Editor’s Note: You’ll find more media coverage for the book here.
Looking for a sizzling summer read? In her new memoir, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much, Natalie MacLean writes about resurrecting her life and career in the glamourous but sexist wine industry. The book has just become a national bestseller. Welcome Natalie.
So what is the book about?
Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much starts with my shock when my husband of twenty years demands a divorce. My year gets even worse when an online mob of rivals comes for my job. You could say it was a terrible, no good, very bad vintage.
Wavering between despair and determination, I have to fight for my son, rebuild my reputation, and salvage my self-worth using my superpowers: heart, humour, and an uncanny ability to pair wine and food.
This true coming-of-middle-age story is about transforming your life and finding love along the way.
How did you come up with the title (or why the witch theme)?
You might think that from the title this is about an angry woman who drinks a lot of wine and owns a lot of cats 😉 But it’s not.
Witches resonate with me because their strength comes from within, not from external validation. My favourite childhood stories were always about witches, both good and bad, especially The Wizard of Oz and battling duo of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Now, of course, I realize how damaging stereotypes of women can be, but I think it’s time to take back the word witch and what it means: a wise woman who’s been through the fire and come out on the other side stronger, wiser, fiercer!
Why write this book? (Inspiration)
At first, I thought, just walk away this dumpster fire and forget it. It was too painful to even look at my journal notes during that year. To write about it publicly would be vandalizing my own privacy. So that’s what I did for five years. But the story ricocheted around my head all that time, and I finally realized I had to let it out, at least on paper.
For the first year I spent writing this story, I had no intention of publishing it. It was a private exercise in making sense of what happened to me.
But as I heard similar stories from other women not just in the wine industry, but also in tech, sport, finance, and the military, I thought that my story may help someone else feel less alone.
Even though the specifics of our lives are different—they may not have gone through a divorce, but they’ve felt loneliness and the longing for love. They may not have been attacked by an online mob, but they’ve felt career disappointment or fear for the future. My memoir helps them experience those feelings though a different story and learn how someone emerged from life’s dumpster fires singed but not shattered.
Memoirist Glennon Doyle advised, “Write from a scar, not an open wound.” But why even write about it after the healing is done? Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty had the answer. “Why bother? Because right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”
Although this isn’t a self-help book, you do share tips on how you moderated your own alcohol consumption. Share some of those with us please.
#1 First, lots of therapy! I had to deal with the underlying issues that were causing my overdrinking: depression for the divorce and anxiety from the online mobbing. Once I got those under control, the urge for a drink to cope subsided dramatically. These sessions are in the book and early readers are finding them very helpful.
#2 Now, I ask myself what was the thought before the thought, “I need a glass of wine.” If it’s about relieving stress and not enjoyment, then I try to find another way to do that: go for a walk, take a bath, watch a favourite show.
Tip #3: When I open a bottle, I’ll pour half the wine into a clean, empty half bottle and recork it. It keeps the wine fresh for another night, and I’m more mindful about how much I’ve consumed.
#4: I drink a glass of water for every glass of wine to stay hydrated and to slow my alcohol consumption.
#5: I include more low and no-alcohol wines in my repertoire and when I entertain.
Throughout your memoir, you describe the slick marketing that encourages women to drink too much. Can you elaborate on this?
The message on some bottle labels is women are either babes or battleaxes. We’re vixens drawn to brands like Little Black Dress and Stiletto with their labels featuring short dresses, high heels, and red lips. Or we’re exhausted mothers buying wines such as Mommy Juice and Mommy’s Time Out to obliviate the stress of motherhood.
The marketing message is that women need to have a reason to drink, whether it’s girls’ night, a fancy occasion, or just getting through another day of exhaustion.
Conversely, wine is marketed to men as sophisticated and artisanal. No one asks a man why he wants a drink. He has one because he wants one.
I had always laughed off these narratives, just as I did with my boozy quips about drinking too much. Both the wine labels targeting women and the labels we slap on women themselves profit from powerlessness. I think we can be more mindful of the wines we buy and drink because we vote with our dollars.
We’ve heard lately that no amount of alcohol is safe. What are your thoughts on that?
As someone who drinks for a living, I’m often asked how much is too much. Some recent scary headlines have been generated from an abstinence lobby group that disqualified more than 6,000 studies to find just 16 that would agree with their mandate of zero alcohol consumption. This was not based on any new science.
In fact, Health Canada’s guidelines have not changed since 2011. They remain: two drinks maximum per day for women and three for men, or 10 and 15 drinks maximum per week.
If you dig into the data in the scary report, 14 drinks per week equates to a risk of losing just 2 months off of your life. That’s a risk I’m willing to take for the pleasure of a glass or two of wine over dinner with friends and family. Stress kills more people than moderate alcohol consumption. I think of a well-lived life in terms of healthspan not lifespan.
What do you expect readers to take away from this book?
A piece of themselves — better understood.
The winemaking term “dry extract” refers to the essence of the wine’s flavour components when all the moisture has evaporated. Dry extract is in us too, as people, our deepest reserves of strength and resilience. It’s what’s left after life has burned us down to our essence. I want readers to hold on to that, to know that they can rise again after they walk through those flames, stronger, brighter, fiercer.
You also have a wine guide for book clubs, wine groups and individual readers of your memoir. What’s in it?
The free guide has questions that not only relate to the book, but also to broader issues about drinking, sexism in marketing, and dealing with trauma. It also recommends wine to pair with the book and other books. You can use the guide in a group or just read it on your own.
The book is Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. It’s available in bookstores and online now. Find out more at www.winewitchonfire.com.
Tips for Moderating Your Alcohol Intake
- Deal with underlying issues.
- Pause and ask: why do I want this glass of wine right now?
- Pour half of a full bottle of wine into an empty half bottle to save it.
- Drink one glass of water for every glass of wine.
- Make low and no-alcohol wines part of your repertoire.