- Expected 19 Mar 2020
An affecting memoir from America's youngest sommelier, tracing her path through the glamorous but famously toxic restaurant world
At just twenty-one, Victoria James became America's youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Even as Victoria was selling bottles worth hundreds and thousands of dollars during the day, passing sommelier certification exams with flying colors and receiving distinction from all kinds of press, there were still groping patrons, bosses who abused their role and status and a trip the hospital emergency room.
It would take hitting bottom at a new restaurant and restorative trips to the vineyards where she could feel closest to the wine she loved for Victoria to re-emerge, clear-eyed and passionate, and a proud 'wine girl' of her own Michelin-starred restaurant.
Exhilarating and inspiring, Wine Girl is the memoir of a young woman breaking free from an abusive and traumatic childhood on her own terms; an ethnography of the glittering, high-octane, but notoriously corrosive restaurant industry; and above all, a love letter to the restorative and life-changing effects of good wine and good hospitality.
In this gritty, eloquent memoir, James, who became the country's youngest sommelier at 21, talks about overcoming sexual assault and sexism as she built a career in the restaurant business. The book, which spans James's life from age seven to 28, opens with an overview of her unstable childhood, which included an absent mother and alcoholic father. James worked in greasy diners as a teenager and painfully describes being raped by a customer after a shift. She briefly turned to drugs after the attack, then got clean and moved to New York, where she landed a bartending job at an Italian restaurant. Her first sommelier job was at Michelin-starred Aureole, where she learned how to make wine recommendations and how to scan a customer's appearance to determine how much money they might spend. Often dismissed by customers who disliked taking advice from a woman, she relentlessly studied wine and won awards, among them the prestigious Sud de France Sommelier Challenge. James grippingly discusses working at several high-end restaurants and wading through ugly swamps of unwanted advances and crude comments before finding a happy home at Michelin-starred Cote, where she is the beverage director. This is a captivating story of resilience from a sommelier who hustled hard to conquer her profession.