‘Wine Girl’, earl grey and the insidious rise of the snitch.

Anais Gschwind
3 min readApr 7, 2020

“To give someone good advice is to show a complete lack of respect for that person’s God-given ability to make mistakes. Furthermore, other people’s actions should retain the advantage of not being ours. The only possible reason for asking other people’s advice is to know, when we subsequently do exactly the contrary of what they told us to do, that we really are ourselves, acting in complete disaccord with all that is other.” (Pablo Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet)

All of a sudden, what everyone else is ‘up to’ has become primary business for onlookers, rather than just an occasional passing interest. In lieu of having something more pressing to do — the cross-stitch stitched, the daily bread baked, the jump rope jumped, the 5G theory conspired — there remains only a good, hearty neighbourhood watch left to while away the afternoon.

I have no objections to the occasional nosey-parker type behaviour. I also enjoy harmless speculation on the motives and objectives of my fellow human beings as they navigate the world in ways that often appear odd to me.

Of course, what other people are doing will always be interesting to other people. What bugs me about observing in the time of coronavirus, however, is the unwavering force with which people offer their advice, which is really thinly veiled judgement.

There seems to be a righteous indignation sitting behind most people’s current observation and/or advice and frankly I think the world could do with just a smidge less of it. As is the case in many times of crisis, the room for grey is increasingly inched out as we scramble to make everything clear; everything black and white.

Meanwhile, away from prying eyes, nursing a tidy hangover and cradling a very milky earl grey tea, I slumped into the couch to read Victoria James’ memoir Wine Girl. I took great comfort in knowing exactly what to expect from this book and I was not disappointed.

Victoria James was the US’s youngest sommelier at twenty-one. This book tracks her story from a tumultuous childhood, through an angst-ridden teenage-hood channeled into the tough-love of the hospitality industry to emerge a successful and respected sommelier. Sounds good, right?

The story has it’s fair share of usual suspects; creepy bosses, lecherous clientele, bitchy colleagues and snobby wine training colleagues. But none of it’s cliches make it any less charming.

In a single afternoon sitting, this book was the perfect comfort read. It was a lovely romp through the courtesies and controversies of New York fine dining, a sweet ode to the utter absurdity of the wine world and a kind reminder of the varied obstacles women continue to navigate in their work environment.

I particularly enjoyed the multiple mentions of Jane Lopes, who happened to be moving in the came New York hospitality circle around the same time as James. Lopes’ book Vignette was one of my favourite reads of last year. Vignette expertly intertwines Lopes life experiences with wine knowledge in a truly remarkable hardcover, with beautiful illustrations to boot.

Both Lopes and James draw on that universal hospitality theme: whereby happiness and solace is sought through the service of others.

Without offering my advice, I do think this is a theme that would serve us all well to acknowledge in testing times like these.