Natalie MacLean, a Cape Breton lass who’s become Canada’s leading sommelier and internationally acclaimed wine writer, has won first prize in the M.F.K. Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing competition sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier International. It has been said that she writes about wine “with a sensuous obsession” and is “laugh-out-loud funny.”
MacLean credits the long Scottish line of hard drinkers from whom she descends for her ability to drink like a fish—and for the motivation to write about it in a transparent attempt to make drinking look respectable.
“Getting paid to drink, now that’s a gig!” is how she describes her occupation.
The M.F.K. Fisher Award is only the most recent in a long list of awards and honours the Ottawa wife and mother has garnered since her debut as a wine writer in the now-defunct President’s Choice magazine in 1998. At the World Food Media Awards in Australia in 2005, MacLean was named the World’s Best Drink Writer. She has also won four James Beard Awards and six Bert Greene Awards.
MacLean won with an Internet entry, Flying High, on her website www.nataliemaclean.com. Her story, about Featherstone Winery in Niagara, chronicles the winery’s battle to protect the vineyards from airborne predators and weeds without using synthetic chemicals. It’s also the story of a husband and wife team who dream of creating a benchmark wine despite a harsh climate.
“Winning this award is something you must live up to rather than something you deserve. The point is to remember and honor M.F.K. Fisher and her gloriously sensuous prose,” MacLean said, in accepting her award at a Les Dames d’Escoffier International gala honoring M.F.K. Fisher in Palm Springs, California.
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, one of America’s finest food writers, was described by the poet W.H. Auden as the best prose writer of her time. She wrote more than 20 books before her death in 1992.
Her columns have appeared in more than 60 newspapers and magazines; more than 115,000 subscribers get her free monthly newsletter. In her book Red, White and Drunk All Over, MacLean chronicles three years of sipping, spitting and slogging her way through the international wine world. The book was chosen the Best Wine Literature Book in the English language at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
An entrepreneur since her Cape Breton days, MacLean put herself through university by teaching Highland dancing: “Before I left to work on my MBA at University of Western Ontario, I had 300 students and five teachers working for me, and was able to put myself through university without debt.”