"Q&A With Victoria James"

"Q&A With Victoria James"

Book: Wine Girl

Photos by Alice Prenat


Author: Victoria James

Author Bio:

"Victoria James has worked in restaurants since she was thirteen. She was certified as a sommelier when she was twenty-one, making her the youngest sommelier in the country. She was Food & Wine’s Sommelier of the Year in 2018 and has appeared on both Forbes and Zagat’s “30 Under 30” lists. She has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in New York City, including Marea and Aureole. Currently, she is the Beverage Director and partner at Cote, a Michelin-starred hot spot in the Flatiron district. She is the author of Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé, which Harper Design published in 2017." (Source: www.harpercollins.com)


1.  Victoria, you discuss a lot about the fine-dining industry's problems in reference to women, but do you see similar problems when it comes to people of color and black women too?

In my experience, the fine-dining world is not one that is currently inclusive. In New York City, arguably one of the most diverse and progressive cities in the world, only 14% of wine buyers (those who hold the power) of Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants are female, 6% are Hispanic, 5 percent are Asian, and only 1% are Black. This needs to change.

This is one of the reasons I was inspired to help co-found Wine Empowered, a 501c3 non-profit that offers tuition-free wine education to women and BIPOC in the hospitality industry.

2.  What ultimately gave you the power to speak out about the sexual abuse you faced in the industry? What has the backlash been like? Also, what has the advocacy moving forward looked like? 

I know I am very lucky, currently, I am in a position of power in the wine world and the restaurant where I am a partner is extremely supportive. This is rare. Most women are worried that if they speak out against abuse they will lose their jobs or become blacklisted in the industry (something I also faced).

My husband, Lyle Railsback, and the owner of Cote, Simon Kim, gave me the platform and support to feel safe. I knew that if I didn’t speak out against sexism and abuse, who would?

There isn’t another beverage director in NYC who is a female and also a part-owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant. I felt like I owed this to women in restaurants.

3.  Unfortunately, your sexual abuse story is far too common, for individuals that are still holding in that pain, what would you tell them?

You are not alone. Find a mentor, find an ally. Good people exist in hospitality. You can always reach out to me as well. For me personally, therapy and finding a healthy work environment helped me heal.

4.  Despite your challenges, you became the world’s youngest sommelier! How far of a feat was this being so young and being a woman in a male-dominated field? 

At one point I was America’s youngest sommelier, and I chose to include this fact in the book because there are so many people that have that same feeling when they enter a field, that they don’t belong. Youth can often be seen as a weakness when in reality it is an opportunity.

I still have so much to learn, trust me, but I make sure that I am always trying my best to support other young professionals. The world of wine is still an old boy’s club and there is just so much knowledge that surrounds this field, it can be quite intimidating.

My goal is to make wine more approachable and to show young people that if they put in the time and work, they can build a really rewarding career.

5.  Rapid Fire: Red or White? Full-bodied or Light-bodied? Sweet or Dry wine?

All of the above! Wine is like music or art— why limit yourself? 

6.  Tough question, but what’s your favorite wine?

I love all of my children.

7.  California is world-renown for its wine. What are some more underrated wine communities in the US that most people aren’t privy to? 

Support wine made by women and BIPOC. Some great domestic projects are Kitá, Zafa, Martha Stoumen, and André Mack’s Mouton Noir wines

8.  What was your writing process for Wine Girl like and was it any different from your processes while writing your other books?

Wine Girl took me five years to write. For some, this might sound like a long time but keep in mind that during this time I was (and still am) working in the restaurant 60+ hours a week and co-founding a non-profit.

So I had to be very dedicated to my writing schedule. I would pencil in at least 10 hours of writing a week, usually 30mins in the morning on the weekdays and at least six or eight hours on the weekend. I work well under pressure.

For other books and writing my style is similar: dedicate time to writing, then write.

9.  What sparked your love and passion for wine?

For me, wine was this thing that tied together so many of my other interests: serving others, food, travel, history, culture, geography, writing, and reading. I love that learning about wine is a lifetime process, there is always more to know. Plus, like food, wine brings people together.

10.  What do you like most about the food scene in New York City?

The diversity, the access! It’s a mix of so many different backgrounds and communities, I love continually learning and growing in this space.

11.  What do you like least about the food scene in New York City?

Snobs. It’s just food. I mean, seriously, get over yourself.

12.  What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2020? 

A few, I try to read a book a week: Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-ju, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and Bill Buford’s Heat.

13.  What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?

I like to go for a walk, movement always helps. And read. A lot. It helps the inspiration come back, for me.

14.  What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?

I say it often in the book but it is a lesson I learned (thankfully) early on in my career as a fifteen-year-old diner waitress: making others happy will in turn make you happy

15.  Do you plan on writing more books in the future?

The third one is already in the works...

Places To Find More Victoria:

Instagram: @Victoria__james

Twitter: @geturgrapeon

Facebook: Victoria James

Linkedin: Victoria James

Website: victoriajames.info


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