“People think I have the best job in the world,” laughs Natalie Maclean – one of North America’s leading wine writers and the author of Red, White and Drunk All Over. “They think I’m drunk all day.”
In the not-too-distant past, Natalie’s life revolved around the Internet industry and speaking at trade fairs across America as a “web evangelist” for a California-based computer firm but wine was always her passion.
“When I was working in California, I’d spend all day on the show floor and then pack up and head off to Napa Valley to find the wines and visit vineyards,” she said. “I went on maternity leave in 1998 and in a sleep-deprived state I decided that I should give it all up and become a wine writer.
“Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have a job that involves sensory pleasure, and I engage my mind and my body when I’m writing about wine.”
Natalie started by writing freelance articles about wine for magazines but her knowledge of the Web was to prove extremely useful.
“I firmly believe in the Internet and after getting some articles published I e-mailed them to people who I knew were interested in wine and what I was doing,” she said. “As you know, the Internet is very organic – at first I was e-mailing to 50 people and then it was 200 people and now I have an e-mail newsletter that goes to 200,000 people.”
The e-newsletter, called Nat Decants, is free and its wide distribution and popularity has helped to put her on the wine writing map – and drive countless paid writing assignments her way from magazines around the world. Anyone can sign up for Nat Decants by visiting www.nataliemaclean.com.
At the 2003 World Food Media Awards in Australia, Natalie was named the World's Best Drink Writer ahead of 1,000 other writers. Her articles have appeared in more than sixty newspapers and magazines, including the Chicago Tribune and BusinessWeek.
Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass recaps her adventures in the world of wine and is much more than a series of recommendations for wine lovers. It is a memoir of Natalie’s experiences and adventures as she dives head first into all aspects of wine – from picking grapes to marketing the wine to flogging bottles in a retail store to pouring it out as a sommelier in a fancy restaurant. Even her own dinner party is dissected as she frets over the wine to accompany each course and what her guests are thinking.
She bumps along in pickup trucks driving from vineyard to vineyard across California and explores the legendary vineyards of France – each time trying to get involved as much as possible.
“I love to participate – it makes for a more interesting story,” said Natalie, who shares a bottle of wine every night with her husband over dinner and has 800 bottles stored in her cellar. “If there’s an adventure to be had, I want to do it.
“The book is aimed at two kinds of people. Firstly, the people who watched the movie, Sideways, and loved it, and want to know more about wine and be entertained at the same time. Secondly, I want to reach the wine expert who is already confident and knowledgeable about wine, but wants to be entertained by learning more about the people and places in the world of wine that they already know.
“Wine writers and wine critics are quite different. I’m a wine writer and what I do is much more than recommendations. I use wine as an excuse to get into peoples’ lives. I use wine as a way of traveling and seeing people.
“My heart belongs to the Old World wines like pinot noir. I appreciate that the approach of winemakers in North America is different. The wine culture is much younger here. However, when I went to France I fell in love with the people, the countryside and the wine sent me to heaven.
“I use simple descriptions when writing about a wine – I think long colorful descriptions are not helpful. Some people are talking about all sorts of fruits and things – I just don’t get that from a glass. I try to be practical and look for interesting narrative that I can get behind. I want to reach out to people who share my passion for wine – after all wine is about a buzz and hedonism.”
What wine would make an excellent accompaniment for classic and contemporary books? [Discover Natalie's recommended book and wine pairings]