in Kelowna is certified by Demeter as a biodynamic vineyard. It has extra rules above and beyond organic. So organic sort of the baseline, which means that there’s no synthetics being used basically. And then there’s guidance on things they want to see about soil preservation and biodiversity and things like that. But biodynamics really codifies that you have to have at least 10% of farm given over to nature habitat. And we have. I think about 20 or 25% of our farms that’s wetland. We have a dry land, we have a meadow habitat, and then you really view the farm as an ecosystem. You integrate animals and animal manure, and you really focus on making your own fertilizers from things you grow on the farm. We make a horsetail tea for mildew control. We make large amounts of compost.
And we add these herbal preparations to the compost to aid processes of decomposition. We spray basically a bacterial broth all over the farm that aids the life force, if you will, in the soil, but basically the soil food web.

Natalie MacLean (24:28):
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you’d know who’d be interested in the wines tips and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when I continue my chat with Luke. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that makes going online a little bit more palatable.

You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret, full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at natalie Meet me here next week. Cheers.