We all love stories of self-made successes: those Rockefellers and Henry Fords who climbed the ladder to a glorious career without the help of family lineage or string-pulling in the university. And the story of Natalie MacLean is one such tale. Through a mixture of talent, initiative, and the desire to make a living at something that gave her pleasure, Natalie rose quickly from amateur wine enthusiast and unpublished writer to the status of one of North America’s premier wine journalists with a slew of prestigious awards including the 2003, World Food Media Awards: “World’s Best Drink Writer”.
Natalie’s first taste for wine came relatively late in life. It wasn’t until the Ottawa native met her husband, Andrew, while working in the California technology industry that she came to enjoy a good glass. Simply put, Andrew had an appreciation for fine wines and this appreciation rubbed off. Soon, the two were enrolled together in an entry-level sommelier course at the local college, which led to trips to Italian vineyards and other oenology excursions – purely for pleasure.
The thought of writing about her hobby didn’t occur to her until after the birth of her son, Rian in 1998: “One day, at the local grocery check-out, I picked up the store's food magazine … I saw that [the magazine] was beautifully illustrated and packed with recipes, but contained no information about wine.”
Natalie then took a bold leap which led to a beautiful career: “I called the magazine's editor to ask if she'd be interested in an article about wine on the web. I figured that I knew just enough about both areas to say something intelligent. She asked if I had been published before, and I said yes (praying that she wouldn't ask me to send samples from my high school newspaper). Luckily, she didn't; instead she assigned me a half-page article due in two weeks.” Though Natalie admits she struggled horribly with this first assignment, the result was a success, the article was accepted, another article was assigned, her new life was underway.
“Now that I could say that I was a published wine writer, I developed enough confidence to call other editors. But I was still filled with self-doubt: most other wine writers had twenty or more years of experience, which counts for a lot with such an encyclopedic topic.” With this lack of experience and knowledge, one could assume that her writing career would have reached its apex with one published article in a grocery store’s food magazine – but here is where talent and passion prove their worth. “Perhaps because of a very fresh perspective, I started to get assignments from newspapers and magazines … I couldn't believe that people would actually pay me to write – and in a sense, pay me to drink. I still feel that wonder and pleasure.”
Today, Natalie’s freelance business is thriving. She enjoys the pleasures of traveling to the world’s great wine regions, the satisfaction of working a job where she can stay at home with her son, as well as the joy of free cases of wine and late night tasting parties. Currently, she is finishing her first book, A Less-than-sober Journey into the World of Wine, which will see the bookshelves in the fall of 2006.
Natalie also publishes a free email newsletter, which was named one of the three best food and wine newsletters in North America at the 2003 James Beard Journalism Awards. This newsletter she writes dutifully. It’s her way to say thank you to her fans for allowing her the job of her dreams. In it, she announces charitable events, and promotes those undervalued members of the business who deserve attention, “…thus I provide the humanitarian service of making wine lovers around the world happier (and eventually, I will be donating my liver to science).”