Which Canadian wine regions should you add to your must-try and must-visit lists? What makes some of the wine designations and certifications problematic? Why do stories about witches run through my new book Wine Witch on Fire?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Mark Lenzi and Kim Simone, hosts of The Wonderful World of Wine Podcast.
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- Why do I identify with the witch theme in Wine Witch on Fire?
- What was the inciting incident that kicked off the worst year of my life?
- Looking back, would I have handled the situation differently?
- Was it difficult for me to write this book and why bother?
- Why did I choose to approach my writing with an entertaining, conversational style?
- How did I work wine writing into Wine Witch on Fire, with it being a memoir?
- Which Canadian wine regions should you add to your must-try and must-visit lists?
- What was it like to lose my sense of smell and why is it so powerful?
- Why are some of the wine designations and certifications problematic?
- What are some of the things I do to remain intentional about how much I’m drinking?
- Who can benefit from the Wine Witch on Fire Book Club Guide?
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Witches resonate with me because their strength comes from within and not from external validation. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
Wine was my calling card to talk to really interesting people around the planet. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
People don’t realize how big of an impact losing your sense of smell can have. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
It’s really important to ask yourself what was the thought before the thought that said, I need a glass of wine. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Mark Lenzi & Kim Simone
Kim Simone is passionate about wine and making it accessible, engaging, and fun. With a career of almost two decades in the wine business, she most recently was the Corporate Sommelier for the Legal Sea Foods restaurant group where she assisted Master of Wine Sandy Block curate the wine lists for multiple restaurant concepts and developed educational materials for their staff. Her winding career path has included a stint selling wine wholesale for Ruby Wines, hosting an AIRBNB Experience focusing on the beverage culture of Colonial Boston, and teaching at Boston University.
Mark Lenzi is the owner of Franklin Liquors and founder of The Franklin Wine Club. Mark is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Spirits (CSS) by the Society of Wine Educators. The first in Massachusetts to hold a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) title from the San Francisco Wine School, Mark holds several designations as a French Wine Scholar(FWS)/instructor, Spanish Wine Scholar (SWS) by the Wine Scholar Guild, Italian Wine Specialist (IWS) by the North American Sommelier Association, Oregon Wine Expert (OWE) by the Napa Valley Wine Academy, Italian Wine Maestro (IWM) Vinitaly International (First USA Class), and Italian Wine Scholar (IWS*) by The Wine Scholar Guild.
Kim and Mark currently co-host the radio program and podcast The Wonderful World of Wine.
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- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- Wine Witch on Fire Free Companion Guide for Book Clubs
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- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 168: Wine’s Buzz, Italy’s Food Culture and Audrey Hepburn’s Influence with Jaime Lewis
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Natalie MacLean (00:00):
So you might think from the title, Wine Witch On Fire, this is a book about an angry woman who drinks a lot of wine and owns a lot of cats, but it’s actually not. So witches do resonate with me because their strength comes from within and not from external validation. They also embody the unity of women, the power of the feminine, and the healing connection to nature.
All my favorite childhood stories were always about witches, both the good and the bad, especially the Wizard of Oz. I was entranced by these opposing forces as a child that I later realized were inside me as well. I even loved the straight up badass White Witch of Narnia. Her wickedness was a very, very satisfying outlet for a tiny Miss Goodie two shoes and I was cackling inside along with her but now of course I do realize how damaging stereotypes of women can be. But I think it is time to reclaim the word witch and what it means. And for me, that’s a wise woman who’s been through the fire and knows the measure of her powers.
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 246. Which Canadian wine regions should you add to your must try and must visit lists? What makes some wine professional certifications problematic? And why do stories about witches run through my new book, Wine Witch on Fire? In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions and more during my chat with Mark Lindsay on his podcast, the Wonderful World of Wine.
In my book I write that I’ve long been fascinated with literary witches who didn’t care what labels society put on them. From the three sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the women in The Witches of Eastwick, they were persecuted for their powers or more likely their misunderstood and feared skills. Even Maleficent in the 2014 Disney film was originally a good fairy with powers over plants and herbs until the man she loved most betrayed her. Same old playbook. There’s a happy ending though. She regained her strength through the Phoenix, the mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor. Maleficent’s Kiss, not the one from the Prince, wakes up Sleeping Beauty. What famous literary witches do you recall, perhaps from childhood stories or other cultural experiences that you’ve had? Let me know.
Here’s a review of the book from Eva Krasinski in Toronto. “This is a memoir worth reading.I continued to read and reread the sections that hit close to home. It was uplifting in the most positive way. Thank you for writing this, Natalie.” You’re welcome and thank you Eva for reading it.
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 in the book. I’ll include a link in the show notes to all the retailers worldwide at NatalieMacLean.com/246. Okay on with the show.
Mark Lenzi (04:12):
Hello again everybody, and welcome to the wonderful World of Wine. We are Kim and Mark, you’re hosts for the show. How are you today, Kim?
Kim Simone 04:18):
I am wonderful. How are you doing, Mark?
Mark Lenzi (04:19):
Everything is great. And today we welcome a very special guest, Natalie MacLean. Welcome Natalie.
Natalie MacLean (04:29):
Hey Kim. Mark, it’s great to be here with you. I’m really looking forward to our conversation.
Mark Lenzi (04:33):
We’re so happy to have you today. Natalie is an author who has won the James Beard Foundation Journalism Award. And if you’re not in the wine world, just Google Natalie and you will see she also does so many other things. TV, podcasts, wine reviews, apps, and so much more. You can get all her information at her website, NatalieMacLean.com. And today we are here to talk about her newly released book, Wine Witch on Fire, a memoir of quote “the worst vintage of her life”. And Natalie, I think that using vintage description of your book was very ingenious.
Natalie MacLean (05:12):
I can’t help wordplay, so I’ll be milking the wine metaphors throughout our chat. Just be prepared.
Mark Lenzi (05:18):
And I’ve read both of your prior wine books, Red White and Drunk All Over and Unquenchable, and this book was very powerful, Natalie. And you had a witch theme for the book and you quote “their strength comes from within”. Can you tell us why this theme and how you can relate to it?
Natalie MacLean (05:36):
So you might think from the title, Wine Witch on Fire, this is a book about an angry woman who drinks a lot of wine and owns a lot of cats, but it’s actually not. So witches do resonate with me because as you said, Mark, their strength comes from within and not from external validation. They also embody the unity of women, the power of the feminine and the connection to nature. All my favorite childhood stories were always about witches, both the good and the bad. So especially the Wizard of Oz and that battling duo of Glinda, the good witch. and the wicked witch of the West who was never actually named in the book. So I was entranced by these opposing forces is a child that I later realized were inside me as well. I even loved the straight up badass White Witch of Narnia. Her wickedness was a very, very satisfying outlet for a tiny Miss Goodie two shoes, and I was cackling inside along with her, but now of course I do realize how damaging stereotypes of women can be.
But I think it is time to reclaim the word witch and what it means. And for me, that’s a wise woman who’s been through the fire and knows the measure of her powers.
Kim Simone (06:43):
That fire that you went through that you describe in the book was an experience that happened to you in 2012, I believe, where you were experiencing, was it a lawsuit? I don’t remember exactly right now. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about what kind of set off this experience for you of online bullying, harassment, whatever we want to call it. But it was a really, I think, traumatic experience for you as a wine professional, as a woman, as a writer. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about what happened to you and sort of the impetus for this book?
Natalie MacLean (07:21):
Sure, Kim. So there was no lawsuit then or ever, but I’ll put the story into some context. So it was just before Christmas and my family had gone to bed. I was still checking my email one last time and it was just before midnight. So I’ve come to call it My Nightmare Before Christmas. And a Google alert popped up in my inbox with the headline Natalie MacLean World’s Best Wine Writer or Content Thief. And my heart just dropped and the text was blurring and merging together. And I was thinking, what is this? Where did this come from? And I clicked through to a large wine and spirits website and there was a long rant about me with phrases that felt like they were burning into my retinas. And this wasn’t simply a nasty post. I was being accused of the one thing a writer dreads the most.
So doctors lose their license for malpractice. Lawyers are disbarred for misrepresentation. Writers get their careers canceled for copyright issues. And I should just clarify that the accusation wasn’t about plagiarism, but rather fair use in quoting another review to provide more context about a wine just as Rotten Tomatoes does for a movie. But many people really confuse these concepts, but there’s a huge difference. Anyway, I was the first to comment on the blog post. I explained what I was already changing or that I was already changing the way I quoted other reviews as that wasn’t something that was noted in the post, nor did they contact me to ask me about it though they did find the time to contact a wide range of other wine writers for comment. And I naively thought that would answer their concerns and that would be that we’d all go home.
Oh, so wrong. That accusation ignited the debate online, but the bonfire really started to escalate when the trolls then focused their attack on me as a woman. And it devolved into taking my body apart piece by piece in public and then that spread to other websites and newspapers around the world. And some people at the time said just ignore it. But when you earn most of your living online, you can no more just turn it off than say a surgeon can operate outside the hospital. In hindsight, I wonder should I have posted a response? Yes and no. I did address their concerns. However, in doing so, I think I added fuel to the fire. I posted once more before I realized I could not say anything that would appease them. And the frenzy carried on.
Kim Simone (09:45):
From reading your book and those passages around your sort of struggle with what do you do, what do you not do, it almost feels like there was no right answer because when you’re being attacked kind of from all sides and there’s no real way that you feel like this is going to help solve the problem. And this was 10 years ago, what do you feel like you could have done something differently? I honestly don’t know what you could have done differently.
Natalie MacLean (10:12):
I don’t think so. The only thing I could have done differently was to better manage my own mental and physical health because that really deteriorated as a result because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. What’s the next thing that will be said or am I going to get canceled permanently? We weren’t even talking much about cancel culture back then, but this was that. And I thought am I going to lose all my ability to earn an income? I was supporting my elderly mother, my teenage son. I had just gone through a divorce. So it really hit me hard. And losing sleep, losing too much weight, just it really had a physical impact. But could I have done something differently? I don’t think so other than being able to see into the future and calm myself down. But at the time, it was very real. The implications were huge, the stakes were huge, and I just didn’t know how things would play out.
Mark Lenzi (11:05):
I’m sure you’re going to hear so much feedback, Natalie, that people are taking what you wrote and what you experienced and adjusting what they do and thinking about it. But like myself, just being in small business I always worry about posting things, reposting things. And when I write things am I offending somebody or am I violating something? When you write now and do all that you do, is it still in the back of your mind that oh my God should I do this? Or do you just do what you want to do? Are you worried more about what you’re writing?
Natalie MacLean (11:40):
Well, I write wine reviews and books for my people, my clan, and I always have, and I always will. They know who I am and have come to trust me over the last 20 years. So I’m not nervous about that as that has been consistent despite what happened. However, Mark, it was extremely difficult to write this book. MRI brain scans have shown that when someone who survived a near fatal car accident reads a script to trigger those memories, their brain activity is similar to actually experiencing an accident. So they’re not remembering the trauma, they’re reliving it. So first I had to get through the trauma with a lot of therapy, and that continues to today. I also needed the distance of years to be able to reflect on what had happened and my part in it so that the book was actually useful to others, to readers and not just a big misery dump memoir. As Glennon Doyle advised write from a scar, not an open wound. The next question is why even write about it after the healing is done?
But I love what poet Sean Thomas Dougherty said, he said Why bother, because right now there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words, just love that. And so my memoir gathered two different parts of my life that I thought were separate, but they were just two sides of an open wound. My divorce, the defamation or the online mobbing words were my sutures to sow my life back together. And the scars they created, I think are now new patterns of meaning that are stronger than the flesh was before the injury. And those new patterns and reflections are what readers are resonating with now. So even though their lives are different, they may not have gone through a divorce, but they probably felt isolation or loss of love. They may not have had an online mob come after them, but they probably faced some sort of career disappointment or fear of the future. And I think my memoir helps them experience all those feelings through a different story and learn how someone emerged from the flames stronger and wiser.
Kim Simone (13:34):
It certainly is, I think, an interesting story both from the perspective of people who read your book are going to have that feeling of this resonates with me. I understand what she went through, whether because they went through something similar or because they know somebody who maybe experienced this sort of online harassment issue. But the wine part of it, I think, is one of the fun things in the book. I mean, we are obviously geeky wine people who really, really love to read books about wine, but your take on wine is that it is fun. You spend a lot of time talking about the physical nature of enjoying wine, about sort of the sensual nature of having a glass of wine with a meal and those sorts of things. And unfortunately, that was one of the things that other writers kind of came down hard on you for was that you make it this accessible thing and you talk about it in this frankly sort of feminine language.
You talk a whole lot about how wine descriptions, hopefully only in the old days and we don’t get back to them, would use women in an objective way to describe certain wines. But you make your descriptions of wines into this pleasurable really, I guess getting back to the earthy sort of witchy thing, you make them very appealing and make people, I think, want to experience that wine. And I feel like it’s sort of unfair to come at you from that perspective of, oh, well, she only writes for this particular part of the market, whereas we kind of look at there’s something for everybody out there either for educating yourself about wine or reading about wine or learning tasting notes. And also there’s so much wine out there that there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
So I was wondering what your perspective is on, we have all of these different things in the wine industry as far as is experience more important? Or is academic credentials more important? Because it seems like for you it’s more of that the enjoyment and the experience of it. So I’m sort of wondering where you feel you fall in the spectrum of what is important when it comes to learning about wine since Mark and I are wine educators?
Natalie MacLean (15:53):
Sure, great question. So I’ve always written from a first person perspective as I do like that conversational tone, Kim, to make wine less intimidating. I want people to feel like we’re talking over the kitchen table. And frankly, wine was my calling card to talk to really interesting people around the planet. It gave me permission to ask incredibly nosy questions that I would never ask at a dinner party. It made me feel things I’d never felt, especially as an introvert and someone who’s really shy. So this approach was the opposite of some older critics who believed you shouldn’t have feelings about wine, nor should you even talk about the fact it has alcohol in it, or you might get a little buzz ,that you should be objective. And I really don’t believe this is possible. Wine is such a subjective sensory experience and I think objectivity can also be a shield against vulnerability and connection.
And I thought to myself, I had to think about my approach to wine, but why shouldn’t I get emotionally wrapped up in my work? I mean, do you have to be serious to be professional? Must levity be the opposite of gravitas when the two together make a far more complex blend? Science has shown us that the moment after we laugh, our attention to a message is highest. And I’ve always believed, entertain before you educate. So for me, wine starts with the person. How does this wine make me feel or make you feel? And writing about wine consumes my whole body like dance used to. When the dance is finished, as I say in the book, the wine is consumed, all that’s left is memory. And wine involves all of me in a way that food cannot. It touches all of my senses like food, but wine is also a drug that creates new mind states and that full body buzz of wine. As I say in Wine Witch on Fire, it sends lightning out under my skin.
I love it. And talking about the effect of alcohol in wine is another way I broke all the rules as well as admitting to my likes and my memories, my misunderstandings, my blind spots, my biases. And I was just trying to think like a consumer wondering how to get or buy a good wine that didn’t cost a fortune or embarrass me if I took it to a friend’s house. And most critics will tell you they are consumer advocates, but some aren’t talking to consumers with empathy for their anxiety and their confusion and their disappointment with some wines. Instead, I think they talk to a wine lover like a displeased parent. So as you say, Kim, I think there’s a wine for everyone and there’s a wine writer for everyone. You find the style that suits you best.
Mark Lenzi (18:22):
I thought, Natalie, throughout the book you worked in wine so well, but as I’m reading it and you’re telling some powerful life events, and then all of a sudden you just go off and tell a beautiful story about a wine or you bring up a memory about a wine. Do you find that when you work that into the book, was it to kind of break away from what was going on in life? Or did you feel like now’s the time I have to talk about what I love to bring people back because it was, I don’t want to say depressing, it was like you’re saying so much about life, then I’m like, wow. But then you just told this beautiful story about a wine or a memory about a wine. It was just so powerful
Kim Simone (19:04):
Or a wine maker or an experience.
Natalie MacLean (19:07):
Yeah, that’s a great observation, Mark. I mean, I think we have to have relief from a serious narrative. And so I tried to do that in two ways. One was with the wines and the stories, and another was with humour because we just need that relief in life, in books. Even if we’re watching a tense movie, we need that sort of comic element to break up the tension. But back to your question about inserting wines, that’s what I am known for. So people come to me for wine writing. And although this book is very different from my first two, I think the way I write about wine and the way I reflect my feelings on wine is the same. It has a powerful connection. And it’s not only interspersed throughout the book to bring those sort of beautiful moments or joyful moments to the book, but also because I believe that wine is just so powerful for evoking memories.
We know that smell is the only one of our five senses that is tied directly to memory. That’s why Proust starts off with having a Madeleine, a little cookie. It’s not eating it that brings back all of his memories. It’s smelling it. And I know when I smell like a National Geographic magazine, I’m right back at my grandparents’ house in Cape Breton. I love that. It’ll just go right back there. It’s like it touches a wire of a memory that was dormant, and then it lights up again. My partner now thinks I’m a wine savant because I’ll see a label, a wine label, and I’ll know exactly the first time I had it. It could be 20 years ago, who I was with, what we were eating, even what we were wearing. It just is so evocative. So you blend smell and memory and emotion. And you lay down these, I think, more vivid memories and life experiences. And so that’s part of this book. It’s about celebrating life through wine and through those memories.
Kim Simone (21:10):
You are listening to The Wonderful World of Wine, and we are hosts, Mark and Kim. You can find more information about [email protected] and more information about myself and my classes at CommonwealthWineSchool.com.
And today we are speaking to our special guest, Natalie MacLean, and you can find more information about her and her brand new book at WineWitchOnFire.com. Welcome back, everyone. We are here today speaking with author wine reviewer extraordinaire, Canadian wine writer, Natalie MacLean. And we were just talking a little bit about her book and the wines that she inserts into her book and memory and all of these sort of wonderful, evocative things that wine brings up to us. But I wanted to kind of pivot a little bit and ask you, because you are a Canadian, you have more experience certainly with a lot of the Canadian wines that are available that we just kind of don’t see down here in the States.
And as you know, the United States wine market is kind of like 50 little countries. Does make it a little bit harder for us to get our hands on different things that might not be available in our local markets. So I was wondering if you could give us a little bit of information about maybe brand new things or regions that you are excited about from your own home country as far as wine goes.
Natalie MacLean (22:28):
Sure. Well, we have remarkable regions from coast to coast, from BC to Newfoundland. Wine is made in all provinces. There are some provinces in the middle of the country that are making fruit-based wines, meaning berries and so on, not grapes because it’s too cold. But I think there are remarkable wines and wine regions to visit. So 90% of Canadian wine is made in Ontario, and that breaks down to Pelee Island Lake Erie North Shore, Prince Edward County. But Niagara is by far the biggest. And Niagara itself is like those Russian nesting dolls breaks down into even smaller sub regions. And I would recommend that…
Kim Simone (23:07):
Yes say 90% is Ontario wine>
Natalie MacLean (23:09):
Kim Simone (23:12):
Wow. Okay. I thought that British Columbia would have a little bit more of a share of that, but wow, that’s amazing.
Natalie MacLean (23:18):
Yeah, BC’s about 9%. And then Quebec, Nova Scotia account for about one to 2%, so very tiny. And even in Ontario or across the country, most wineries are tiny, but small is good in wine. It’s just the only issue is that they don’t make enough to export to the US and fill the channels. So you might see on Canadian wines on some restaurant lists that are interested in our wines, but it is worth a wine vacation or visit. Because if you come to any of these regions. I’ll take Niagara for example. There is just so much to do. There’s a world-class, Bernard Shaw Festival. There’s ballooning and biking, And then a lot of the wineries have restaurants, really top-notch restaurants where they’re taking their wines and pairing it them course by course with the meal. They have all kinds of fun Instagram worthy kinds of setups if you’re into that. There’s an ice wine lounge in Peller Estates where you go underground and it’s minus eight degrees and they lend you a parka. It’s fun. They lend you a parka if it’s in the middle of summer because it’s cold. And you can taste ice wine at minus eight where – that’s the temperature minus eight Celsius I should say – at which it’s picked. But they have a bubble lounge and all kinds of things. It’s fun.
Kim Simone (24:33):
See, this is the fun stuff about wine. This is why we shouldn’t be taking wine quite so seriously because there’s all this fun stuff with it.
Natalie MacLean (24:41):
Oh, I know. And they even have, as I said, a bubble lounge. So there’s a bathtub full of bubbles, and you could take pictures there and swing on a little cork swing. And anyway, it’s so much fun. But you can learn so much. I mean, the tasting rooms are really set up and catered to individual attention, especially post pandemic. You make reservations these days in just about any wine region, but you get far more personalized experiences and tastings. And we have such a great range of wines, all cool climate basically. So you’re looking at Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cab Franc. And sparkling we do marvellously. We’ve got a lot of limestone up here like Champagne does. So lots of different wines, great food culture, lots of activities if you’re taking the whole family. And it’s just these are beautiful places to visit. They’re often on the water, and yet they’re not overrun with tourists yet.
Kim Simone (25:35):
Well, I’m going to Nova Scotia this summer, so I’m going to have to maybe I’ll pick your brain. How about places to go?
Natalie MacLean (25:40):
Absolutely. Well, I’m originally from Nova Scotia.
Kim Simone (25:43):
I know. I was thinking about my vacation as I was reading your book. I’m like, she’s from Nova Scotia. Oh, yes.
Natalie MacLean (25:51):
Oh, well, Nova Scotia is a great place. Have a few days in Halifax because the waterfront is beautiful. The restaurants are great. Then drive down to Annapolis Valley, which is only about an hour away. This is a gorgeous valley where it’s got a microclimate that’s warm enough for wines. It’s on the Bay of Fundy, which is the highest tides in the world in terms of how they go up and down. It’s remarkable. And then you can go to all these boutique, tiny wineries that are making these great wines. Have a great dinner and just be in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Kim Simone (26:21):
I think this is wonderful for folks who live in New England in general, but Massachusetts specifically because when we think about our wine regions around here, so we have a couple of tiny little local wine regions mostly along the coast that are good for growing wine. And then we have our vineyards in New York, whether it be the Finger Lakes or whether it be Long Island. But nobody ever thinks about going up to Canada, I feel like. And it’s so close.
Natalie MacLean (26:48):
Just keep going. Keep driving, Kim.
Kim Simone (26:50):
We’re just going to just go up a little bit farther north and you have these wonderful wine regions. So I think that that’s an exciting thing for those of us on the east coast that we tend to feel like, oh, our west coast brethren are surrounded by California and Washington and Oregon, but we actually have some great wine regions here on the eastern seaboard as well.
Natalie MacLean (27:11):
Mark Lenzi (27:12):
Natalie, I want to go back to you had mentioned wine aromas and bringing up great memories. Kim has this weird one about Barbie dolls heads.
Kim Simone (27:20):
Barbie dolls. Brand new Barbie doll.
Natalie MacLean (27:23):
I love that.
Kim Simone (27:24):
Bret for me is Barbie doll head. I don’t know why.
Natalie MacLean (27:27):
I will have to check that next time.
Kim Simone (27:28):
The next time you get a wine with Brettanomyces.
Natalie MacLean (27:31):
I’ll have Barbie besides
Kim Simone (27:32):
A brand new Barbie.
Natalie MacLean (27:33):
I’ll do a side-by-side sniffing.
You do it.
Mark Lenzi (27:37):
At one point in the book, after you divorced, you’d mentioned that you lost your senses for wine, your taste or your sense of smell for wine, and I assume another devastating life experience, especially with all you do in the wine world. You researched and you found out a lot of interesting information about what was going on. Can you tell our listeners what happened and what you experienced and found out?
Natalie MacLean (28:01):
Sure. So one afternoon I was tasting a dozen Cabernets and I realized I couldn’t detect the aromas anymore. And I wondered if I had lost my sense of smell permanently. And I did the research and discovered that the size of the brain is smaller when it’s depressed. And according to an article in New Scientist Magazine, that data came from that. And when the brain shrinks a little bit, it can diminish or eliminate the sense of smell. And so I was left wondering, is depression the smell of nothing? And what was I going to do with my career if this carried on? So I panicked, went to see my doctor. Much to my relief, my sense of smell returned. But I think a lot of people too have experienced this with Covid. Either the fact we were isolated or depressed or Covid itself. One of the effects is losing your sense of smell.
For some people that is permanent and that in turn, it’s a vicious cycle because losing your sense of smell, people don’t realize just how much of an impact it can have on your life. And people become depressed when they lose their sense of smell because they can’t taste anything. We are wine and food. It’s all in the smell not that, well, we have five basic tastes, but we have millions of aroma combinations that we can detect. You take that away. That’s a major part of life’s enjoyment. So it really shook me. Fortunately, that was a happy ending like the book. But oh my gosh, I was afraid for a moment. But I have to go back to what you just said, Kim, about Barbie dolls because I love that. I was teaching a wine class and one student said, well this Riesling smells like the Dallas airport. And of course she was picking up the petrol or the sort of minerally stone, wet stone, whatever you want to call it. Another person said, the Chardonnay reminds me of my son’s gerbil cage. And that was the wood chips, right? The oak aging.
Kim Simone (29:54):
Natalie MacLean (29:55):
The wood chips in the gerbil cage. And someone said a wine, it was a white wine, reminded her of her grandmother’s ham and we’re all going, what’s the connection here? This wine smells like ham. Pineapple.
Kim Simone (30:09):
Natalie MacLean (30:10):
Pineapple and the cloves, both of them were coming through the way she garnished the ham. It wasn’t the ham itself. But yeah, I love that. All the connections there they are. Again, all the smell connections.
Kim Simone (30:21):
I talk to my students about that all the time that there’s this – I hesitate to call it a disconnect, but I do feel like it’s a little bit of a disconnect when we’re wine educators who are working within a strict confine of these are the tasting notes that you need to use in order to be able to communicate with other people. But then to have that common ground of what are you talking about? What am I talking about? Can we have that conversation and understand what the other person is saying? But then on the other hand, it is all about that personal experience. So I love that one about the airport.
Natalie MacLean (30:56):
That’s great. It makes sense.
Kim Simone (30:57):
I have one in my tasting notes. Every once in a while it’ll pop up like smells like Christmas. It’s like, okay, well what does Christmas smell like to you? And your holidays are going to smell different from my holidays. And I feel like it makes it very interesting, but also it makes it harder when you’re trying to take an exam where you’re trying to describe a wine. I can’t write on my Master of Wine exam that it smells like Christmas because that’s not going to get any points.
I really feel like a lot of the times it comes down to that we have gotten too serious about our wine specification education certification kind of things. And you do mention this a number of times in your book about that being not only a barrier to people who maybe don’t have the financial ability to take all of these classes or to spend five years studying for the Master of Wine, but also sort of this gatekeeping issue where it’s like, who is allowed to talk about wine and how are we allowed to talk about it. So I really like this sort of everybody gets to sort of be creative about how their experience is informing their wine tasting.
Natalie MacLean (32:10):
Sure, absolutely. And you bring up the Master of Wine. Master Sommelier is another designation. I talk about this in Wine Witch on Fire but there are 165 Master Sommeliers of whom just 28 are women. And the Master of Wine ratio is a closer split with 150 women of total 450. And the two organizations are very separate. One’s based in the US. The other in London. But I think they’re part of an industry that really loves to create hierarchies and elites, and these special designations are almost impossible to achieve. First of all, people spend well over $10,000 to get them to try to get them. Both of them I think have a 10% pass rate, more so the Master Sommelier than the Master of Wine. Reminds me of a private club rather than like a MBA or something.
Their exams are structured differently. The Master of Wine is done blind, meaning the judges don’t know who you are.It’s a written dissertation. It’s more academically focused. The Master Sommelier is very much about service, and that has to be done so that people know who you are. The judges do. But it just that from those sort of elite designations to the 1855 ranking of Bordeaux wines based largely on price. Only five today are known as First Growth, like Chateau Margaux among more than 2000 wineries in Bordeaux. And it’s just, it’s so status driven, so rule bound, the wine business. And yet this is the opposite to me, of something of a product that is so cyclical and seasonal in nature. Wine’s movement isn’t from top to bottom. It’s around and around in your glass or as you revisit wine you had from years ago, and then you remember where you were. And I think bringing back that connection, that personalization to wine. Whether you describe a wine as tasting like Christmas or Barbie dolls, it’s part of making the experience part of us. And it’s how we create community with wine like with each other. It’s far more personal to do it that way for me.
Mark Lenzi (34:13):
Natalie, on the cover of your book, you said Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much. And I wanted to talk to you about the drinking part because a lot of people in our industry don’t really talk about how much we’re exposed and how much we’re really tasting and drinking. And you discussed how it really increased with everything going on, and everyone can understand why everybody drinks a little more when dealing with stuff like that. Can you just talk about that and what you did to control it being around wine all the time. And then I really want to follow up because Kim and I go back and forth on this a lot and we kind of joke about it, but every time we go for our physical doctor, we’ll say, how much do you drink? And I want know from you how you address that. And I always go back and forth the way I tell them I taste a lot. One time I’ll say it in ounces. One time I say it in metric or litres or something.
Natalie MacLean (35:09):
Just to really confuse them, right. Let’s talk in metric to your doctor.
Mark Lenzi (35:13):
It’s a serious thing people in our industry deal with, and you brought it to light in your book and I just wanted to get your feedback on all that.
Natalie MacLean (35:22):
Sure. So Mark, you make a great point. We don’t talk a lot about drinking in the wine industry. It’s either perceived as an occupational duty, so buck up and drink up, or there’s shame in admitting any sort of. And yet the US statistics from the Health Department show that those in the hospitality industry, which includes wineries and restaurants, have the highest rate of substance abuse of all professions. So we’re not talking about it, but it is a problem. So my over-drinking, if you will was, I don’t know if you say fortunately, situationally based. It was during that horrific vintage that was bookended. It started with a divorce and it ended with the defamation or the online mobbing. And so I leaned on wine as a crutch to deal with the stress. It was only after a lot of therapy that I was able to back off using wine that way.
So I had to come up with a lot of different strategies that are in the book. This isn’t a self-help book per se, but there are a lot of I think helpful tips that worked for me that I share, and that readers now are coming back to me and saying, hey this really worked for me. And again, I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend to be one on a podcast. But here are the tips that I’ve come up with. So one is when I open a bottle, I’ll pour half the wine into a clean, empty half bottle and reco it because this keeps the wine fresh for another night. And I’m more mindful of how much I’ve consumed. It really does a good measuring job. And I also feel like when I do this, I don’t think, oh I’ve just opened such a great wine I should finish it or it’s going to not taste as good tomorrow.
So I have those preservation techniques. There are sprays, there’s all kinds of gadgets you can also get for this. Another one is I drink a glass of water for every glass of wine to stay hydrated, but it also slows down my alcohol consumption, my pace. A really important one was asking myself what was the thought before the thought that said, I need a glass of wine. And if it’s about relieving stress and not about the pleasure of wine, then I try to find another way to deal with that, whether it’s to go for a walk or take a bath or watch a favourite show. So there are lots more tips in the book, but I found your question about the doctor talk because I’ve had lots of chats with my doctor over the years because she knows what I do. And I think in terms of talking with your doctor, I do advise it even though you may feel reticent or embarrassed, you should be honest.
And if you feel that you absolutely cannot be honest. I suggest finding a new doctor because a good doctor will also be honest with you, but it shouldn’t feel as though you’re being scolded. And it’s also important for your physician to know about your consumption as it might interact or interfere with prescription drugs or other medical conditions. And doctors can also recommend a lot of great ways to cut back, whether it’s a specialized prescription that might be right for you or recommend the right kind of therapist to discuss underlying issues that might be causing a problem. So give them a little credit too and a trust that they might be a partner with you if you feel you have an issue with it. Because I do think your doctor should be one of the people you should be able to talk to. That’s what learned at least.
Mark Lenzi (38:36):
Yeah, great information. Thank you.
Natalie MacLean (38:38):
Oh, my pleasure.
Mark Lenzi (38:39):
So once again, for our listeners, Natalie MacLean’s book is Wine Witch on Fire. And recently, Natalie, I’ve watched your video of you opening, getting your first copies of the book when you got it, and so powerful to see the emotions being brought up. And I hope when our listeners read this, they just fall in love with your writing style, your honesty. And for those who have book clubs or things like that, Natalie put out a very good guide for the book, which a lot of people don’t do this. Did you make it specifically for book clubs?
Natalie MacLean (39:14):
I made it for book clubs, wine groups, and individual readers. So you don’t have to have a group. What’s in it is a big piece of what was taken out of the book because the book was getting too long. It’s a fairly quick read Wine Witch on Fire, but it’s because we removed this chunk which ended up being a guide to lots of wines to pair with the book, to pair with other books, discussion questions. If you are getting together with a book club or just you and your friends want to get a copy of the book, that would be great. And then talk about it together. This will guide you in some discussions because there’s some pretty broad reaching issues that you can talk about and bring up your own experience, whether it’s workplace harassment or relationship issues or the wine marketing, how wine is marketed to us and we don’t even realize lots of issues there to discuss.
And then there’s tips on how to organize an informal wine tasting with your friends. So a step-by-step guide to how many wines, what are you going to pair? So all of this sort of came out of the book and then people who’ve seen it said, you could charge for this, but we’re not because we want to make this available to everyone. And you can get it at WineWitchOnFire.com/guide. It’s easy to get, and I hope it helps people carry the book forward in terms of for themselves, making the issues of hope and justice and resilience in this book their own, how can they apply it in their own lives through their own stories. The best thing I think that a book or a memoir can do is that you feel that you’ve been moved in some way to reflect on your own life. And the questions that are in this guide I think can help people get there and do that reflecting.
Kim Simone (40:58):
I think it’s what, it’s something that is good for our listeners and also for readers of your book to understand is that you had this experience and you put it forward in your book. But a lot of us who are women and who are in the wine industry, and I’ve spoken to a number of my colleagues, is about the topics that you bring up in the book. What you experienced was not a singular incident. These are things that we all have dealt with at one level or another, whether it was harassment or whether it was we didn’t get a job because we didn’t pay attention to the right person or what not. So I think that that part of it will resonate with not only people in the wine industry, but also women in other industries as well. So it is, I think, a very important memoir for many, many people to read. And it was a really great read and I’m so glad that we got to meet you through our podcast.
Natalie MacLean (41:54):
Well, thank you, Kim. Mark, this has been wonderful and I appreciate the opportunity to connect with your listeners. And there is the guide, but if they’re also looking for other ways to connect, I have a podcast, Unreserved Wine Talk, so if they’re interested in that. Or I do also teach courses, Kim, online food and wine pairing classes mainly, and they can find all of that at WineWitchOnfire.com. Oh, I should mention one more thing. If they buy the book, I will mail people signed book plates so you can personalize your book or give it as a gift. I know signed book plates can make a nice addition to any book, and I’ve also developed some bonuses for those who buy the book, like a private online tasting and some other things. So come visit me or I would love to connect with you.
Kim Simone (42:39):
Natalie MacLean (42:40):
Keep this going, this fire burning.
Kim Simone (42:44):
Mark Lenzi (42:45):
Thank you, Natalie, you do so much for the wine world. You’re always putting out so much content, and thanks again for this book into your life and your story. It was just something I couldn’t put down and I read a lot of usually just wine books and I was just moved. I want to thank you for sharing the story and for our listeners. It’s available now, Wine Witch on Fire in all areas you get your books. I use Amazon. Like Natalie said, you can go on her website and find it as well. Thank you, Natalie.
Natalie MacLean (43:15):
Oh, thank you, Mark, Kim. I really enjoyed this and you are doing a great job with this podcast, so thank you. Thank you for inviting me here.
Kim Simone (43:23):
Thank you for joining us. Thank you for joining us today for the Wonderful World of Wine. We have been your hosts, Mark Lenzi and Kim Simone, and we are supported by Franklin Public Radio. You can find our past episodes on SoundCloud and iTunes and find us on social media at Instagram and Facebook at The Wonderful World of Wine. On Twitter at Wine Education. And we want to say a very special thank you to our guest today, Natalie MacLean, and you can see all of her information and find her brand new book, Wine Witch on Fire at www.WineWitchOnFire.com. Cheers.
Natalie MacLean (44:06):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Mark. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Mark, links to his website and podcast, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online now no matter where you live. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/246. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or if you’ve read the book at [email protected].
If you missed episode 168, go back and take a listen. I chat about the buzz of wine, Italy’s food culture, and Audrey Hepburn’s influence with Jamie Lewis. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite
Jaime Lewis (44:59):
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 [laughter]
That helps [laughter].
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 SKUs 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 (46:01):
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 I chat with Terry Theise, author of two bestselling books Reading Between the Wines and What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime. He’ll be joining us from his home near Boston.
Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a bewitching wine that tastes like magic.
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 NatalieMacLean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.