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Biography & Autobiography Culinary

Wine Witch on Fire

Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much

by (author) Natalie MacLean

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
May 2023
Culinary, Wine, Women
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    Publish Date
    May 2023
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    Publish Date
    May 2023
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A powerful memoir about one woman who resurrects her life and career in the glamorous but sexist wine industry.

Natalie MacLean, a bestselling wine writer, is shocked when her husband of twenty years, a high-powered CEO, demands a divorce. Then an online mob of rivals comes for her career.

Wavering between despair and determination, she must fight for her son, rebuild her career, and salvage her self-worth using her superpowers: heart, humour, and an uncanny ability to pair wine and food.

Natalie questions her insider role in the slick marketing that encourages women to drink too much while she battles the wine world’s veiled misogyny. Facing the worst vintage of her life, she reconnects with the vineyards that once brought her joy, the friends who sustain her, and her own belief in second chances.

This true coming-of-middle-age story is about transforming your life and finding love along the way.

This decade’s Eat Pray Love … Natalie MacLean survived an online mob, divorce and drinking too much. Her new memoir will help you get through your own mess, too.” — The Coast Magazine

“The book is funny, edgy, and a page turner. Zesty, vibrant, meditative, structured, intense ... anyone at a crux will be buoyed by this writer’s grit and grace.” — Frances Mayes, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun

“This deeply personal memoir tells the inspiring story of a talented woman navigating the treacherous currents of the wine industry, finding her voice and regaining her power through a true connection to time and place, human terroir.” ― Chef Michael Smith, bestselling author of ten cookbooks and Food Network host

“Forthright, wry, and heady, Wine Witch on Fire is a memoir about wine, life, and hard-won wisdom.” ― Foreword Reviews

“Filled with grit, vulnerability, healing and hope.” ― Victoria James, bestselling author of Wine Girl

About the author

Natalie MacLean, named the World's Best Drinks Writer, has also won four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. She’s the bestselling author of Red, White and Drunk All Over. She hosts the NYT recommended podcast, Unreserved Wine Talk. She lives in Ottawa.

Natalie MacLean's profile page


  • Short-listed, Taste Canada Award for Culinary Narrative

Excerpt: Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much (by (author) Natalie MacLean)

Boil and Bubble
I wake to the smell of burning. Heat runs up and down my body. My tongue feels like sandpaper. Why are my eyes glued shut?
Ahhh. Last night.
It started with two glasses of champagne to kick off dinner, then three (four?) glasses of pinot noir. The real culprit must have been that glass (okay, two) of port.
My family passed the decanter around the table clockwise to symbolize the passing of time with the ones you love. A beautiful ritual binding us together. Now all that booze is splitting my head in two. The little drummer boy starts pounding on my cerebral cortex.
That’s not burning, it’s smoked bacon.
My eyelids creak as I pry them open.
Notes of Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” drift up the stairs to my bedroom. I tune in to the sounds and aromas of morning happiness.
It’s ten days to Christmas 2012, and somehow I’ve made it to the end of the year from hell, not just intact but … could it be? … yes, happy. The thought makes me spring out of bed, which I now regret, and sit back down.
Why doesn’t Andy just shut up about jingle belling? He’s clanging against the other soundtrack in my head: I’m queasy, queasy like Sunday morning.
Damn. Why did I drink so much?
Hey, it’s December 15, and everyone celebrates a little more than usual during the festive season. Why shouldn’t I?
I ease off the bed, wash my face, and brush my tangled seaweed hair before inching downstairs.
“Good morning, princess,” my boyfriend, Daniel, says as I enter the kitchen.
I wince, but not at his pet name for me, as it comes from a good place. This hangover doesn’t.
He smiles and flips the bacon. Daniel is Prince Charming in my fairy tale, with curly brown hair and a football-quarterback build.
He loves to cook and he even cleans up afterward. I affectionately call him my Cinderfella.
Mom sits at the kitchen island with my fourteen-year-old son, Cameron, playing crazy eights. She’s come up from Nova Scotia to stay with us for the holidays.
“Oh, you rascal, you,” she says, as Cameron makes her pick up six cards. She looks at me from behind her steel-rimmed glasses and nods. My family’s warmth eases the pain in my head. All the heartbreak, depression, and anxiety at the beginning of this year seem to fade with the closing credits of 2012. I’ve survived the separation, found love, and I’m still writing. My life has somehow magically come back together.
There are just fifteen hours left before my world implodes.
“I’m making rosemary chicken with roasted artichoke for dinner,” Daniel says. “Got a wine for that?”
“Not yet, but I will.” Sure, I have a cellar, but I love seeing what’s new on store shelves. Also, did I mention that I’m a professional?
I can shop for wine while nursing a hangover.
I’m not worried about the chicken, which plays nicely with wine, but artichoke is one of the problem children of the pairing world. It contains an organic acid that fools us into thinking everything we eat or drink afterward is sweeter than it is, including wine. This kind of mission impossible is something I do frequently for my family.
“Cameron, come with me after breakfast … we still have a few gifts to get.”
His bright blue eyes are hopeful. “Like a PlayStation?”
Damn. I’ve been trying to keep him away from video games for as long as possible. But it feels mean, with my separation from his father at the beginning of the year, and now the holidays are approaching. He has weathered our split well.
“Perhaps you should ask Santa for it.” I wink.
“Good idea. Do you think the elves can throw in a console stand?” He grins.
Back in my office, snow swirls outside the window. I email another writer to confirm that I’m updating the way I post wine reviews on my website so he’ll stop pestering me. This is part of a long stream of nasty comments I’ve received over the years.
There are only twelve hours and forty-three minutes before my Nightmare Before Christmas begins.
My books, Red, White, and Drunk All Over and Unquenchable, celebrate the pleasure of wine. Many readers embrace my loopy tales. Some older male wine writers loathe them. Silly chick lit — their equivalent of “women’s wines”: chardonnay, pinot grigio, prosecco, rosé. Bitch pours. The opposite of their sophisticated sommelier selections.
To hell with them.
I am woman. Watch me pour.
That’s why I’ve long been fascinated with literary witches who didn’t care what labels society put on them, from the three sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the women in The Witches of Eastwick. They were persecuted for their “powers” — or, more likely, their misunderstood (and feared) skills.
Even Maleficent, in the 2014 Disney film, was originally a good fairy with powers over plants and herbs, until the man she loved most betrayed her. Same old playbook. There’s a happy ending, though. She regains her strength through the phoenix, the mythological bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor. Maleficent’s kiss, not one from a prince, wakes up Sleeping Beauty.
I write for people like me who relate to an occasional tipsy evening — and dealing with the aftermath. Like right now. Ow.
It wasn’t the buzz so much as the upwelling joy that pulled me to wine. I remember the September evening years ago when I visited Merry Edwards Winery and Vineyards, in Sonoma. The sweet smell of grapes and alcohol hung heavy in the air of the barrel room. As I walked into the vineyard, the slanting amber rays slid over my shoulders. Wine drew me outside again, connecting me with the earth. It got me out of my head and away from the computer I was chained to in my previous tech job. Some employees there slept under their desks to work longer. We were “mole people,” I used to joke. We shrank from sunlight.
When I returned to the tasting room, I drank the wine to make the sun and soil part of me. Then I wrote about it to metabolize my feelings and digest its sensuality.
After Cameron and I pick up the gifts, we walk into the liquor store. I remember when he was just four. He had looked up at me and asked loudly, “Why do we always go to the boos store, Mommy?”
“Because Mommy writes about wine. It’s her career,” I told him in an equally loud voice, avoiding eye contact with other customers.
Then I looked up at the lady with an over-oaked merlot. “That’s why no one needs to call Child Services.”
Cameron and I stroll down an aisle of sauvignon blanc. Bone-dry, with racy acidity and herbal aromas, it’ll be a lovely counterpoint to the artichoke, while cutting through the tender roast chicken.
With other dishes, I use the lemon or butter rule. If I squeeze some lemon juice on the food, for example, seared halibut, then I drink a wine with edgy acidity like sauvignon blanc or grüner veltliner. However, if I slather melting butter on my entrée, say a big juicy steak, then I pair it with a rich, full-bodied cabernet, or even a barrel-aged chardonnay. Yes, white wine with red meat. How rogue. The buttery, toasty notes of the chardonnay will complement the caramelized flavours of the meat.


As I stop to pick a bottle, a young couple a few feet away debates whether a sauvignon blanc or chardonnay would go better with pasta in a cream sauce. I really shouldn’t interfere, but my instinct as a wine superhero kicks in. Just as a doctor would clear a crowd to use a defibrillator on someone who has collapsed from a heart attack, I want to say, “Please stand back, everyone, I can help these people. I’m a trained sommelier.”
I wait for a pause in their conversation to jump in. “If you like contrasting flavours, I suggest you go with the sauvignon blanc. It’ll slice like a knife through the cream. But if you want to layer richness on richness, a toasty chardonnay is your ticket.”
“Oh that’s great, thank you,” the woman says. She takes a sauvignon blanc from the shelf.
“Yeah, thanks. We were really stumped,” her partner adds.
Their happy, shining faces make me want to soar up into the clouds and use my infrared vision to scan other liquor stores and save more indecisive drinkers. Alas, I must return to my family who need me more than the throngs of wine enthusiasts. My life’s work to relieve their first-world problems will have to wait another day.
Back home, I try on one dress after another, throwing the rejects on the bed before choosing a fiery red number with sparkles. While I’m usually in yoga pants, I want to wear what I feel tonight: glittery and happy. Glappy.
Four hours and six minutes.
The savoury, golden aromas of Daniel’s rosemary chicken and artichoke fill the kitchen. Although it’s only mid-December, we toast to the end of 2012 (good riddance) with the crisp sauvignon blanc. Watching the movie Elf after dinner, we laugh at the oversized adult Will Ferrell sitting on his father’s lap.
Eleven minutes.
Calling it a night, Mom and Cameron get all nestled and snug in their beds. Daniel sleeps in the guest room rather than drive home after another very merry dinner. We’ve been dating for only 'two months, so we’re not ready to share the intimate nature of our relationship with Mom or Cameron. Besides, when sugarplums start dancing in their heads, Daniel’s just down the hall.
It’s getting close to midnight, and I’m still feeling festive. In my small dark office, the multicoloured lights twinkle through the window. The buttery notes of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” melt into the background.
The perfect end to a perfect day. But this day isn’t over — and it’s going to be anything but perfect.
Time’s up.
I’m checking my email one last time before heading upstairs to bed when a Google alert pops up with the headline:
Google Alerts
“Natalie MacLean”
As-it- happens update December 15, 2012, 11:42 PM
Natalie MacLean: World’s Best Wine Writer or Content Thief?

Editorial Reviews

With a voice full of humour and keen honesty, wine writer Natalie MacLean pairs the personal with the political in her new book, Wine Witch on Fire. In the process, she exposes the sexism of an industry while coming to understand her own hard-won strengths. A delightful read with or without a glass of wine.

Suzanne Evans, author of The Taste of Longing, winner of the Taste Canada Gold Award

Zesty, vibrant, meditative, edgy, structured, intense — these words Natalie MacLean might use to describe wines all apply to her Wine Witch on Fire. With clear-eyed honesty and needle-sharp probing, her memoir covers a time of personal and professional crisis, much of which rose from the astonishing sexism of other wine writers.

Frances Mayes, New York Times bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun

MacLean is an accomplished wine writer, but this deeply personal book takes us behind the scenes, revealing one woman’s journey and extraordinary determination to become herself.

Karen MacNeil, bestselling author of The Wine Bible

In her new memoir, Wine Witch on Fire, Natalie MacLean holds herself and the rest of the wine industry accountable. She talks ‘wine mom’ culture, sexist marketing and how to cut back without going sober. It is a more personal, vulnerable story than her previous works.

Globe and Mail

This deeply personal memoir tells the inspiring story of a talented woman navigating the treacherous currents of the wine industry, finding her voice and regaining her power through a true connection to time and place, human terroir.

Chef Michael Smith, bestselling author of ten cookbooks, Food Network host

Natalie MacLean offers readers a look into the magical world of wine, addressing head-on its problematic treatment of women throughout the industry.

Rachel Signer, bestselling author of You Had Me at Pét-Nat

Forthright, wry, and heady, Wine Witch on Fire is a memoir about wine, life, and hard-won wisdom.

Foreword Reviews

Natalie Maclean has written a harrowing, heartfelt, and often hilarious account of the backlash she endured breaching the largely male-dominated world of wine writing. This highly personal odyssey is an eyes-wide-open take on betrayal, the insidious lure of addiction, and the sheer mettle required to rise above those seeking to cast a poisonous spell.

Rosa Harris, bestselling author of Boomerville

Told with equal parts poignancy and humour, Wine Witch on Fire is a spirited tale of determination lived on the terroir of Natalie's amazing and inspiring journey.

Danny Meyer, NYT bestselling author of Setting The Table

In Wine Witch on Fire, Natalie MacLean takes us inside the compromised competitiveness of the wine industry, and the wildly unfair challenges faced by women who choose nobly to enter the profession only to be repelled by its male power base. She opens her heart with authenticity to the pain of love lost, the joy of discovering new love, and the endless questions of balancing parenting with being a working professional. Her love of language is a joyous counterpart to her love of viticulture.

Ken Goldstein, bestselling author of Endless Encores

Misogyny, sexism, social media trolling. Natalie MacLean has been through hell and back. But her words are heartfelt and her journey inspiring.

Barbara Fairchild, former editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine

Natalie MacLean is living a life that is the definition of resilience. In her empowering new memoir, she takes us on her incredible journey filled with love, anguish, and fearless determination. Natalie’s story is an inspiration and guide to living well and fearlessly. A fabulous read!

Traci Melchor, Judge, Canada's Drag Race and Senior Correspondent, Etalk

Wine Witch on Fire is the triumphant story of how MacLean pushed back against sexism in the wine industry, found love, and drew on her female “witching” powers to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Frances Dinkelspiel, New York Times bestselling author of Tangled Vines

Natalie MacLean has written a book that will resonate with women from many different generations and fields. Filled with grit and vulnerability, MacLean examines the hardest parts of being a woman in a man’s world with honesty and poise. A read filled with healing and hope.

Victoria James, bestselling author of Wine Girl

Wine wizard wordsmith, enchanting interviewer, battle-tested survivor, fierce mother, witty, wise — Natalie MacLean is the whole package. Sip a great wine while you savour her memoir.

Gus Clemens, wine columnist

Rousing, funny, and insider-y, Natalie MacLean’s soul-baring memoir paints an evocative and compelling picture of what it’s like to be a woman in wine.

Nell McShane Wulfhart, bestselling author of Off Menu

Vulnerable, honest, personal…with a touch of humor (and best paired with your favorite glass of wine). Natalie's beautifully written memoir shares an empowering story of her journey that reminds us just how powerful we are as women, and how we can always dig deep to find a little determination and faith, even with those things seem nowhere to be found.

Amy Porterfield, host of the top-rated podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy

This decade’s Eat Pray Love.

Morgan Mullin, Arts & Culture Editor, The Coast magazine

There is an honesty on the page here that is not easy to achieve. Reading it is like having a glass, or three, with a very good friend.

The Picton Gazette

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