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Wine column: The 'wine witch on fire' wins big

Natalie MacLean doesn't mind being called a witch.

"Witches are wise women who have gone through something and come through it stronger, wiser and fiercer," the Ottawa-based wine writer told me when I met her this week in Penticton.

"My very bad year was 2012 and I emerged the other side singed, but not shattered."

The "dumpster fire" inspired her memoir -- 2023's Wine Witch on Fire (295 pages, Dundurn Press, $25).

The book, of course, features an upturned wine glass, MacLean's tool of the trade, being used to extinguish a fire symbolizing her life at the time -- in flames after her marriage broke down, fellow wine writers tried to destroy her career and she started drinking too much.

<who>Photo credit: Supplied by Natalie MacLean</who>Natalie MacLean, the author of Wine Witch on Fire, won the Canadian Wine Industry Champion Award at this week's Wine Growers British Columbia Industry Recognition Awards in Penticton.

MacLean is no stranger to writing.

Her highly successful wine website has been going for years, she's written two previous books -- 'Red, White, and Drunk All Over' and 'Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines' -- her work has appeared in various prestigious newspapers and magazines and she's won four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, was named the World's Best Drinks Journalist at the Wold Food Media Awards and an Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing from Les Dames d'Escoffier International.

This week, she added to that impressive list by winning the Canadian Wine Industry Champion Award at the Wine Growers British Columbia Industry Recognition Awards in Penticton.

More about that later, but right now, back to Wine Witch on Fire.

Like a good journalist, she took notes, even while her life was in tatters, and remembers 2012 well.

But it took her more than a decade to decide to turn the anguish into a book.

"At first, I locked it away, but the story ricocheted around," said MacLean.

"To start, writing it all down was a personal experience and then I decided to vandalize my own privacy and write a memoir."

MacLean approached the writing and ultimately the publication of the book as therapeutic and a public service and, let's admit it, entertainment, because a great story of ruin and redemption is a rip-roaring read.

"There's no sense in writing a memoir unless it's of service and relevance to yourself and others," she said.

"In the end, it's not what happened to you, but what you learned from it. Ultimately, it's a story of recovery and I hope my story might make someone else who may be going through difficulty not feel alone."

While the book definitely has a message, its written with humour and has a happy ending, so it's by no means a downer.

<who>Photo credit: NowMedia Group</who>Wine Witch on Fire (295 pages, Dundurn Press, $25).

MacLean was blindsided when her husband of 20 years demanded a divorce, she admittedly started to drink too much (after all, she had lots of wine on hand as a wine writer) and then the online defamation and bullying started, pushing her beloved career to the brink.

At issue were other wine writers floating the question as to whether she's the world's best wine writer or a content thief.

As the Liquor Control Board of Ontario does, she was including wine reviews from other writers on her website and crediting the reviews with the writer's initials.

Full names of the writers were listed in a directory on another part of her website.

While she wasn't doing anything wrong, MacLean took all such reviews off her website when it was brought to her attention.

But the online defamation and bullying continued, much of it sexist.

MacLean has since remarried, the online defamation has abated and she "drinks less, but better."

"My sticht used to be using over-consumption as fodder for humour in my writing," she admitted.

"I don't want to be an enabler. I now have no alcohol four nights a week and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights I have wine with a meal, usually two glasses a night. I enjoy it more and wine is a sensory pleasure rather than an anesthesia."

<who>Photo credit: winery websites</who>Some of Natalie MacLean's favourite Okanagan wines, from left, Hester Creek The Judge ($50), Lakeside Rose ($22), Quails' Gate Pinot Noir ($35) and Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut ($32).

Some of MacLean's favourite Okanagan wines are Lakeside Rose ($22) from Osoyoos, Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut ($32) from Okanagan Falls, The Judge Bordeaux-style blend ($50) from Hester Creek in Oliver and Quails' Gate Pinot Noir ($35) from West Kelowna.

Now back to the aforementioned Canadian Wine Industry Champion Award that MacLean just won in Penticton at the Wine Growers BC Insight conference.

It's recognition of her entire body of work supporting the country's wine industry through media.

"It's more than words on a page, it's truly getting behind the Canadian industry and telling the story of how it not just feeds the economy (worth $11.8 billion annually), but feeds our souls as a consumer product like no other," said MacLean.

"I'll continue to celebrate Canadian wines in all I do."

<who>Photo credit: Facebook, Burrowing Owl website, UncorkBC website, LaStella website and Devonia Coast website</who>Bram Bolwijn, above left, and the Wyse family, along with, below from left, Kayla Bordignon, Severine Pinte and Gina Haverstock also won Canadian Wine Industry Awards.

The awards also saw five other trophies handed out:

- Canadian Wine Industry Award of Distinction

The Wyse family, owners of Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver and Wild Goose Winery in Okanagan Falls

- The Karl Kaiser Canadian Winemaker Award

Gina Haverstock, the winemaker at the Devonian Coast family of wineries in Nova Scotia

- Leadership Excellence Award

Severine Pinte, winemaker, viticulturist and managing partner at Le Vieux Pin in Oliver and LaStella in Osoyoos

- Ultimate BC Wine Ambassador Award

Bram Bolwijn, guest and VIP experience manager at Iconic Wineries of BC (Mission Hill in West Kelowna, CedarCreek and Martin's Lane in Kelowna, CheckMate, Road 13 and Red Barn in Oliver and Liquidity in Okanagan Falls)

- Master Marketer Award

Kayla Bordignon of UncorkBC, which promotes BC wines via her social media platforms and the BC Wine Passport

Steve MacNaull is a NowMedia Group reporter, Okanagan wine lover and Canadian Wine Scholar. Reach him at [email protected]. His wine column appears every Friday afternoon in this space.

Send your comments, news tips, typos, letter to the editor, photos and videos to [email protected].







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