Wine Supertasters, Food Pairings and Canadian Palates with XChateau’s Robert Vernick & Peter Yeung



What does it mean to be a supertaster? How did wine consumption habits change during the pandemic? Do Canadians have different wine preferences compared to drinkers in other regions? Why is food and wine pairing such a great way to get into the world of wine?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Robert Vernick and Peter Yeung, co-hosts of the XChateau podcast.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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  • How did I get started in my wine career?
  • What motivated me to go from wine enthusiast to wine writer?
  • What does it mean to be a supertaster?
  • How do I manage my time between all my wine endeavours from books, to TV appearances, to the podcast?
  • Would wine experts benefit from my wine and food pairing course?
  • Why are “day in the life” stories often a better way to learn?
  • What features do wine lovers around the world enjoy with my mobile wine apps?
  • Are American wines well received in Canada?
  • How did wine consumption habits change during the pandemic?
  • Is there a distinguishable Canadian palate when it comes to wine?
  • Which Canadian wines should you try next, outside of the icewine category?
  • Why is food and wine pairing such a great way for beginners to ease into the world of wine?
  • What’s unique about Tim Hanni’s perspective on food and wine?
  • How has my business and my focus within it changed over the years?
  • Why are wine scores helpful despite lacking nuance?
  • What value is shared with subscribers through my newsletter?
  • Why is visiting vineyards one of my favourite ways to learn about wine?
  • What’s the best way to learn more about Canadian wines?


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About Robert Vernick and Peter Yeung

Robert Vernick and Peter Yeung co-host the XChateau podcast that features insights, analysis, and perspectives on news and trends in the wine industry beyond winemaking, such as marketing, finance, and consumer trends.

Robert is a noted wine blogger who holds the WSET Diploma. Peter is a wine business consultant and the award-winning author of Luxury Wine Marketing published by Infinite Ideas in Oxford, U.K. He was named one of Wine Business Monthly’s 2020 Wine Industry Leaders.



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  • Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
  • You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
  • The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on, and other country-specific Amazon sites;, and other country-specific iTunes sites; and



Natalie MacLean 0:00
Wind ties together art and geography and science and commerce and history, even religion. And then we get the five senses, the taste, smell, and so on. So it’s a full sensory experience layered on top of that. And I think what makes wine different from food, and this gets short shrift is that it’s a drug. Now I know in excess, it’s dangerous, but I think there’s a power in the fact that there is a buzz and you can get these mind altering states. You know, Michael Pollan has just started writing about that Omnivore’s Dilemma, how to change your mind,

Peter Yeung 0:34

Natalie MacLean 0:35
There you go. Exactly. And I think we overlooked that with wine OFTEN ANYWAY, wine brought it all together. For me. It was a full bodied experience from you know, mind to heart to full body

Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? D love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations. Oh, 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 172. What does it mean to be a super taster? How did wine consumption habits change during the pandemic? Do Canadians have different wine preferences compared to drinkers in other regions? And why is food and wine pairing such a great way to get into the world of wine? You’ll hear those stories and more during my chat with Robert Vernon and Peter Young co hosts of the terrific X Chateau podcast. They’re interviewing me this time. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir, your memoir isn’t literary. The editor said what? I asked I felt dumb. I’d always been with the smart kids in high school graduated with honours from the MBA programme at Western one literary writing awards. What the f happened since then. Your memoir is commercial, she said. Now I felt cheap and salesy like a word hustler. What’s the difference? I asked. Well, there’s some crossover between the categories. But literary books focus on the internal lives of characters, beautifully crafted sentences, and echoes of previous literary works however obscure, she explained. Commercial books are plot driven, entertaining and fast paced. You read them for a gripping story, like mysteries and thrillers, not for the artistry of the writing. This made me feel even worse. Even though my memoir is plot driven, what happens during one hellish roller coaster of a year? Can’t my sentences be pretty too high, bleated. She smiled. Sure, Natalie, they’re not mutually exclusive. And here’s the upside. Commercial books are often available at all the major bookstores plus other stores like Walmart, Costco, and target, maybe even Pottery Barn. literary books often don’t get as widespread distribution. Well, that still wasn’t exactly comforting. Then I thought about my mission for this memoir, to get its message out to as many people who need or want to hear it. wider distribution is surely going to help with that. So I’m going to swallow my pride and prejudice for the greater good that I believe that this memoir can do. But I’m not giving up on pretty sentences. I posted a link to the blog post called Diary of a book launch in the show notes at Natalie forward slash 172. This is where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir, from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know that you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript. Email me at Natalie, at Natalie Maclean calm. In the show notes, you’ll also find my email contact the full transcript of my conversation with Peter and Robert. Links to their website and podcast. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all the shownotes at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash 172. Okay, on with the show

Robert Vernick 5:14
Welcome to this episode of extra tow today, our guest is Natalie Maclean blind podcaster and writer. Welcome to the show, Natalie. Hey,

Natalie MacLean 5:22
Robert. Peter, it’s good to be here with you.

Robert Vernick 5:25
I was hoping to give our listeners a background about your experience in wine. And what do you write about? What is your podcast about? And what is your kind of overall platform?

Natalie MacLean 5:35
Sure. Well, I didn’t start off in this industry as a lot of people don’t. And I kind of stumbled into it. I did an MBA and then afterwards, I went into consumer packaged goods marketing, PNG, and then high tech. And then I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a simile a course for fun at night because dolphin Spanish just did not stick. And once I got into this course, it ended up being a diploma programme. I thought, this is perfect for someone who’s just a little more than slightly obsessive compulsive. This satisfies everything. So as you know why, and ties together art and geography and science and commerce and history, even religion. And then we get the five senses, the taste, smell, and so on. So it’s a full sensory experience layered on top of that. And I think what makes wine different from food, and this gets short shrift, I think, is that it’s a drug. Now I know in excess, it’s dangerous. But I think there’s a power in the fact that there is a buzz and you can get these mind altering states. You know, Michael Pollan has just started writing about that Omnivore’s Dilemma, how to change your mind.

Peter Yeung 6:43
Ayahuasca is a big Ayahuasca proponent.

Natalie MacLean 6:46
There you go. Exactly. And I think we overlooked that with wine often anyway. So long winded answer, just say wine brought it all together. For me. It was a full bodied experience from you know, mind, to heart to full body. Yeah, that’s how I got started in it that really turned me on to wine. And then it started with just cold calling editors getting published in magazines and newsletters or newspapers, eventually writing a couple of books that led to the courses and the unreserved wine talk podcast, and here we are.

Robert Vernick 7:18
So what made you jump from? I like this product, I find it intriguing mentally and super engaging, too. I want to like, write about that. And I want to make content about that, because that’s a different level of commitment.

Natalie MacLean 7:36
Exactly. And I didn’t even drink alcohol until my late 20s. Like after I graduated from the NBA. I wasn’t even into beer, whiskey spirits. Anything came from Nova Scotia family, and that was just too bitter. It turns out I’m a super taster. So that’s probably why but whatever. But wine wine had it. Well, actually, it was wine in a restaurant that really turned me on to was a Brunello out in a restaurant. And I just thought, oh my gosh, this is unlike anything I’ve ever tried. And it was the search for words to capture the experience where it failed me. I didn’t know how to describe it. But I knew I wanted more of it. And I wanted to understand it more. Because again, I just, that wasn’t my world’s not even booze. But I thought I need this in my life and I need to know how to talk about it.

Peter Yeung 8:25
So super taster, meaning you have a lot of taste buds at higher concentration of taste buds.

Natalie MacLean 8:30
Yes. So Tim Han I did that test where they dye your tongue blue and then they get in with all kinds of contraptions and look at that, but it’s a sensitivity to bitterness, which probably explains why I didn’t get into beer and whiskey. I just found them too bitter.

Peter Yeung 8:45
That’s why I was gonna be surprised that Brunello what would be the wine that got you into wine given it’s highly tannic, therefore highly bitter, because normally people who have a high concentration of taste buds will prefer sweet and so like sweeter wines and less bitter things.

Natalie MacLean 9:00
That’s true. It was an Italian restaurant, so they didn’t have anything sweet. But the Brunello had that fruit component. That’s bitterness. And so I think the bitterness like it hit me at the back, but I remember the first taste and going this is delicious. And it smells good too. So what’s going on here?

Peter Yeung 9:17
So you’re truly a multi channel multimedia wine person and Canada with like books, so subscription website and newsletter, wine courses, videos, TV appearances, podcasts, I’m gonna run out of words, I think, a mobile app. How do you split your time between all those different things?

Natalie MacLean 9:35
Well, it helps that I’m an insomniac to begin with. So really, the majority of my time these days goes toward the online food and wine pairing courses. I love it. My mother was a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. I feel like I’m coming full circle to what I love to do, which is the writing and the teaching. And so with the online courses, students come to me from around the world. I am basically Canada, but my audience is global. I mean, I would say the concentration is in the US and Canada. But then I get students from Europe and the UK and Australia and so on. But what happens is that even after they finish the course, they get lifetime access to all the materials. And I do bi weekly tastings with them. So they get lifetime access to me, as long as I’m still kicking. And it becomes kind of a tasting group for them. And they connect with other wine lovers. And it’s a way to continually improve their skills. So I find it appeals both to the beginners who come along the journey and learn about wine, but it also appeals to a lot of hospitality and trade staff because they’re looking for those tasting groups, especially during the pandemic. It’s just convenient, right? You can do it from home. I mean, we all know zoom and everything else. But I think there’s still that connection that can happen. And that regularity of meeting with the same people who share your passion.

Peter Yeung 10:56
So what do you consider yourself as a wine educator or I know you review wine so there’s a wine critic or journalist and influencer, some of these words are probably outdated these days. But

Natalie MacLean 11:09
I think wine storyteller is the common thread through everything. So in my books, the first one was red, white and drunk all over. So you can imagine how seriously I take my topic and myself but I love Day in the Life approach, sort of the New Journalism School, Truman Capote, a Joan Didion, and so on, they did what they wrote about so that they could get deeper insights into their topics rather than just sort of only interviewing someone or watching from the sidelines. So I became a sommelier. For a night, in a five diamond restaurant, I worked the harvest with Randall Graham at Bondi dune in California. I worked in New York, a liquor store, and a San Francisco store to see about buying wine. So each of those experiences I extracted stories, and then wrapped up in these stories were ways to or tips on how to buy parent tastes line, like a pro. But it’s kind of I harken back to my mom who always hid my keys and the mashed potatoes. So education is snuck in there. Because as you know, we’re wired for stories. We love stories. And it’s the stories that are the hook to hang the learning on. Like, I think you really need to remember we best remember things through stories, like I went shark diving. And then of course, we retire from shark diving off the coast of South Africa. My second book unquenchable on course talk about seafood and wine pairings. No sharks were harmed, but I’ll milk a goat. And then we’re talking about cheese and wine or whatever. But it’s the story wrapped around the learning that is my focus.

Robert Vernick 12:45
Cheese terroir. Exactly. You’re saying, so say you’re going to write an article for someone or do something for a brand. How would you describe your core audience to a consumer or to a brand if they’re going to work with you, or a publisher?

Natalie MacLean 12:59
I think because of the focus on storytelling, and on the practical side, the food and wine pairing, it is pretty broad, because I find even as I say hospitality and trade will come take my courses because of the focus on food and wine pairing, which often gets overlooked or just, it’s not a heavy focus in some of the more formalised courses. But that approach appeals also and is less intimidating to those who are just beginning their journey. Everyone loves stories, everyone loves food and wine pairing. But if I’m talking about it from say, an advertising perspective, or someone who wants to work with our community, we have 300,000 subscribers to the newsletter so we can geo target or target pockets of who’s buying what and all that sort of thing. So becomes very much segmentation after that, but I’d say we are population our community sort of falls out along the general population with high end your collectors or whatever being very small percentage and then a broader swath of everyday wine drinkers.

Robert Vernick 14:02
So trader mainly coming to you for the focus on food and wine pairings, consumers are coming for the somewhat less like, rigid tasting structure. Okay, so that’s interesting. And then I noticed that on your website, you also have like the prices of lines but you’re based in Ottawa like, how does that work? If you have a large audience in the US as well? Are you using like LCBO pricing using like wine searcher pricing? How are you translating that cross border things, the pricings can be quite different between a certain versus US and Canada.

Natalie MacLean 14:30
So it’s usually a pleasant surprise for my US subscribers, because it’s like deduct 30%, and you’re good to go. But I do use LCBO pricing, my mobile apps, they scan the barcode and the front label. So I don’t know if any other apps that do both. There’s a lot of front label scanners and there’s a few back barcode, but we do both. It’s

Peter Yeung 14:50
integrated have barcodes on a lot of right okay, there

Natalie MacLean 14:54
you go. So, what we’ve integrated is liquor stores across the country. their pricing, but also real time geo inventory. So you know, I can tell if you let me through the app where you are the closest liquor store to you that has the wine, how many bottles are in stock? And the price at that liquor store? Oh, I mean, goes back to my high tech geekiness. One of the first things I did when I transitioned from high tech into wine,

Peter Yeung 15:21
that’s just an API into like the LCB POS inventory. I guess that’s easier to do when you have monopoly markets. If you’re in California, in New York, and there’s like, tonnes of retailers around, that’d be really tough to do, or even Alberta,

Natalie MacLean 15:37
exactly where it’s privatised. But a lot of the other provinces are still sort of pre prohibition. So one of the few advantages, but yeah, so when it comes to people who live outside of Canada, they still find the information helpful in that it’s clean data. I mean, you know, the vintages? Correct, the blends are correct. I mean, there’s 90 other pieces of information about each wine. So the price will be different. And you’ll need to find it locally. But they still find the virtual cellar in the app and all kinds of things, buy list wish list, buy again, all that kind of thing. Those functionalities are still useful.

Robert Vernick 16:14
So I’m curious, being American, and you’re in Canada, what’s the reception? Or how are American wines perceived in Canada in general? Do you feel comfortable enough to speak about that?

Natalie MacLean 16:23
Oh, sure. I know that the four big regions are well represented here. So California, Washington, Oregon, and New York State. And they all have pretty good marketing campaigns. So they care about this market. I think we’re your number one export market. I believe I could be wrong in that. But yeah, what happened during the pandemic was interesting, all wine consumption rose, certainly the bottom and Rose, but premium lines also rose. I don’t know if this happened in the States. So those who are staying home with disposable income, and particularly those who had I think they say $60,000, and up, those were the people who stay at home stay employed, they couldn’t spend their money as much on restaurants, travel, etc. So they ratcheted up on premium wines. And for us, that’s often those from the US not just because of the exchange rate, but because that’s kind of the tier that they’re in for the most part. So they’ve done really well, US wines across the board. And I think that’s going to stick because people have had a taste of better wines as they jumped. Not the whole game. But I think there’ll be a permanent effect on us wine purchase here,

Peter Yeung 17:34
just for definition purposes, when you say premium wine is that $20 And above or what’s the definition?

Natalie MacLean 17:41
Yeah, I know that there’s some really seemingly low definitions of premium wine like in the industry, it’s sometimes I don’t know, like 10 to $15 or whatever. Right. But yeah, I think of it as over $20. Okay, for sure. Canadian dollars.

Robert Vernick 17:58
Would you say that there’s a Canadian palate? Like, would you say based on your experience and tasting with students from different parts of Canada that they have a slightly different palate than the US and if so, how

Natalie MacLean 18:08
our wines, which are pretty awesome, are all made in a cool climate, we really don’t have any warm climates here, even BC, which is the end of the Sonoran Desert is still considered a cool climate. So as you know, what that means is that they’re edgy and nervy in terms of their acidity. They don’t tend to be fruit bombs. But at the same time, we don’t have that long culture of wine drinking that a lot of European countries have had. So I think, if we put that all together, if there is such a thing as a Canadian palate, it’s probably more toward those cool climate wines. There’s a lot of experimentation. But we grew up with beer and whiskey, and we’re in northern clime kind of region. That’s our heritage. We make beer we make whiskey, but not why, until recently, last 25 years.

Peter Yeung 18:59
How is icewine then considered in Canada to home product? Is it something Canadians actually enjoyed more frequently or like the rest of the world sweet wines are kind of out of favour, and it’s a specialty item?

Natalie MacLean 19:12
Well, icewine, as you know, put us on the map globally, winning the first major awards in international competitions. So icewine is good for us as a flagship, but it’s a double edged sword. It can also be just like, kind of stereotyping like maple syrup. Mounties moose beavertails. So I think it’s great that it led the way and it was a premium product. But now I think the challenge is broadening that perception of Canadian wine because we make spectacular, you know, Pinot Noir Riesling, Chardonnay, sparkling wine, gamma cab Fronk. Those wines don’t have the same distribution as iced wine. But that’s what’s here and what’s exciting

Robert Vernick 19:55
for people to volume production, nice wine as well.

Peter Yeung 19:58
Exactly. has been maybe 15 years since I’ve had my still Canadian wines. So you mentioned you have a passion for the food and wine pairing and that element. Is that your core content? Or how else would you describe your core content given that you do a lot of wine reviews and other wine education, etc?

Natalie MacLean 20:21
Sure, I think food and wine pairing is my core focus in terms of content on the site. It’s part of the books, but I haven’t written wine and food pairing books, they’re more like adventure stories, or however you want to characterise them. But food wine pairing is definitely what I do. Because I have a lot of tools on the site that do matching, I have recipes that are all paired with wines, the mobile apps will pair the wines as well, and the articles. And I just think that, you know, food is such an easy way to come into the wine category. But it’s also a fascinating way to grow your knowledge as you become more expert. He’s looking to roast chicken or not checking its vintage turd. It’s not overwhelming. It’s not like you’re standing in the supermarket looking at rows and rows of different types of roast chicken from different regions. And sub appellations. I mean, it’s really easy. We don’t we’re not intimidated by roast chicken. So if we start with the food, and then Pair it with the wine, as a way to understand more about the wine, I think that’s a lot more accessible without dumbing it down. Because of course, it can get into sauces and preparations and for wines that might work and all the rest of it. But I think it’s a great jumping off point.

Peter Yeung 21:31
As you mentioned, Tim and I earlier and his work, do you leverage a lot of his research and your practice using acid and salt and other things to adjust the food to pair with the wine and I think his motto is drink the wines you like right now?

Natalie MacLean 21:46
Or not the dinner? Yeah, I love his philosophy. I really enjoyed meeting him, he changed the way I thought about food and wine, that often you can calibrate. Like he said, if you’ve got this steak, and you somehow ended up with maybe a white wine or whatever, that’s not the classic match, put some salt on your steak and see how it transforms the wine. And the pairing just might work for you. And but I do love his pair of the wine to the diner, not the dinner. I think that’s fabulous. It tells us all just relax. If the parent doesn’t work, have a button in between not to get too uptight. But yeah, I think with Tim, it was almost spooky when he did my assessment. Because he not only told me, I was a super taster. He said, I’ll bet you cut the tags out of clothing. And I said, How did you know that? But it’s all about being highly sensitive to a lot of things. So I think his way of looking at things, looking at wine as an integrated part of how you perceive the world is really amazing.

Peter Yeung 22:48
So which of the content whether it’s the food and wine, which you said you have classes and stuff about or the reviews, which content tends to drive people to, like sign up for a class or pay for a newsletter?

Natalie MacLean 23:03
I kind of think of it like Jeff Bezos in one of his books. He has the communication flywheel, right. So you can come in different ways, whether it’s the mobile apps, the books, the newsletter, and so on. I think at first it was the books because they did very well. And Amazon actually named them both best books of the year. So that means they were pumping it up on their algorithm. Cool. Yeah, it was cool. It really helps sales. Well, especially unquenchable. The second book, was mentioning my website more, because this is back in 2011, red, white and drunk all over was 2006, kind of the Palaeolithic Era of the internet, feeling very old. So it brought people into my world through the books. And as you know, books are such a deep connection. You’ve written one, Peter, I’m not sure if you’ve written one yet, Robert. Okay. All right. There’s always time of course. But you know, they take that deep dive with you and they stay with you. It’s kind of like podcasting to I find the two very similar. Now we know that podcast listeners, stay with you like the studies show that people will listen to a 3060 minute podcast 80 to 100% of the way through, whereas Facebook video, they’re gone average in like 30 seconds or two minutes, even if they were intentionally there. There’s a different kind of attention and engagement with both books and with podcasts. And so to answer your question, I think at first it was the books but they’ve been a while still I still get royalty checks. So so they do last Peter, I know you’re wondering,

Peter Yeung 24:34
too small market.

Natalie MacLean 24:37
These days, it’s all about the you know longtail right so people will find you and your book on luxury. Why marketing I can’t wait to talk to you about that on the podcast and Robert to you as well about the work you’ve done. But they will stay with you. And I think now the transition though has been to the podcast in terms of listeners until I publish book three. So

Robert Vernick 25:00
So I am curious in terms of the synergy between those things, because I definitely agree with you, the podcasts have this, whether it’s from the advertising front, or just from the storytelling front and you hearing, there’s so much fidelity in the human voice, that hearing that, especially when you’re not looking at something, in some ways, makes it like resonate better. And I could see where I like to talk, I’m not the best writer, hence, I haven’t written the book, then there’s all these other things in terms of social media better is much more ephemeral content, where it’s kind of like in the moment, it needs a hook in the first couple of seconds, and go from there. But it’s hard to be good at all of those areas. And then you also mentioned your mobile app. And it’s hard to get people to download an app these days. It’s not like it was 10 years ago, where there weren’t that many selections in terms of things. There’s so many apps on all these stores. So I’m curious on like, how do you play in so many spaces at once I do social media, we do the podcast, I already find that daunting, let alone all the other things that you’re doing.

Natalie MacLean 25:52
I don’t know, I have a short attention span. But I’ve been at this for a long time. It’s been 20 years since I started writing about wine. So you build up over time. And you bring people into your world over time. I mean, you know, 300,000 subscribers is not last year, it’s 20 year journey. Over time, you also narrowed down what it is you love most and what do you focus on? So the mobile apps, I haven’t made a lot of updates to them in the last two years, they automatically feed in my new wine reviews, but that’s not me adding them manually. So those kind of run on their own, they’re not taking up a lot of time with the podcast, you know, I’ll repurpose it on Facebook Live. So I’m trying to you know, recycle where I can because you want to go to consumers or listeners or readers where they’re at. So you know, there’s a certain audience who listens to the podcast, but there’s others who are on social media, but I’m cross purchasing the content a lot as well. So that helps. But again, I’m really jazzed about the podcast, right now in the potential of podcasting. I’m so glad you guys are in this space as well. Because, Robert, you talk about the fidelity of the human voice. And it’s almost better if there’s no visuals, I totally agree. It’s like you’re millimetres from somebody’s brain, it’s very intimate. It’s almost like it sparks off the Theatre of the mind. And there’s nothing like it, you co create that experience your listener and you through your voice. It’s very, very powerful. So I think you guys should double down and the podcast is the way to go podcasts and books

Peter Yeung 27:28
as while they’re stuck in their car or on a train. So we’re just like subliminally programming them.

Natalie MacLean 27:35
zactly Exactly. And yet you take a journey. So over time, they feel they know you like your friends. And I love that like I love that connection, the deeper connection that I just can’t seem to find on social media. Well,

Robert Vernick 27:49
and the other thing is like, we’ve dabbled a little bit in advertising for the podcast, and in the fact that Peter and I talk about something and we try to make it so it’s personal, like we’re trying to make it so it’s not just someone else pre recorded thing into our podcast, as we think that wouldn’t be authentic to our voice. So I’m curious for you like in terms of revenue drivers for your business. And I’m curious in how it’s changed over time, like, obviously have the book royalties, you have the apps and the subscription for your newsletter. But then you have the podcast, like where is the main revenue coming for you now from which channel? And if you see that change over time, sure,

Natalie MacLean 28:23
it’ll be the courses. And that has changed, because it’s just in the last five years that I’ve been offering food and wine pairing courses. So I didn’t have that at the beginning. At the very start. It was magazine and newspaper articles, but that’s kind of dried up. Oh my goodness, it’s so tough. I don’t know how anybody makes a full time living.

Peter Yeung 28:41
Finding space $50 An article?

Natalie MacLean 28:44
i Yeah, like, what’s that gonna get you? Exactly. And newspapers are even worse. I mean, it’s just the rates. But as you know, the columns have just dried up completely as well. I only have one magazine article right now. And it doesn’t even keep me in California Cabernet. But I still do it. But so the the majority of income would be the online courses, and then followed by the wine reviews, subscriptions, I do have advertising that would probably come in at number three. And then the books have trailed off because it’s been so many years but I am writing another one so I have hope.

Robert Vernick 29:21
And so for the courses is your goal to add on more courses that they can I mean over time to build up like a library of different things. Like I think about like the wine scholar guild is kind of like started with French wine scholar and then you know, essentially expanded over time.

Natalie MacLean 29:35
Exactly. My approach will be to courses only ever because I don’t know if it’s Procter and Gamble that taught me to double down on a unique selling proposition and stop trying to be everything to everybody. But my course right now is the get wine smart course the wine smart course a full bodied framework to pair buy and taste wine like a pro. That is the course I offer right now and it’s very much focused on food and wine people I’ve done a second course a beta on wine and cheese pairing, that’s just that topic. That’s huge. And I’m going to launch that sometime. When I have time, it went very well in beta. And I’m going to launch it as a full fledged course with Evergreen or lifetime access. But that’s it. I just want to perfect those courses. I want to keep adding to them. I want to find better ways to market them. I don’t want to, you know, shiny new syndrome, what is it shiny new things syndrome, I don’t want to chase after a bunch of different courses, because I can’t do that I can’t be all things to all people. I want to do what I do better, deeper, that will be my strategy to only that’s it.

Robert Vernick 30:41
And I’m curious if you know, obviously you do wine reviews. And I noticed that you do have a score, but you’re also telling these stories about these wines. And have you thought over time to sort of go away from scoring and just put your opinion out there and words and the story and give the background and walk away from it? Because it seems like those the number in the story are sometimes maybe at odds with each other.

Natalie MacLean 31:01
Yeah, they are I mean, how can you track a subjective experience in a score? And we all know, it’s one moment in time when person’s perception. How useful is that? The first three years that I wrote about wine, I did not score wines. I thought that’s just silly. Like it’s like scoring, I don’t know, flowers or something. But over time, people would email me a lot and say I want to score. They were the people who didn’t want to spend as much time thinking about wine as I did. It was shorthand, right for quality, and they do the QPR, the quality, price ratio, quality, the measures the score price, and they try to optimise even though that can get you into drinking, maybe emotionally, whether you prefer a robust Cabernet, but you know, what are you gonna do? So I do score wines, I probably will never walk away from that I’m comfortable doing it now. But it’s also service to my readers, they want them. So my passion will always be in writing. But the service component is in the scores. And it’s just, I was a total score snob at the beginning. Because I thought, you know, it’s like the difference between recipes in the food world and those moving food memoirs, I want to be with a real action is, you know, the long form narrative that was where the writers are recipes, wine reviews, house fires. But I had to get over myself, I’m still doing that and realise, hey, these reviews or the the scores themselves, people want them, so just do it.

Peter Yeung 32:32
And you’ve had a lot of success with your newsletter, over 300,000 subscribers over your 20 year history. What’s the key value proposition of subscribing to the newsletter?

Natalie MacLean 32:43
Sure. So the newsletter itself is free. What you pay for on my site is access to the wine reviews. So the actual scores and tasting notes that I give each wine, the mobile apps are free, so you’ll get all the information on the wine, you just won’t get my score and tasting note until you pay up three bucks a month. So the value of the newsletters that’s where all the pairing tips are. So we go into much more depth in the course. But the newsletter has quick tips like you know, which normally put butter or lemon on this food. If it’s butter, go with a maybe an old Chardonnay, if it’s lemon go with a zesty acidic, or racy Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc tips like that quick tips that help them find better wines deepen their pleasure. That’s what they’re paying, and I do a lot of videos. So again, I’ll repurpose my television videos in the newsletter. But those are all quick tips. And that’s what people want from that.

Peter Yeung 33:41
And do you have a sense of how you acquired all these subscribers? Like what were the big marketing channels or reasons and ways of which you built eventually to 300,000?

Natalie MacLean 33:52
Sure. So being one of the early adopters coming from high tech and having a website back in, as I say the Palaeolithic Era was 2000 that I started the website. And I started emailing friends and family at that time wasn’t even a newsletter. It was just an email to everybody. So that evolved. So time has been on my side. But also the two books that really exploded it for me because not only did the books themselves reach a wider audience, because I was fortunate enough to work with Random House for both of those books. But also the book tours. I mean, it opened up my eyes to television stations. It’s how I got on TV the first time they interviewed me about the book and they’d say, Do you want to come back and talk about not no wines for turkey dinner? Sure. So that opened up all that media that I never knew existed gave me those contacts. That was the early boost. But now as I say it’s the podcast and you know, it helps that. I’ve been fortunate enough to be recommended by the New York Times for the podcast and other lists. But those are the people those podcast people with your own lists. They’re not they tell other people, ah, you really want to learn about wine, go listen to this. And then they stay with you. They’re very

Peter Yeung 35:06
loyal. And then they subscribe to the newsletter. Yes,

Natalie MacLean 35:10
that’s the grand plan. That’s the biggest message. Okay, now take my course.

Robert Vernick 35:16
Is there a really high overlap between people who’ve taken your course and people who are in your newsletter isn’t like that Venn diagram is squarely in the subscribers of your newsletter.

Natalie MacLean 35:24
The biggest overlap is between the podcast and the courses are really their commitment, and then the books but that’s petering off, because you know, the last one was 2011. I

Peter Yeung 35:33
really dislike that terminology.

Natalie MacLean 35:39
First of all, I’m sorry.

Robert Vernick 35:42
You say that all the time? No. You can.

Peter Yeung 35:45
You can teach my daughter Piper that she shouldn’t like the term pipe down.

Natalie MacLean 35:51
So cute. Piper. That’s great. No, but yeah, so anyway,

Robert Vernick 35:56
the podcast in the courses have the strongest overlap. Interesting. Okay. So yes, commitment. And you find that a podcast is usually the first one and then they move on. And it’s hard because you don’t get that much information from podcasts, right, in terms of the chat of the analytics. So but you’re you’re assuming that people go from the podcast over into the course?

Natalie MacLean 36:13
Yes, yes. I mean, whenever anybody registers for the website, or the podcast, you know, I’ll ask them, Do you want the newsletter but because I always follow up after someone signs up for my course. I always ask how did you hear about the course. And it’s usually the podcast. And so I realised that they’re the best customers I have. They’re not the most, as with everything, but they’re the people who will pay. Because they’ve gotten to know me, like, you know, I know myself, I didn’t take my first online course, about how to create online courses. Kind of meta, until I listened to the podcast of a woman who taught online courses, how to create them, I listened to all 156 episodes, I just finished. And then I felt I knew her, I could trust her. She knew what she was talking about. But it was only after listening to all of them that I finally signed up for her course.

Robert Vernick 37:06
Interesting. So and in terms of other media driving towards it in terms of social media, I’m curious on what are you doing? either YouTube or Facebook or Instagram, tick tock even to drive people to there? And like, have you seen the same kind of similar growth just in an earlier stage than the podcast? Or How has that worked

Natalie MacLean 37:23
out for you? Yeah, the social media will tend to get people either over to the newsletter or requesting my free wine and food pairing Guide, which your listeners can get to. So they’ll tend to be low commitment and not paying, they’ll come in through those channels, but then they’re in your circle of communication, and you hope to grow with them in trust in other ways. So yeah, with social media, you kind of have to be there, especially if you want to publish another book, they’re always going to look at your platform, though nothing, nothing beats email, like it seems so retro, nothing beats email, is that direct you own it, it’s not rented land like social media is, but it kind of still have to be on all the places. So I am, but I get help with that from an assistant. And so she will flag anything that needs a personal response from me. But she’s posting the content, whether it’s repurposed from TV or somewhere else to keep the channels alive.

Robert Vernick 38:23
So I’m assuming that in your podcast, kind of like, teasing out like, hey, and by the way, you can like mentioning it at least once a episode, but your course is not going to help that conversion. That’s a correct assumption, right?

Natalie MacLean 38:34
What I tease is that they can take a free class with me, at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash class. So that’s a webinar, alright, it’s going to give you food and wine pairing tips, half a dozen of them. So deliver value first. And then the bottom part of it or the last part of it is talking about my course, my online course for which you would have to pay. So I’m always driving people to something free, whether it’s the pairing guide that they like, or the free pairing class online, because you got to warm them up. I think there’s some people who will stumble on my website, look at the course section and just buy it from that. But they probably know me in some other way first,

Robert Vernick 39:15
right. Interesting. So how often are these are live classes that you’re running for free, on a regular basis? And they just Yes, go up a spot and do a zoom like that and

Natalie MacLean 39:26
reserve their spot? Yeah, I’m always running them. I love it because there’s a live chat going on. And I’m answering questions that people love because they can select a time in a day that works for them. And there’s lots of choice. So get lots of people coming in that way. And even if they don’t buy the course, they’re still in my world now. So that’s a good thing too.

Peter Yeung 39:45
And your paid course, what’s the framework of that? Is that a multi course thing or multi course meal or a single class or?

Natalie MacLean 39:55
It’s five modules? Each module has pre recorded videos workbooks quizzes. And we work our way through the major grapes, the major pairings again, the food pairings is a big part of it. And I’m always adding new modules like holiday turkey dinner. Okay, let’s look at all not just Turkey, but all the ways you can cook Turkey. And then all the side dishes. Let’s pair them all with wines in case you know, you’re really into cranberry sauce. But as I say, there’s also a live component that continues for life like those bi weekly tastings. We’re always tackling a different topic, either a food wine pairing topic, or let’s just dive down on to New York reselling, or whatever it is, so that the two components work together.

Robert Vernick 40:37
Yeah. Are those five modules that are in there? Are they all recorded? Or is on demand? Or is there an option to do a full on live session with you?

Natalie MacLean 40:46
Yeah, both. So all of the modules are pre recorded on demand. You can download them offline, like if you’re travelling, and you want to watch them while you’re on the plane or by the beach. As I mentioned, I took a course on how to create online courses. So they’re all snackable. They’re all like seven to nine minutes, there’s probably 70 videos, 70 or 75. So you can go through them quickly. Or you can binge watch NetFlix style, if you want to get through them all in less than a day. So it depends on what you want to do. But people love being able to start when they want and resume it maybe six months a year later. It’s lifetime access. So I think that’s the way online courses will go. These people are busy, and they want to have that flexibility. But the bi weekly tastings are live and in person with me via zoom.

Peter Yeung 41:38
So what areas of your business are you the most excited about going forward?

Natalie MacLean 41:43
The courses, podcast, I love the people I get to meet like you, you both are going to come on the podcast and a couple weeks. We’re going to chat. We switched the tables here. But I love meeting all sorts of fascinating people. I look for storytellers, someone who can share with my audience, not just information, but ways to deepen their pleasure of wine, their understanding of wines, tell some stories. So I’m always excited about the upcoming guests that are coming on the podcast. But also I you know, I’m looking forward to writing my third book. So it’ll be more of a memoir than the first two books but still deeply, deeply rooted in the world of wine. Cool. Oh,

Robert Vernick 42:26
so obviously, the last 18 months or so has been a little bit chaotic and different for many of us around the world. I am curious now that as we’re starting to come out of the pandemic, what are you most excited about in the world of line for 2021? What even like that you’re just looking forward to seeing emerge or happen or do yourself?

Natalie MacLean 42:48
Sure, I’m looking forward to being able to visit wine regions again, you know, even locally, just we have some fabulous wine regions. None of us have been able to visit them for a long time. I just think it’s such a beautiful way to learn about wine. I mean, in the situation where you’re tasting and seeing the vineyards and perhaps talking with the winemaker and so on. I’m also excited about going back to restaurants. I always call going out to restaurants, my family sport because we’re not very sporty. But we love to go to restaurants. And that’s where we talk and enjoy. And we used to try to go to restaurants and then book a theatre. It’s like we never want to leave the restaurant table. It’s like, I remember when we gave away ballet tickets, because we just were having so much fun at the restaurant. So I can’t wait. We’re just opening up like that now indoor dining here. So Saturday is our first night going back to indoor dining. Cannot wait. So yeah, and just trying new wines. Still meeting more people through the courses, interviewing folks that you know, it’s all good.

Robert Vernick 43:49
And just as a quick follow on in terms of Katie line as there’s been a you know, everybody I know in Canada keeps telling me how great Canadian wine is if you wanted to kind of open up someone’s eyes to the quality of Canadian wine of dry wine specifically, which region would you be pointing them at? Or what style of wine would you be pointing them out? To check out?

Natalie MacLean 44:10
I tell them to take a cross country tour. I’m picking favourite children here but I’m from Nova Scotia. So I’d say start in the Annapolis Valley with laccadive long and tidal Bay, Atlantic Coast seafood, lobster melting butter on the beach. Then I’d take you on a trip to Quebec the Eastern Townships or get to try maybe some ciders, hard ciders, as well as some really bright crisp white wines, even Chardonnay. Then of course, we come to Ontario and we’ve taken a visit down to Niagara Prince Edward County is new but so exciting. And all of these regions have such great restaurants often attached to the winery. So it’s really worth making the trip. And then of course we’d go to BC weather another three or so different regions. So I’d invite you to come and visit first because I think think that is the best way. It’s also the most selection. But I’d also say like, Look beyond Icewind. Don’t forget it. But look beyond I mean, just recently, a wine from Niagara one, the Chardonnay demand Best in Show best Chardonnay in the world, not for Canada, but in the world. And whatever you think of different competitions and medals, Canadian wines are really seriously good on the world stage and you know, really worth trying.

Robert Vernick 45:28
Awesome. Well, Natalie, we appreciate you joining us and spending your morning with us talking about everything you do in the wine industry. And no, it’s we’ve learned a lot. And you know, I think Peter and I might try to steal a few of your ideas for running. No, it was great, very informative,

Natalie MacLean 45:43
and I invite any of your listeners if they’re interested in any of the things I’ve mentioned, they can find it all at Natalie Take the free class forward slash class or Natalie forward slash x or x Chateau to get that free wine and food pairing guide. Awesome. Thank

Robert Vernick 46:00
you very much.

Natalie MacLean 46:01
All right, thank you guys.

Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Robert and Peter. In the shownotes at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash 172. You’ll find my email contact a link to the post called Diary of a book launch the full transcript of my conversation with Peter and Robert. Links to their website and podcast. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. Email me if you have a tip, sip question, or would like to be a beta reader of my new memoir at Natalie, at Natalie Maclean comm you won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Jim Dwayne host of the inside winemaking podcast. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 142, go back and take a listen. In this one, I’m interviewing Robert and Peter about their take on why marketing and a lot of other really interesting topics. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. Some of the backlash against influencers. Do you think there’s misogyny involved?

Robert Vernick 47:21
The traditional white media in the traditional wider industry doesn’t really want to change anything, I don’t think they think anything is wrong. Before it was the bloggers now with the influencers and they’ve always hit something new. Anything that’s gonna change the establishment, the democratisation of these platforms has given people who previously didn’t have a voice or couldn’t get a voice through the traditional means have made it easier for them to find their tribe and build up influence and build credibility. There are people who are just taking a pretty photo with a bottle and that make it a lot of likes and a lot of tension or is it really wine content? Who cares if it’s helping kind of proliferate wine and I think, why not try something different? I think that that’s where the backlash comes from. I definitely think it is generational as well. There’s some age factors in there in terms of a changing of the guard by generation.

Natalie MacLean 48:08
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who be interested in the wines and stories we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your class this week. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers