My guest is Victoria James, the author of two books, her most recent, a gripping memoir called Wine Girl, which has been on the national bestseller list for four weeks.
She’s also the youngest person in the world to pass the certified sommelier exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers at just 21 and has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants ever since.
Today, she’s the partner and beverage director at New York’s Cote Korean Steakhouse restaurant. Her journey to this stellar position, however, was a difficult one as the sub-title of the book alludes: The obstacles, humiliations, and triumphs of a young sommelier. Fortunately, there’s a happy ending.
Don’t miss the upcoming podcast interview with Victoria as well by subscribing to the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast on your fave app here.
Let’s start with how you and your restaurant are coping with Covid-19. What innovative take-out menus and other things are you doing at your restaurant Cote during the lockdown to keep it afloat?
How do you keep yourself from getting sad or depressed about the pandemic?
Tell us about some of your famous dining patrons and which wines they ordered?
What’s the most expensive bottle of wine you’ve ever sold?
Tell us what happened with Mariah Carey and how did you feel?
You also worked at a winery in Sonoma and discovered a new term MOG — matter other than grapes – which is what?
Why would anyone put horse hooves in wine? Is it dangerous? Does it make the wine taste different?
Describe how you felt on your first day working at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
You called this book Wine Girl to reclaim a misogynistic slur that some bosses, colleagues and patrons used to call you.
Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, told me in an interview before your book was published, so this wasn’t a comment on your book title: “I can’t tell you how many business cards I have from professional women who call themselves Wine Chicks, Wine Goddesses, Wine Witches, Wine Divas, Wine Dolls. Language can marginalize.”
How do you respond to that?
What was your agent’s reaction when you first pitched this book (which was when)?
Did the celebrity chef scandals of Mario Batali and Ken Freidman signal that the world was ready for your story?
Did you realize the impact this book would have when you wrote it?
You’ve had a full life, and you’re just 30 years old. Is it a bit premature to write a memoir?
Has anyone recognized themselves and challenged your depiction of them or the events?
What legal implications concerned you about this book?
You told your publisher that this book should come with a trigger warning. What did you mean by that?
What’s been the reaction from the wine trade and sommeliers to your book?
How do you respond to those who ask why you put yourself in vulnerable situations?
Are there people who don’t believe your story? Why is that? How do you handle it?
What’s the most interesting thing someone has said about your book to date?
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Why did you decide to share your most traumatic experiences with unsparing detail?
What did one of your friends say about sharing such intimate details about what happened to you? Why did you go forward anyway?
What’s the backlash for women coming forward to report sexual harassment or assault?
How did the Brett Kavanaugh hearing affect you?
What enabled you to continue?
Karen MacNeil believes that many women are turned off by what they see as a “pin-kissing bro culture.” Do you agree?
How is the wine world still an old boys club?
Your first book, published in 2017, was “Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé.” Was that playing into a stereotype of women and rose?
What percentage of beverage directors at Wine Spectator award–winning restaurants in NYC are women? Any other telling stats in NYC or elsewhere that point to the vast inequality of women in the restaurant and wine business?
What is the impact of mostly white men occupying these influential roles?
Your husband, Lyle Railsback, works for the most famous wine importer in America, Kermit Lynch. So when you first met Lyle, which wine did he serve you?
How would you compare and contrast your book with Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential?
What kind of dinners do you and your husband cook at home?
It’s so great to hear that you’re working on a third book. What is its focus?
What is Wine Empowered and why did you start it?