Will AI Replace Writers and Winemakers? Conversation with Ellen Clifford of The Wine Situation Podcast



Why don’t I think that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace human writers any time soon? What are some tips you can use for maintaining a healthy relationship with wine? What are some of the challenges women in the wine industry still face?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Ellen Clifford on The Wine Situation podcast.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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  • Was wine part of my family’s culture growing up?
  • When did I start learning about wine, and why did I decide to make the career transition?
  • When did I introduce my son to wine, and what is his relationship with alcohol like as an adult?
  • How do I account for different tastes and preferences when I’m writing wine reviews?
  • Is there a place for AI in writing?
  • Why don’t I think AI will replace human writers any time soon?
  • What was the inspiration for using the metaphor of witch trials in Wine Witch on Fire?
  • What are some of the challenges women in the wine industry are still facing?
  • Why is it often a complex issue figuring out how to present yourself at after-work wine industry events?
  • What are some tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with wine?
  • Why should you try Southbrook Vineyard’s orange wine?
  • What makes Rosé and ketchup chips a perfect pairing?
  • If not wine, what are my favourite beverages?
  • Why do I find so much joy in the connections I make with readers?


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About Ellen Clifford & The Wine Situation

The Wine Situation hosts everyone from winemakers to writers to find out what a person’s situation is…with wine. It’s the solo season with host Ellen Clifford, but listen in with a glass, and nobody is drinking alone! At the end of every action-packed episode, Ellen is phoning a friend with her Final Five questions. Ellen also contributes to Delectable, The Wine Situation, Salon, Food52, Hello Giggles, MassLive.com, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Independent Living.




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  • The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; Books.Apple.com/ca, Books.Apple.com and other country-specific Apple Books sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.



Natalie MacLean (00:00:00) – Voice is such a signature. It’s like your DNA. It’s so complicated. It’s not just word choice and humour and expression, and it’s so many things, just like wine is. It’ll take as long for ChatGPT or the other tools to really come out with stunning literature, as long as it would take AI to come up with like Chateau Margaux, perfectly aged with the right amount of oak. It’s such an artisanal thing. That said, I do think whether you’re a writer or not, it’s worth getting to know and use the tools and see how they can assist you.

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 277. Why don’t I think that artificial intelligence AI will replace human writers anytime soon? What are some tips that you can use for maintaining a healthy relationship with wine? And what are some of the challenges that women in the wine industry still face? In today’s episode, you’ll hear the stories and tips that answer those questions in my chat with Ellen Clifford, who hosts the Wine Situation Podcast. Ellen is interviewing me in this one.

Speaking of AI not replacing writers, or at least not yet, Have you read Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much? If yes, then have you bought a copy for a friend? A real human friend? If you’d like to support this podcast that I do for you on a volunteer basis to ensure it continues, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. It usually arrives in a day or two. And of course the ebook is instant and it’s a fast read.

Every little bit helps spread the message in this book of hope, justice, and resilience. You can send a copy directly to a friend or family member and make their day when a gift arrives in the mail, rather than all those grocery store flyers that they don’t read anyway. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at nataliemaclean.com/277. If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. Okey dokey, on with the show.

Ellen Clifford (00:03:06) – Natalie MacLean, our guest for today, who wrote Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much. It is a really good book. It’s a memoir of a bit of a trial she went through with wine. We’ll talk more about that. We’ll talk about women and wine. We’ll talk about her life. She’s delightful. I really enjoyed talking to her. So yeah, let’s just get to it. Season eight, episode one. Enjoy this interview with Natalie MacLean.

Ellen Clifford (00:03:34) – Natalie, welcome to the wine situation.

Natalie MacLean (00:03:42) – Hey, Ellen. It’s great to be here with you.

Ellen Clifford (00:03:44) – How’s life up there? And you’re in Canada.

Natalie MacLean (00:03:48) – I am in Canada, in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, where it’s crisp and refreshing like a well chilled Riesling. We get a lot of snow here. It’s colder on average than Moscow. We are the world’s coldest capital anyway.

Ellen Clifford (00:04:01) – Oh my goodness. Okay. Well, hopefully you are staying warm.

Natalie MacLean (00:04:06) – Oh yes. Lots of wine.

Ellen Clifford (00:04:07) – I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Wine Witch book. It got me going on a flight from Italy, a long flight. I was like, yes, something to read that’s actually good. So thank you for that. It’s your third book, right?

Natalie MacLean (00:04:21) – It is. Yes. It’s quite a departure from the first two, but yeah book number three.

Ellen Clifford (00:04:26) – It’s more of a memoir. Memoir in style. And the first two less so.

Natalie MacLean (00:04:32) – Yeah, exactly.

Ellen Clifford (00:04:33) – Before we go more into that, I kind of want my guests love to kind of go, go begin at the beginning with you and wine. Was wine around in your life growing up? Was it on the table?

Natalie MacLean (00:04:45) – No it wasn’t. I grew up in a small, really small family. My mother and I, she was a single parent. She’d been divorced since I was two. She was a school teacher. Small East Coast town. And although I had lots of cousins and relatives, so being from good Scottish ilk, it was always beer and whiskey on the table. And I found both of them way too bitter. I didn’t actually get into wine until my late 20s. And then I made up for lost time.

Ellen Clifford (00:05:13) – So then you you worked in tech, right?

Natalie MacLean (00:05:16) – I did, yeah. I worked for a supercomputer company that made the workstations on which they did special effects for Jurassic Park and Twister and The Mask and movies like that. And then it got purchased, and the campus in Mountain View, California, is now the headquarters of Google.

Ellen Clifford (00:05:36) – Oh, wow. Yeah. So you’re, you’re handy with computers. Are you a coder? Was was that kind of what was.

Natalie MacLean (00:05:43) – Oh, I would want to be coder. I am a geek. A double geek, like I love tech. I listen to tech podcasts. I don’t know why I’m not in the industry anymore, but I love listening and I love what’s going like to listen to what’s going on with AI and all these other things. But I’m not a coder. I was in their marketing group and Napa and Sonoma were just an hour’s drive away, so I didn’t have time or didn’t make time for many hobbies or other pursuits. But I did get to know wine, not only because I started arranging meetings on a Friday and would drive up to wine country on the weekend, but also the only really leisure activity I had was sometimes going out to dinner with clients or business meetings. And of course, choosing from the wine list was always a thing. So I gradually wanted to learn more about wine, so I didn’t feel so nervous and self-conscious about it.

Ellen Clifford (00:06:36) – How did you go about that?

Natalie MacLean (00:06:40) – Well, when I went off on maternity leave with my first and only son. I of course  had not taken any vacation being a Type-A personality. That it all accrued over the years. And with the company, for every four years you work there, you got six weeks paid leave to do something. A very Google-ish idea.

Ellen Clifford – A  very cool perk.

Natalie MacLean – Yeah. And so I had almost a year off in paid leave before I went on mat leave. Though I had taken a sommelier program at night just for fun , so my education was slow and awkward, but I continued with that. My husband just wanted to take the introductory course, but I kept going through the full Sommelier certificate program again, just for fun at night here in Ontario. So it’s recognized by the Ministry of Education.  So it does give you a diploma when you’re done, but it’s it’s not the diploma perhaps that you’re thinking of, but it was pretty comprehensive. But I had no intention to write about it. I just, you know, I was fascinated and I still think to this day you could do a liberal arts degree with wine as the hub because, as you know, wine just ties into almost every facet of human endeavour. You know, commerce and agriculture, history, and art and everything.

Ellen Clifford (00:07:57) – And the science of it, to0…

Natalie MacLean (00:07:59) – Exactly.

Ellen Clifford (00:08:00) – … about it.

Natalie MacLean (00:08:02) – Yes. And I just love the way that wine was that sort of full experience. It was not only intellectually engaging, but it also literally lit up my senses. It was a full bodied, full mind experience. So I thought, I need to, you know, have more of this to know what it is. You know, I had that first wine where you go, oh my gosh, what is this? And I didn’t know how to describe it and it was a Brunello.

Ellen Clifford (00:08:27) – Oh.

Natalie MacLean (00:08:29) – And that sort of led me into the course. I need to have this again. So I need to know how to describe it, how to name it and how to get it again. That’s where the journey really began. And then the sommelier course and then maternity leave. So I’d finished the sommelier course and I pitched a local small food magazine. The idea was how to find wine and food pairings on the internet, and that became a regular column that gave me confidence to cold call and pitch other editors. And I didn’t go back to my tech job.

Ellen Clifford (00:08:59) – Natalie, I love that as a fellow workaholic you took your hobby and made it work.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:04) – Yes, exactly, exactly [laughter].

Ellen Clifford (00:09:06) – Incapable of hobbies. It’s.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:08) – Oh, I know.

Ellen Clifford (00:09:09) – I know, it’s a problem.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:11) – Someday we’ll get to relax. We may be dead, but that [laughter]

Ellen Clifford (00:09:14) – Would be so boring, wouldn’t it [laughter}.

Natalie MacLean (00:09:16) – Yeah, I know. But anyway. Yeah, I mean, I just fell in love with it, and then I could be home with my son. Like I had this wonderful career. I could go with the pace I wanted to, because I did really did have to slow down on maternity leave, but I was able to balance it to the best I could, so I loved it.

Ellen Clifford (00:09:36) – Speaking of your son, when did you bring wine into his life? He’s an adult?

Natalie MacLean (00:09:41) – He’s an adult. He’s now he just turned 25 and he just finished the engineering program or computer engineering program at Waterloo. And he’s working in artificial intelligence. So maybe I maintain my geeky ties for the sake of him. And we can still talk the same language. Yeah, but I did a very mean thing when he was three, and that was he was looking at the wine. He was used to seeing a wine glass in mommy’s hand. And he said, what’s that? And I said, it’s wine. Would you like to try it? And, so I wouldn’t have offered if it had been a sweet wine or a dessert wine, because that would be tasting like liquid candy. This was a very, very robust Shiraz Cabernet blend. Lots of tannin. So you can imagine he takes a taste and he spits it out in his tiny little red tongues, going, look it’s total yuck. So I scarred him for life on wine because to this day, he doesn’t drink.

Ellen Clifford (00:10:39) – Really?

Natalie MacLean (00:10:40) – Oh yeah, I did a job on the poor guy.

Ellen Clifford – Oh no.

Natalie MacLean – He never really got into beer, whiskey or anything. But I never made it taboo. It was always on the family table, but he just doesn’t have a taste for it. He still thinks it tastes very bitter. I mean, I’ve since, you know, as an adult, when he became an adult, he’s tried a few wines, but he still thinks they’re terribly bitter. He probably has, perhaps he’s also has that sensitivity to bitterness. He just does not like it.

Ellen Clifford (00:11:07) – I feel like I have somewhat of an opposite problem. Like I can’t get enough bitter. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of… It’s like an Amaro that. It’s a Chicago thing that they love to give people because they make a face like. Like it’s a very herbal, very bitter thing. And I’m one of the rare people who drinks, and I’m like I love this.

Natalie MacLean (00:11:29) – It sounds interesting. I think I’ll stay away from it [laughter].

Ellen Clifford (00:11:32) – You probably should, yeah. That seems like a good idea. But I’m a little jealous though, because I’m like, I wish I had a some super sensitive tongue.

Natalie MacLean (00:11:39) – Oh yeah, well, it can be a blessing and a curse because, you know, you also have to kind of calibrate, like if you’re reviewing wines for those bitter wines that I don’t like, it’s like oh well you because for a while I would say, well – it is not like Gewürztraminer was that bitter. But I never like Gewürztraminer. Maybe it’s too floral or something. But I would write my notes like if you like Gewürztraminer this is a good one until someone emailed me and said, what do you mean if you like Gewürztraminer? So I had to realize some people like different styles that are not to your personal preference.

Ellen Clifford (00:12:16) – No, you have to definitely always reviewing wine keep that in mind because like we all have things like. I do not love a Cabernet franc. It’s those those green pepper notes are not my jam in wine, but like I’m like, I can taste one and tell if it’s like a good wine. I’m like, okay, well, this is for you.

Natalie MacLean (00:12:35) – Yes, exactly, exactly. So I mean, there’s lots of palates out there. So. And they’re all valid. Of course, as they say, the best pairing is, you know, to pair the wine to the diner, not the dinner.

Ellen Clifford (00:12:47) – So I feel like there’s some fans out there who don’t have that point of view. They like some chefs too. They’re like, you will like what I tell you to like, right?

Natalie MacLean (00:12:57) – Exactly. And we get so uptight about food and wine pairings. Now, I teach courses on this. It’s how I make my living. But I try to come from that premise of the best pairing is between you and your own palate. Experiment. Have fun. If it doesn’t work out, have a bun in between the wine and whatever it is you’re using. Just relax. I want to be fun.

Ellen Clifford (00:13:17) – So curious, as a fellow journalist, how you feel about the advent of AI and how people are using it and what it means for our future is writers. So I’m kind of like AI has not learned to taste wine yet. At any rate, it’s such a human thing. Wine is like. I wonder where AI’s place in it. Well, what do you think?

Natalie MacLean (00:13:39) – Yeah, well you know it’s early days for AI, and I’ve read articles where it’s correctly identifying certain Bordeaux based on molecules.

Ellen Clifford (00:13:49) – And yeah, I like that.

Natalie MacLean (00:13:51) – But when it comes to writing, I’m still – maybe my head is in the sand –  but I mean, I’m using ChatGPT and Bard and the others…

Ellen Clifford (00:14:02) – Oh you are? Hw are you utilizing them? I’m curious. The only thing I’ve done is out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT to I said write an article about Pinot Noir and the voice of Ellen Clifford just to see what it did. And it was terrible. And then I was like, okay, you can’t replace me yet, but how are you exactly.

Natalie MacLean (00:14:19) – Exactly. But I’m using it for subject lines for newsletters or in pitches for titles. I do find if I give it instructions, even if I keep going, step after step, trying to refine it, the writing is just very blathery. It’s not punchy even if I say be more concise, be more punchy. I find it right now it’s taking more time to do it that way than just to write the darn thing.

Ellen Clifford (00:14:44) – Is it easier just to come up with things just yourself maybe?

Natalie MacLean (00:14:48) – Exactly. Well, where it has been helpful though, are the subject lines and headlines because it knows how to package things. I was trying to pitch like articles for Galentine’s Wines for Galentine’s Day, the day before Valentine’s Day, and it was talking about, you know, wines for your squad and and different things. It was different from the subject line because I couldn’t get past like, okay, wines for Galentine’s Day. Like, that’s boring. How can I get something a little bit more punchy, more creative? So that’s helped, but not the full fledged writing. And I think for those who are afraid as writers, oh, I’m going to be replaced. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Even if, as you’ve discovered, you know, write an article about Pinot Noir in the voice of first of all, I think if you’re a writer, it’s really hard to replicate your voice. Voice is such a signature. It’s like your DNA. It’s so complicated. It’s not just word choice and humour and expression, and it’s so many things, just like wine is. And, you know, like, I think it’ll take as long for ChatGPT or the other tools to really come out with stunning literature, as long as it would take AI to come up with, like Chateau Margaux, perfectly aged with the right amount of oak or whatever.

You know, it just it’s such an artisanal thing. So but that said, I do think whether you’re a writer or not, it’s worth getting to know and use the tools and see how they can assist you, like the headlines, that sort of thing. There might be other ways.  But I’m going to make sure that I’m familiar with the tools.

Ellen Clifford (00:16:29) – Gotcha. Yeah, I should probably bite the. I’ve just stayed away but out of fear [laughter]. Like I’m like, I don’t want to feed the beast, but you’re right it is something that I should use. It’s a modern world. It’s not a good idea to purposely not keep up with the times. Probably.

Natalie MacLean (00:16:47) – Yeah and just dabble. Just do a little bit, you know, even just like come up with ten more creative headlines than this one. And you can even put your own article below it. It’s indexed everything, by the way. So don’t worry about it’s going to train on my data.  It’s training on all of it anyway. You know, because Amazon is into AI now they they’re indexing everything.

Ellen Clifford (00:17:09) – Oh my god. Anyway. Yay [laughter]. Oh okay. Where were we. So let’s talk more about book and the feminist plight of it all. I really thought it was interesting how you paralleled witches and what was going on with you. So for the the listeners, you went through this sort of trial of your own where people were you were kind of doing what everybody else was doing and like resharing other people’s reviews, but they decided you are not allowed to do it and we will demonize you for that. And went through quite a bit of strife with trolls and whatnot. And yeah, I just thought it was really interesting how you paralleled it to when people started trying like the Salem witch trials and whatnot. With that. How did you come up with that concept at the time?

Natalie MacLean (00:18:02) – You know, a lot of friends and industry colleagues were very supportive, but I asked them not to post online because they would just get mobbed. Few of them did anyway and got mobbed. But what was coming through in a lot of their emails and messages was this witch metaphor. And I thought, well I mean my experience is nothing like what women went through in the 18th and 19th centuries when women who are accused of witchcraft were actually burned at the stake or killed in other ways. But I thought the metaphor might work in terms of, you know, there was at one test back in Colonial Salem to determine if a woman was a witch. And what you would do is you throw her into the pond or the local lake. And if she floated, she was definitely a witch because witches were said to reject the baptism holy water. So if she floated, they would take her to the stake to be burned. However, if she sunk, she was not a witch. But you drowned. I said it sounds like social media. Damned if you do, damned if you do it right. You know, so I was just trying to.

It was more the weaving in of the metaphor just to show or to kind of have this parallel track of things have changed and they haven’t, you know, just the situations have changed. The waves of misogyny and sexism, especially in our industry and the wine industry, are just more subtle. They’re not overt, but the consequences can be as devastating, you know.

Ellen Clifford (00:19:39) – So I don’t know if you saw Barbie, but the thing where Ken tries to go and get a job and he’s like, but you guys have the patriarchy. And he’s like, yeah, well we do. We just hide it better now.

Natalie MacLean (00:19:48) – Exactly, exactly. So I just thought it would add another layer to the book because a lot of people are interested in history. You know, I’m fascinated by witches. For me, just to be up front, a witch is a wise woman who has been through the dumpster fires of life and emerged on the other side stronger, wiser, fiercer.

Ellen Clifford – Yeah [laughter]

Natalie MacLean – Yeah. I want to raise our fist and go yeah [laughter]. But it’s not that old stereotype of the hag, you know, with the wart and the cat and whatever.

Ellen Clifford (00:20:25) – Oh, look, I got a black cat recently and I’m thoroughly reading books on what spells I can do with them [laughter]

Natalie MacLean (00:20:33) – That’s great. What fun [laughter]. Yeah, absolutely. So anyway, that’s kind of why it came to me. Then the metaphor was suggested to me, but I wanted to tread very carefully and not equate my experience directly with women as I said of the 18th century.

Ellen Clifford (00:20:48) – It’s interesting because, especially on the writers side of the wine business, like some of like the most respected wine like Jancis Robinson or like people are women and yet, well, like I was thinking, so I work for not to call out who I work for. I work for Vinous. That one and their panel of writers, which I have contributed to and I do a lot of editing for, there’s like two women and a pool of men, and the women are both MWs, whereas the men seem to skate by without like, and I feel like, oh God, if I want like as I’ve been struggling with what am I going to apply for the MW ever because I’m just like, sometimes it just feels like as a woman you have to have like that extra layer on your name before people will give you the time of day, whereas a man just walks in and is like, I know about wine. It’s like, okay, write about it. Great. Yeah, you’re hired. Like, I don’t know, how do you fit into all that?

Natalie MacLean (00:21:44) – Yeah, I love what Hugh Johnson said. You know, the co-author of The Wine Atlas along with Jancis Robinson. And he said something like – oh I can’t get the quote exactly –  but it was something like, men will always pretend to know a lot more about wine, just as they do about sex, like they’re experts. And he was it was tongue in cheek and it was fun, you know. And he’s I think one of the most liberated men I’ve ever met. But, you know, the writing ranks are still dominated by men. I do feel that pressure to0. l like in terms of having to have the qualifications. It’s why although I didn’t go after a M I went after every darn writing award I could apply to. To have those credentials. So the sommelier certificate wasn’t enough. Just writing for years and years wasn’t enough. It was like, okay, I’m going to have to win as many awards as I can to prove myself.

And I think a lot of women feel that way, not just in the wine industry, but in many industries that never enough. You know, the imposter syndrome, if you want to call it.  It ties into perfectionism, all kinds of things that the finish line you’re always moving it out in front of yourself. You’re never arrived. And I think women, not of a certain age, but of who’ve been in the industry as long as we have, both of us need to sometimes take a breath and say, hey it’s okay. You have arrived. And I think owning it is not only part of being more at peace with who you are, but it’s also it also gives you the strength and confidence to help those who are coming up behind us. You know who the younger women, younger people of colour, younger men who don’t have that confidence who don’t have the credentials or the industry experience yet. But at some point, I think if you want to be useful and at peace with yourself, you kind of have to own, hey, I’ve arrived. I’m here. It’s enough. It’s hard.

Ellen Clifford (00:23:51) – And then there’s for women here’s like the looks of it all thing where like, you have to be attractive, but not too attractive or like or just like try to feel okay with. Like I dress kind of unconventionally, probably for people I go to a lot of tastings, everyone’s in a suit and I’m definitely not. And it’s, I don’t know, it’s another battle that I think women in particular have to fight in this industry.

Natalie MacLean (00:24:17) – Yeah, absolutely. Karen McNeil I’ve interviewed her a few times, my podcast Unreserved Wine Talk, and she’s been great. And she said, you know, women like it or don’t we are in an industry where we’re out at events. Alcohol is involved. The men go from daytime to nighttime jobs, usually with the same suit and tie if it’s that kind of work environment. But women, it’s sort of like this quasi hybrid social environment where women are expected to change into cocktail dresses or something quote unquote a bit more sexy. And I think, you know, when you’re on the job, as she said, you always have to be aware that you are working. So, you know, take that as you will because I think everyone should be allowed to express themselves as they want, whether it is a short dress or a three piece suit, whatever. But just be aware that it is a work environment. That’s all.

Ellen Clifford (00:25:14) – At some point I know she I heard her say something like, and I met her at the Wine Writers Symposium several years ago, and the last night there, there’s a very fancy dinner. And because I had heard what she’d said about maybe women, and I was wearing this dress that had a has a very low back. And she came by and she goes your dress is very sexy. And I was like is that good? It’s not bad. I don’t know. But Karen McNeil just complimented me, so I’ll take it.

Natalie MacLean (00:25:39) – Good for you and good for her. And that was, you know, like you were celebrating. It was a nice dinner. And that’s a that’s a minefield in terms of trying to, you know, even advise young women of. Make sure your hemlines aren’t too short or you’re plunging necklines, whatever. But, because I think also everyone should be able to express themselves, but just realize we are interpreted with how we present ourselves. That’s all.

Ellen Clifford (00:26:03) – True. Gosh. Okay. Do you have any things in particular like things you would like to broach in particular? If not, there’s a segment I do is we come to sort of the close of the chat. That’s called the Final Five. it’s the easy breezy portion of the podcast. But I just want to make sure we because I think your book is important in terms of like what all it had to say. Just want to make sure you there’s anything else you want to chat about. Before we go into the  Final Five segment.

Natalie MacLean (00:26:29) – Sure. Well l I didn’t intend for Wine Witch on Fire and the subtitle is Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much. All the dismal D’s. My publisher said if you throw in one more D, we can’t market this book. So I wasn’t allowed to put depression, delirium, and destitution in there as much as I wanted to. Just kidding. But I didn’t intend to write a self-help book with this memoir, but it’s turned into that. A lot of early readers, I’m getting like emails and direct messages almost daily from those who’ve read the book saying how much it’s helped them to moderate their own relationship with wine. And because we hear a lot about sober curious, dry January on one side, and then we have the excessive the dangers of excessive drinking of which we are increasingly aware and memoirs of those who are addicts and so on. But we don’t have much in between. I mean, what do you do if you love wine, you don’t want to give it up, but you’re concerned about your relationship with it.

You want to have a healthy life, a long life. So what readers are saying is that the tips that I share, as I had to reevaluate my own relationship with wine with alcohol, I have helped them. So maybe I can share just a few of those with you if you’re interested.

Ellen Clifford – Yeah.

Natalie MacLean – Well, first of all, I had to deal with the underlying issues first. I was using wine as a crutch. I had been writing about wine for 14 years before this no good, terrible, very bad vintage. Never had a problem with excessive drinking. And so in the book I include sessions with my therapist and you can be a fly on the wall for that. So the first tip was to deal with those underlying issues because then the need for a drink as a way of a coping mechanism really subsided. But beyond that, you know, another tip was asking myself what was the thought just before the thought that said I need a drink and was it about stress? And if so, you know, could I find another way to relieve that? Go for a walk, watch a show, take a bath.

Another one. I’ll just share one more. When I open a full bottle of wine, whether I’m sharing it with my husband or just having some wine on my own, I will pour half of it into a half empty bottle and that makes me more mindful of how much I’m consuming. It keeps it fresh for another day because, you know, oxygen exposure to wine is minimized if you’re filling another half empty bottle. That is also helped me sort of pace myself, but there’s lots more in there, and I’ve had some remarkable reader letters as well. Just people saying. I had one from a woman and I’ve changed all the details, the names. But she said, you know, this is Sharon, John’s wife. We lost our son, our 21 year old son during Covid. He took his own life and John started hitting the bottle pretty hard. And she said he read your book and there are other factors involved, but I do credit it to a large part in him getting back to a good relationship with wine.

Ellen Clifford (00:29:49) – Oh that’s great.

Natalie MacLean (00:29:51) – Yeah, like that’s worth the book, worth writing it to have a letter like that.

Ellen Clifford (00:29:57) – And it’s good because, I mean, there are the people that need to. There are alcoholics out there who need to not drink, but there’s exactly people who can enjoy some wine, and it doesn’t have to wreck your life as well as if you figure out how to how to do that.

When I first started working with wine, I suddenly was consuming much more wine than I used to especially when I got like Zalto glasses because they’re huge and like, you think you’re not like, I started like measuring when I opened my wine, when I put it in there because  it looks like you put none in and it’s like….

Natalie MacLean (00:30:31) – Exactly.

Ellen Clifford (00:30:32) – This is a full pour of wine.

Natalie MacLean (00:30:34) – It can be deceiving when you’ve got a big one of those giant glasses that, you know, you can pour an entire bottle, and then after you’ve drained that, you can have a steam facial in them. They’re so huge [laughter]. But one more thing I could mention about the book is that I do mention lots of wines throughout and the stories behind the labels. So although it sounds like very much – divorce, online mobbing, whatever kind of book memoir –  wine is still very much at the heart of it. It’s the behind the scenes of the wine industry, the wine writers and scores and that sort of thing. But I also sprinkle a lot of wines throughout with sort of their interesting histories. And then I created a book club guide. You don’t have to have a book club, though, to take advantage of this. Originally the book had wines reviewed at the end of each chapter, but the book got too long so we took that all out and made it a book club guide. But it’s got lots more wines that I recommend for each chapter. Tips on organizing your own wine tasting, how to pair books and bottles, spines and vines. I love doing that. It’s free and you can find it at WineWitchOnFire.com

Ellen Clifford (00:31:44) – Amazing. Now we’re just going to do the fun easy Final Five section. These are I say quick but you can give as long and answers you want. This gets transcribed and published on Delectable. So there’s that. For some people that don’t want to listen to our voices, they can just read. So yeah, the first question that I always ask people, very simple, what are you drinking these days? What are you into?

Natalie MacLean (00:32:09) – I happen to have a wine right here. So beautiful, isn’t it? It’s an orange wine. It’s from South Brook Vineyards, which is an a biodynamic organic winery in Ontario. The winemaker is Ann Sperling, and she’s a real rock star winemaker. South Brook, it’s a biodynamic organic winery. This one’s made from the Vidal grape. It’s skin fermented orange wine. And Ann Sperling, as I said, rock star winemaker. She pioneered the orange wine appellation.  Formed the world’s first orange wine appellation. And so it just gives guidelines for what is an orange wine here in Ontario.

And what I love about this one, if you want some sound effects. Is that it’s low in alcohol, but it has these. I mean, I’m not a fan of all orange wines –  I think some can taste downright weird –  but this one is just beautiful. It really has these exotic flavours of like bergamot and earl grey tea. And, I don’t know, I’m a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker because of the bitterness thing. Yeah, but this one, it’s got lots of stuffing. It’s not filtered. It’s such a high notes. Oh it is. Isn’t that beautiful?

Ellen Clifford (00:33:28) – All right. I think we’d pretty much finished question number one of the final five. So question number two this is one of your favourite topics. What is either an unusual or just a favourite pairing. And it can be actually any kind of consumable thing. I’ve had people pair everything from scotch and bananas to cigars and Champagne. So.

Natalie MacLean (00:33:49) – Wow. Okay, well, you know, I’ll start with this South Brook orange wine. I think it would be lovely with any sort of braised meats or caramelization on a meat. So I would go not with a traditional like chicken or fish or whatever, although it would be fine. But there’s just such a nice sort of toffee edge to this. Not sweet, but just the sort of smell and taste of caramelization. But unusual pairing would be Rosé and ketchup chips.

Ellen Clifford – Oh, I really like that.

Natalie MacLean – So I know ketchup chips aren’t as widespread in the US, but I think there is somebody who’s making them now. There’s got to be. And at first I thought, well, you know, with a dry Rosé, I would imagine ketchup, which apparently has like in its raw form has more salt and sugar by volume than ice cream. I was thinking that it would be way too sweet the chips for the wine, but it was brilliant because the ketchup chips –  at least the ones I was munching on – were actually more tomatoey and and dry. They didn’t taste sweet and it was brilliant with a rosé from the Tavel, the Rhone Valley.

Ellen Clifford (00:35:00) – So my favourite Rosé all.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:03) – The love that.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:05) – Have you tried Chateau d’Aquéria?

Ellen Clifford (00:35:08) – Yes. Yes. Yes.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:09) – D apostrophe. Yeah. D apostrophe A Q etc. I love that one. I yeah I buy that one by the case. Just, I find it so good because it’s got all the taste of a robust red wine without the heavy alcohol and tannin and oak. So I think it’s perfect hybrid wine.

Ellen Clifford (00:35:28) – Yeah, I think they’re one of the best wintertime rosés I think too, just like because they have so much going on in such body. Chateau Trinquevedal is my go to when I’m buying a Tavel if you’ve ever had them. If you haven’t, you should try.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:45) – Yeah. I’ll look for it. Absolutely.

Ellen Clifford (00:35:47) – Okay. Cool. So Rosé and I need to try some ketchup chips now. I’ve never had them.

Natalie MacLean (00:35:53) – Yes [laughter].

Ellen Clifford (00:35:54) – So there’s like stores for every specialty thing in LA. There’s got to be like a store that sells Canadian things probably.

Natalie MacLean (00:36:01) – I’m sure. Yeah.

Ellen Clifford (00:36:03) – Question number three is, if not wine, what do you like to drink? And you, you can give me both an alcohol and a non-alcoholic. You’ve got a nice one there.

Natalie MacLean (00:36:13) – Tea. So I’ve got this ember mug that keeps it hot. I love tea, I especially like green tea. The green tea I drink, though, is not bitter. So I found a brand that’s not bitter and it’s decaffeinated because otherwise I’m climbing the ceiling with caffeine.

Ellen Clifford (00:36:27) – Do you ever do?

Natalie MacLean (00:36:28) – No, I don’t, do you?

Ellen Clifford (00:36:31) – I mean, I’ve not as a regular practice, but I like green tea.

Natalie MacLean (00:36:37) – Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So green tea would be my go to I mean wine really. I don’t really get into a lot of other drinks again because of the bitterness. So in the world of wine, I love Rosé and Pinot Noir. So I know that’s kind of cliche, but there you go. Not a lot of tannins.

Ellen Clifford (00:36:56) – I joke about Rosé because I’m like, I’ll like stock up on Rosé so to speak. And then I’m like, where’d all my rosé go? Because I’m always just like, I’m just kind of in the mood for some Rosé. If I’m not having to review something. Okay. Question number four is if you were to make a wine, what would you want to make? And what would you call your wine or your winery?

Natalie MacLean (00:37:20) – Well in the book, as you know, it starts with a wine label because I kind of wanted to put a label on my book because so many labels have been put on me. I thought, I’m creating my own label and it’s a wine label, so I would go with that. Domaine MacLean would be the name of the winery because it rhymes. It would be a Pinot Noir because that is the heartbreak grape. And this was not a good vintage, but it still ends well. And I would make the Pinot in a cool climate so it could be Carneros. It could be the Willamette Valley. It could be Niagara. Burgundy if I could ever afford that. But I just love Pinot because it’s I don’t know, I find it’s  got that racy, edgy, nervy acidity that it’s always strikes me as a grape on the edge of a nervous breakdown. And I like that in my grapes and my people, I find its so much more interesting where it could teeter one way or the other. You just don’t know what you’re going to get. And you know, if I was at a party, I would be going over and talking to that Pinot Noir that’s already sort of starting to cry in the corner, because I think the conversation would be so much more interesting than the Cabernet with the tuxedo on at the hor d’oeuvre table. So, yeah, Pinot all the way.

Ellen Clifford (00:38:34) – Awesome. Number five is the same question I’ve been asking guests since the show started, and it doesn’t have to relate to wine, although it can if you want. And it’s just what’s bringing you joy these days.

Natalie MacLean (00:38:45) – Well, what’s bringing me joy is the book is done. It’s written. And the baby, the book baby is out in the world. And it’s the reader letters that I’m getting. I mean, I shared one with you, but just I think when you share from the heart and with vulnerability and put all your warts out there. What comes back to you is surprising, and what comes back to you is richer, deeper stories and connection. It started with friends. When I first told them what was going on. Friends and family. We weren’t talking anymore just about our kids soccer lessons or whatever. They told me about times when they had been whatever, gone through something, and it just took friendship to a whole deeper level. So now that’s happening on a much grander scale or larger scale with the book, because readers feel like they know me, and that’s fine. And they’re telling me these deeply moving, personal stories on email or direct messages, as I mentioned, it just moves me because I think what we want to do, whether it’s with wine or with writing or whatever we do, it’s connection with other people. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to reach out to someone and say, I, I see you, you know, I see you struggle. We’re in it together. So that’s what’s meant the most to me. And it’s definitely what’s making me happy.

Ellen Clifford (00:40:07) – Beautiful. Well, do you want to tell everybody where they can find you? If you do, the social media is where they can follow you. All that good stuff?

Natalie MacLean (00:40:15) – Sure., I’ll point people to my website because all the social media handles are there., the easy URL to remember is WineWitchOnFire because it’ll redirect to my website, which is nataliemaclean.com, but there are all sorts of ways to misspell that. But you can put both of you like in the show notes. WineWitchOnFire.com, you’ll find out about the book the Free Book Club guide that you don’t have to have a book club for. But I also teach online wine and food pairing courses that are a lot of fun. And I have the podcast Unreserved Wine Talks. So wherever you’re listening to this wonderful podcast with Elle, you can also find mine added to your playlist. I have a newsletter and so on. But, yeah, please connect with me. Reach out to me whether it is by my website on social media. You’re also welcome to email me [email protected]. But again WineWitchOnFire.com. You’ll get in touch easily that way too.

Ellen Clifford (00:41:10) – But well, thank you so much for being a part of the show.

Natalie MacLean (00:41:13) – Oh l thank you for all your great questions and thanks for introducing me to your cat and your Fedex guy. And it was a really busy session, but I liked it. No, this is great. I really appreciate this. I love that we went off into a few different tangents because it makes it more interesting than the usual narrative. So thank you for for asking such great questions.

Ellen Clifford (00:41:34) – Well, I’m happy to have you be a part of it.

Natalie MacLean (00:41:37) – All right. Well, cheers. I raised my glasses.

Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Ellen. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with her, links to her 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. You can also find a link to take a free online food and wine pairing class with me. It’s called the Five Wine and Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner and How to Fix Them Forever at nataliemaclean.com/class. That’s all in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/277. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question, or if you’ve read my book or are in the process of reading it at [email protected].

If you missed episode 242, go back and take a listen. I chat about how artificial intelligence will change the wines you drink with AI expert Dina Blikshteyn. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Dina Blikshteyn (00:42:45) – There’s a lot of research that’s going on right now by the company called Kubota. And what this company is doing, it’s pairing up with vineyards, and it’s sending robots through the vineyards that take pictures of the grapes. And based on those pictures, they’re trying to figure out whether the grapes or the wine, the trees are actually getting enough water. So here I is determining whether the grapes themselves are getting enough water.

Natalie MacLean (00:43:15) – Far more sophisticated, because different grapes probably have different levels of ability to absorb moisture. So looking at the grape health and the leaf health is far more sophisticated and actually going right to the grapes and the leaves, I would think that’s far more accurate.

Natalie MacLean (00:43:44) – You won’t want to miss next week when we chat with Master of Wine Natasha Hughes, who is working on a book on Beaujolais. She shares some surprising insights about the region that should be known for much more than Nouveau. When she joins us from her home in London.

If you like this episode or even learned one thing from it, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in learning more about the stories I shared. It’s easy to find my podcast. Just tell them to search for Natalie MacLean Wine on their favourite podcast app or they can listen on my website. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine made by a human woman. I am just trying to wrap all the themes into one glass here. This is still Natalie, not AI, for now.

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.