Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Few books cause me to react in the way that this story evoked. From the very beginning, I was drawn into her bizarre and tumultuous family dynamic, the unique, terrifying, and depressing teenage years, and the crazy ups and downs of the early 20s. I now simultaneously (continue to) hate the food service industry while respecting those who succeed and thrive in such a cutthroat atmosphere.
At the very start, you know this story will be unlike any other. Victoria was raised in an environment of strife, postnatal depression, teetotaling and a strict religious upbringing that swings to drunkenness, wild parties, drugs, gambling, and a young girl doing her best to survive.
Her early lessons in economics from budgeting a grocery list and growing her lemonade stand, and the constant pressure and drive to succeed, become a sustaining force in her life, which ultimately leads to a saga worth reading. Growing up in the ways she was accustomed rarely leads to much more than a repeat cycle of pain and abuse, but Victoria not only exceeds, she ascends, and continues to climb, claw, scrape and scrabble her way to the top. Not only that, it’s done with grit and integrity often lost to her generation.
Her career in beverages starts first with lemonade, and then through a series of diners, chain eateries and Michelin star restaurants, she breaks barriers, shatters records, and rises through the ranks of the wine and spirits industry. She exposes the darker side of restaurant service (although, my former, and limited, experience fails to see much light). There is bribery, endless swapping of favors, blackmail, a horrific caste system, and the always prevalent gender inequality.
Despite the persistent forward trajectory in Victoria’s life, there are tragic bumps along the way. She manages to push through a lot of trauma but not without emotional repercussions. She shares her experiences not as a victim, but as a survivor. Within each incident, she finds wisdom and the ability to grow and change. Her bravery in sharing her stories is only overshadowed by the callousness and cowardice of her attackers and those who turned a blind eye to the obvious indiscretions.
My favorite part of this book was the tastings and descriptions of the different wines. Reading about her education is an education in itself. It makes you want to learn more about wine, visit the places she’s gone, meet some of the people, definitely drink the wine. I even would be game to work at one of the smaller wineries like where she interned. She makes it sound so fun and attainable, when in actuality, it was a lot of work. She makes surviving hellish scenarios look effortless. I’m still in awe of how people can smell the different notes in wines. As a relatively new wine drinker, I can only dream of smelling and tasting like a sommelier (that’s some-all-yay).
Victoria is not only a successful, certified sommelier and beverage director, she’s an incredible writer and storyteller. I didn’t want this book to end, but even at the end, I wanted to sit down with her with a bottle of wine and pick her brain further about her time at Marea, find out the true names behind the pseudonyms, and hear more stories about celebrities she’s served.
Wine Girl is an immersive experience that I recommend for anyone that enjoys good food, good wine, and a good story.
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I received a free book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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