A regular for many years here on The Morning Show as our wine expert, Natalie MacLean is back but this time with her newly released memoir, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much
Welcome back, Natalie and what a way to come back with this open and honest memoir. What prompted you to write this?
At first, I thought, just walk away from 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 and finance, 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 burned but not broken.
I need to know more about this title?!
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 the 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, and 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 has come out on the other side stronger, wiser, fiercer.
You discuss your own issues with drinking. How do you do what do? Be a wine connoisseur and expert when alcohol has been at the centre of some of your problems?
Yes, I drink for a living. Bottles sit on my desk to the left and right of my computer and fill the gaps in my bookshelves. In the back of the kitchen is a hallway I called Tasting Alley. Cases of wine arrive daily from wineries.
Surrounded by wine, I live in what an oenophile would consider paradise.
The challenge was making it through the arsenic hour around 5:00 p.m. when there’s a natural dip in serotonin, the hormone that stabilizes our mood and sense of well-being. This is when you want to either take arsenic or give it to those around you.
This is a topic we don’t talk about in my industry. Drinking is viewed as an occupational duty or there’s shame in admitting a problem. Department of Health statistics indicate that the wine industry has the highest rate of substance abuse among all professions.
Putting my story — and my flaws — out in public is also a way of holding myself to a higher standard of accountability. Now if I slip up, it’s no longer in private. But that’s actually reassuring as I have more people supporting me than when I was going it alone.
While this isn’t a self-help book, what did you do to moderate your alcohol intake?
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.
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.
There are lots more tips in the book.
Given how many years you’ve been in the wine industry, you have real inside knowledge not only on the product but how it is marketed. What have you observed?
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.
You’re also talking about wine-mom culture, can you explain this?
I wasn’t a bystander in the labelling game. I was team captain. I had often described my glass of wine at 5:00 p.m. as “Mommy’s little helper.” That’s how I marketed wine to myself. It was also my way of fitting in with other “wine moms.”
Wine mom memes and jokes sound lighthearted, but they also have a bitter edge of resentment. By that time of the day, I was exhausted. No one was helping Mommy, so Mommy helped herself — to a drink.
While this book deals with serious issues, there’s lots of humour. How do you strike a balance between the two?
Humour has always been my way of dealing with tough times.
I didn’t want to trivialize the serious subjects, but it couldn’t be one long bleak narrative. We need comic relief in both memoir and life. Something has to brighten a book when the subtitle is brought to you by the dismal letter D: divorce, defamation, and drinking too much. The publisher’s marketing team insisted that we take out depression, destitution, and delirium.
They say that comedy is pain plus time. I certainly couldn’t have injected humour into this book ten years ago when I was in the middle of the situation. But now, I can stand back with the wisdom of time and see how some of the more absurd things that happened border on the comical.
That said, my humour has changed over the years. It used to be very quippy and a defence mechanism to keep from revealing my feelings. Now, I hope, it’s a gentler approach that invites others in with a soft chuckle.
When someone finishes reading this book, what do you hope they reflect on or take away?
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.
Where can we get the book and the companion guide?
It’s in bookstores now and you can order it online. I’ve posted links to all the retailers as well as the free companion book club at www.winewitchonfire.com
Posted with permission of Global TV