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Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier

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An affecting memoir from the country’s youngest sommelier, tracing her path through the glamorous but famously toxic restaurant world

At just twenty-one, the age when most people are starting to drink (well, legally at least), Victoria James became the country’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 to 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.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published March 24, 2020

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About the author

Victoria James

43 books67 followers
Librarian note: There is more than one author with this name in the database.

Victoria James is an award-winning sommelier and a partner at Gracious Hospitality Management, which includes in its portfolio the Michelin-starred Cote Korean Steakhouse—where James serves as the beverage director and oversees more than 1,500 labels. She is also the author of Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé, which was published in 2017 by HarperCollins, as well as a contributing writer to SevenFifty Daily and a wine columnist for Forbes magazine.

James landed her first job in the restaurant industry as a young teen—waiting tables at a greasy-spoon diner. A prodigy in her appreciation of wine, she became a somm at just 21 years old and went on to work at some of New York City’s most renowned restaurants, including Aureole, Marea, and Piora.

Despite her very demanding work schedule, James somehow found time in the past year to plan a wedding and get married in Italy, chip away at her second book, and become the cofounder and president of a soon-to-launch educational nonprofit for women and minorities in the hospitality industry.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 398 reviews
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
228 reviews1,394 followers
November 25, 2020
2.5 Stars

I was really rooting for this book. I wanted it to be Sweetbitter mixed with Kitchen Confidential mixed with I Hear She's a Real Bitch but with amazing wine descriptions that send me running to my local wine shop.

I wanted to come out of this book demanding I only drink Cabernet Sauvignon with aged gouda as it brings out the cheesiness of the cheese and the barnyard notes of the wine. I wanted to swirl a fine white wine and declare hints of lemon, butter and subtle trace of a teardrop from a baby goat that wandered into the vineyard during harvest. Obviously I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about because this book didn't give me any of that! Instead I'm swirling wine like a hillbilly and pairing my box red with my sour cream and onion chips.

Do you know what this book truly is... a brutal coming-of-age story with a bit of wine mixed in for shits and giggles. B-R-U-T-A-L. I was not expecting to read about that level of child abuse and horrific rapes (YES PLURAL) within the pages of a book entitled Wine Girl in pretty pink font. Like read the room cover page!

This book was so far removed from my experience in the hospitality world it didn't even feel like we worked in the same universe let alone industry. The level of sexism was just shocking. I had to check the age of the author because I thought she must be writing about her experience in the 1940s not late 2000s.

So to overall summarize Wine Girl is just a lovely comical romp about the service industry mixed with wonderful descriptions of wine and the French vineyards. I'm fucking with you, this is a dark story about a woman who is consistently shit on by life but somehow makes it out and writes a book that has a very misleading title.
Profile Image for Sarah Robinson.
Author 48 books2,199 followers
April 29, 2023
I'm Victoria's oldest sister (not mentioned in the book due to my lawyer telling her to leave me out). My father lost his job after this book came out and our family was torn in two. I held his hands many times as he cried and hit low points I'd never seen before. I wrote a review on this previously that had over 400 likes, but Amazon removed it for some reason along with most of my other reviews. They tell me it's a glitch and they are working to put it back, but in the meantime, I felt it important to repeat some things.

My father made well over 6 figures a year most of our childhood. We grew up in a 5-6 bedroom houses and never had to share a bedroom. We had more food than we knew what to do with (believe me, I ate it all). I don't know what the claims of pickle juice and crackers being all we had to eat came from. We had nannies who lived with us and ate just fine. We were beyond privileged.

Did my father have a drinking issue? Yes, there was a time when he struggled with this after he was in one of the tower that collapsed in NYC on 9/11. Bodies landed around him. He almost died. He walked from NYC to NJ and we didn't know until 10pm that night when he walked in the door covered in white ash that he'd survived. He was a single father at that point and we had a nanny, so he just had to "get back to normal" after that. He had to keep working and providing for his family. He didn't get help or get time off to work on that trauma. So, yeah, he turned to alcohol for a while. None of that is mentioned in the book. Victoria portrays him as a one dimensional character and she's this perfect hero.

She makes reference after reference to "taking care of our family." My sisters all paid for their own colleges or got free rides. We never had to buy our own food/clothes/etc unless it was something fun or extra we wanted. We all had full health insurance through my father until we were 26 years old, of which I know 100% Victoria utilized. She claims in the book she had no health insurance, but there are literally a ton of email exchanges between her and my dad about her asking for help getting her acupuncture covered by insurance because that was the only treatment our insurance denied and she liked that a lot.

Our mother isn't mentioned in the book much except as being mentally ill and that her journals and documents somehow prove Victoria's story to be true (despite discrediting her in the same sentence due to her mental illness). My mother is very ill, and her journals are a reflection of that. She had extreme postpartum psychosis after pregnancies and left when our youngest sister was 2 months old. I raised her after that, not Victoria. I have the mothers day cards from our youngest sister to prove that and tons of aunts and cousins who will attest to that. My mother has pretty severe autism and she struggles with a lot of personal connections, but she's not a monster either, even though, yeah, all of us have been hurt by her neglect and absence. Myself especially, despite trying to give her grace for her limitations.

She says my brother was forcefully hospitalized by my father and taken in an ambulance against his will. What actually happened was my brother burned our basement down when he was playing with matches. Because of the property damage monetary amount and that this wasn't his first go at this, the police/fire marshall gave my father two options: mental health assessment or legal charges. My father had to make the awful decision to drive my brother to the hospital and have him evaluated where the professionals decided he needed to be admitted. An awful situation, for sure, but not my father's fault.

Lastly, the whole book ends on her wedding...and she's already divorced. I mean, come on.

Honestly, there's so much more but I won't list it all. You can Google things for yourself to see how inaccurate this is. In fact, most of the reviews on this book question the validity and they didn't even know us. That says something.

Family isn't perfect. I'm very very far from perfect. I was abused by a principal at school when I was a child and turned very angry and bitter after that and took that out on my siblings and myself. My parents had a hard time figuring out how to help me. But, it's not okay for Victoria to paint a picture of a childhood that absolutely did not happen in order to try and paint herself the hero. Even the stories she tells about her sexual assaults are so vastly different than what she reported to us back then or to the police. It just doesn't make any sense.

There are so many people who struggle in the world with REAL issues of neglect and abuse. We had some painful times, without a doubt. But it is dismissive and belittling to pretend we were working class or anything below completely privileged. It's dismissive and cruel to attack my father for his actions when he was a human being struggling being a single parent after 9/11. Victoria told my father she said "nothing negative about him in the book" and promised to come show it to him a month before publication. He never heard from her again. He found out she was having a child via an Instagram post along with everyone else in our family. He's never been allowed to meet his granddaughter, despite being a loving and doting grandfather to his other grandchild. The pain is gut wrenching to watch this all unfold.

Where's the self-reflection? Where's the humanity and flawed aspects of everyone? Where's the realizations of how her eight years of heavy drug use and dating unhealthy, toxic men led to choosing partners who continue to degrade her and look down on her? A husband who cuts her off from her family and screams and lunges at her sister two days after her sister was beaten by her now-ex husband? You cannot write a memoir and pretend to be a hero without showing how you've learned and grown from your experiences. This memoir is just a list of all the terrible (and mostly untrue) things that happened to her and how she succeeded anyway despite hurting dozens of people in the process. That's not okay. That's not truth.

Do better, Victoria. This isn't okay.
September 8, 2021

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WINE GIRL is one of the best memoirs I've read in a while. The title of the memoir is taken from just one of the disparaging nicknames she was given while working in an industry that was mostly men. In this memoir, she takes that name and she reclaims it, detailing her climb towards being a wine director in the luxurious hospitality industry and working with multiple Michelin-starred restaurants.

To be honest, I'm a little surprised that the ratings for this book are so mixed. It seems like maybe people picked this book up unsure what to expect. This is not a book about wine and wine pairings, nor is it entirely a career memoir that's meant to be a light and fun homage to the food industry. James's path to success was filled with pain, and the beginning of this memoir is about her troubled childhood, told GLASS CASTLE style, before seguing into a detailed struggle about being a naive young woman working with people quick to take advantage. There are descriptions of harassment and sexual assault because in addition to being a success story, this is also a Me Too story, as well as a sort of call to action about what needs to change.

The writing in WINE GIRL is absolutely gorgeous. She has such a way with description and words. It makes the painful parts more painful, but it also makes her accomplishments even more exciting to read about, and the food and wine descriptions incredibly sumptuous and wonderful. Like the author, I have a passion for wine, food, and the natural world. I often tell my friends that good wine means wine you like. I feel like the author has a similar attitude, maybe because of her humble beginnings: whatever the reason, she doesn't come across as arrogant and pedantic as some wine experts do. I appreciated her defense of affordable wines and roses.

I'm not really sure what else to say about this book except that I loved it. It would make a great movie; it just has that shiny, large-than-life feel that Hollywood loves to embrace. This was an impulse buy for me in the Kindle store and now I'm going to recommend it to all of my friends. Anyone who is interested in wine or feminism should pick up this book, as James has a lot of interesting things to say about both. Now excuse me, while I pick up her other book about rose wine.

5 stars
Profile Image for Cam Kovach.
171 reviews
January 5, 2020
This is a tough book to review -- it sometimes reads more as a plea for acknowledgement than a memoir written from the vantage point of time and perspective. The author shares so much of her personal life and her difficulties in growing up essentially without a mother, with an alcoholic father, experiencing multiple sexual assaults, and triumphs over these obstacles -- something she should be, and is, very proud of. She ultimately excels in her career and personal life, at a very young age. This reader wishes that she had waited another few years before writing this book; there's an element of perspective and maturity that is lacking. While she understandably enumerates her successes throughout the book, it's done in such detail that it sometimes reads like overkill. One wonders whether this detail is meant for the readers', or for the writer's, benefit. The book is an interesting look into an unfamiliar career -- sommelier -- but other books ("Educated" comes to mind) are more self-aware and contain more understanding and perspective about the writer's personal journey.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,582 followers
April 30, 2020
In 2012, at age 21, Victoria James became America’s youngest certified sommelier. Still in her twenties, she has since worked in multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City and became the only American female to win the Sud de France Sommelier Challenge. But behind all the competition wins, celebrity sightings, and international travel for wine festivals and conferences is a darker story.

This is a tell-all about a toxic restaurant culture of overworked employees and casual sexism. James regularly worked 80-hour weeks in addition to her wine school studies, and suffered multiple sexual assaults. In addition, sexual harassment was common – even something as seemingly harmless as the title epithet a dismissive diner launched at her when he ordered a $650 bottle of wine for his all-male table and then told her it was corked and had to be replaced. “Wine girl” was a slur against her for her age, her gender and her presumed lack of experience, even though by that point she had an encyclopedic knowledge of wine varieties and service.

That incident from the prologue was my favorite part of the book; unfortunately, nothing that came afterwards really lived up to it. The memoir goes deep into James’s dysfunctional upbringing (her parents’ bitter divorce, her mother’s depression, her father’s alcoholism and gambling, her own battle with addictions), which I found I had little interest in. It’s like Educated lite, but with a whiney tone: “I grew up in a household of manipulation and neglect, left to fend for myself.”

For those interested in reading about wine and restaurant culture, I’d recommend Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (one of my pairings here) instead.

A favorite line: “Like music, the wonders of art, food, and beverage can transcend all boundaries. … I wanted to capture that feeling, the exhilaration of familiarity, and bring people together through wine.”
Profile Image for Valentina.
10 reviews8 followers
April 2, 2020
DNF -- credit where credit is due: becoming a sommelier at such a young age is incredibly impressive. i certainly don't want to invalidate what the author has gone through, but i cannot get past the writing here. it lacks any tension or self-reflection and very clearly works to make victoria the battered hero in every instance. i love reading about food and wine, but i think i will be spending my energy on a different book.
Profile Image for Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club).
374 reviews18.1k followers
December 4, 2020
QUICK TAKE: Part EDUCATED, part SWEETBITTER, WG is a great behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry (both the good and bad), though I wish James, as an industry leader, had discussed steps she’s currently taking (and the industry as a whole is taking) to prevent what happened to her (harassment, gender disparity) from happening to other young women on their way up. It’s a small quibble, but would have elevated an excellent book above similar titles in the genre.
Profile Image for Megan.
137 reviews
August 6, 2020
Two of my favorite books I have read in the past five-ish years are Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste and Sweetbitter. Although one is memoir and one is fiction, both focus on different aspects of upper class hospitality: being a sommelier, waiter, learning obscure things about wine/food, and dealing with rich, often asshole customers. I have no clue why I am so into this subgenre. I’ve never worked in hospitality of any kind and would never want to. I like wine just fine but I probably drink it maybe 10-15 times a year. I would rather have a cocktail. Still, I am fascinated by the glittering yet gritty world of high end restaurants, sommeliers, waiters, and other hospitality workers. I love being witness to the extreme dedication and passion for obscure knowledge that I know I couldn't master, especially when it comes to tasting wines. I love that they can be the picture of poise and elegance at the table, and then turn around each night and often live a lifestyle that borders on destructive and alcoholic. I love that they often get to travel to interesting places to be exposed to different wines and foods.

So, needless to say I was excited for this book, a memoir about America’s youngest sommelier. Alas, it did not reach the level of either of those other books.

One of the biggest problems for me was shrinking her story to the important parts. So many authors struggle with this when writing a memoir/autobiography. As the star of your own story, it’s hard to not see every part of your life as relevant and important. Every bit of your existence feels like links on a chain that can’t be removed.

Of all the links, childhood is one of the biggest and most important. It impacts who we will be the rest of our lives and how we react to things. That’s true for everyone, author or not. So I get why so many authors think it’s needed to explain their story. Unfortunately, it doesn't always make for interesting reading. It really takes some excellent writing to interest the reader in the full scope of your life beyond the hook (in her case, young sommelier) that got them reading in the first place. I also get that it would feel unnatural for authors to edit this out, but there are plenty of successful memoirs that do not start or spend much time on childhood/family. There were at least 4-5 chapters about her childhood and growing up, which I just didn’t find relevant, interesting, or well-written. Once she finally gets into her career, she mentions her family less and less, but they are always part of the story. I can't imagine I am only speaking for myself when I say I was mostly just here for the sommelier stuff!

I also think I was more disinterested/bothered by the family aspect because I read her sister’s own reviews (review is the wrong word, public argument is more like it) on Goodreads and Amazon before reading. Her sister claims she has greatly exaggerated their privileged upbringing and downright lied about their family in some parts. While I thought this was kind of tacky and I don’t care which sister is right, it does give you pause. “Dysfunctional family memoir” is a subgrene that has sold and sold well for years. Think Educated, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, The Glass Castle, A Wolf at the Table, Running with Scissors, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Manand Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, just to name a few. I’m torn because I love some of those books and I think it’s helpful for readers to hear these type of stories. They help us better understand ourselves and others. But it would be very easy to embellish a few incidents here or there to get you into this coveted genre. I don’t know if she or didn’t. But where does the line of their privacy end and the line of someone’s freedom of speech begin? I don’t have an answer.

Anyways. I obviously did enjoy the wine and sommelier parts the most, and the book was not a total loss. I did like seeing how she overcame blatant sexism and at times other sexual harassment. It was uneven--sometimes fun, and sometimes boring and meandering. The writing and flow of the story just needed some work. I did question how much of it was true, not only because of the comments from her sister but because some parts just felt sensationalized or unclear how things worked out so well for her.
Profile Image for Shannon A.
322 reviews19 followers
February 21, 2020
Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘Master Sommelier’ is simply a pretty label for someone that knows wine; The title was well earned.
What Victoria lives through to be able to share her love of wine with people will break your heart, only to leave you amazed and inspired by how she found a way to thrive in a world where most people want to pull you down.
Like any good meal paired well, this memoir made me want to return to her restaurant & experience more.
I absolutely loved this powerful, could-not- put- down wine adventure.
*Definitely for fans of Educated by Tara Westover.
92 reviews
May 18, 2020
I overall enjoyed reading this book but it disappointed me in a way similar to Educated. The traumatic events seemed gratuitously emphasized and her family/personal relationships felt hollowly described. James skims through her life without a lot of reflection, and while she exposes a lot of details, she doesn't truly let us in to her interior world. I loved the sections about studying and working in wine/restaurants, but even (almost especially) in those passages I felt kept at an arms length. A few things left me puzzled: excerpts from her mother's diary are included in the book, but she is distant with her mother for large portions of her life, and their reunion is only briefly mentioned. She glosses over a section where she is living on the west coast and getting involved in drugs - those events came unexpectedly, weren't unpacked, and she seemed to move on from them without issue. She always overcomes her challenges, but I often didn't understand how and what the process was.

Nonetheless, I have mad respect for her professional achievements and believe she has the best intentions. In some ways I want to reassure her that she doesn't have to put so much pressure on herself to prove anything.
Profile Image for Colleen Chi-Girl.
612 reviews97 followers
December 29, 2020
**** 4-1/2
I just finished the delightful and fun Wine Girl by Victoria James. This is a really good memoir to listen to on audio, especially since the author is reading it. James begins informing us of a fairly miserable childhood due to her mom's mental health issues and a dysfunctional marriage between her parents. She was thrust into supporting herself at a young age in the restaurant biz. I wondered if it was going to be along the lines of Educated, but it only focused on her early life for a short time.

'Wine Girl' was a derogatory nickname, given by misogynistic men, when speaking to and referring to Victoria James, the world's youngest sommelier at age 21. The rest of the book will share her insights and grit about staying in the restaurant biz, as well as dealing with the male hierarchy in NYC and abroad. She was insulted, discounted, disparaged, and raped throughout her career. She was young and may have made some poor choices, but none of what she went through, should have resulted in the torment and rapes. I will skip over the rest as to keep you unaware of the rest of her life stories.

It took James about 5 years to write this memoir about her family life, her restaurant life, and her passion and learning about wine.
Profile Image for Kayla.
72 reviews6 followers
November 6, 2020
I was really excited for this book, thinking it would be one of my favorite reads of the year. Good wine and a woman shaking up an old-man-dominated industry? Sign me up! But this fell FLAT and barely deserves two stars. To be fair though, credit is due... to be such a young sommelier is an incredible accomplishment!

However, this book has little to do with wine and more to do with her upbringing and journey to becoming a sommelier. While it is quite an incredible tale, I can't help but feel like it was embellished and not entirely truthful. I don't want to invalidate the author or her experiences, but, it just seems very... shallow. She really paints herself to be a complete heroine in every situation, and we all know that life is not actually like that.

What irks me the most is the lack of growth. She finds herself the victim in every situation and doesn't really seem to have any reflection on that. As a person who believes in taking ownership for yourself, your actions, and your prosperity... I had a really difficult time connecting with the author. I was hoping for more wine and less whine, if you know what I'm saying!
Profile Image for Bookread2day.
2,237 reviews63 followers
April 3, 2020
My review on my website www.bookread2day.wordpress.com Twitter@bookpage5

Wine Girl is a memoir from America’s youngest sommelier, taking readers through the necessary accounts of the best and darkest moments throughout her work in the restaurant world. And d throughout her childhood age 7 to 14. When Victoria worked in the restaurants she take us all through what it was like working in the restaurant trade. Some of the wines were a staggering six-hundred-fifty dollars. And before serving wine, a sommelier must taste every single bottle. There are many more real life stories throughout this book, and stories about her family. I always like reading a memoir, with information of certain things people go through in their life.
Profile Image for Chandni.
1,094 reviews20 followers
July 21, 2020
I knew this book wasn't going to be for me as soon as I started it. I really only read memoirs of people that I know, but I thought I'd give this a try. I didn't get too far into it, but I don't drink wine and so I just didn't connect to the book. I wasn't the right audience for the book.
Profile Image for Whitney Gaston.
373 reviews34 followers
June 19, 2020
Amazing story with raw and real experiences. This really hit home for me as I am in the wine industry. I cannot believe all Victoria had to overcome in her life, and it makes you realize how resilient the human spirits truly is.
Thank you for sharing your life and being so open.
Profile Image for Nikita (thebookelf_).
200 reviews72 followers
January 27, 2021
When I read the synopsis online, I feel in love with the book. I knew I had to read it for two reasons – I work in an industry where wine is an important part of the business and secondly, just for the love of wine!

Wine Girl is an autobiography by a resilient women sommelier and her journey across the world of fine dining. The restaurant business is a glamourous industry but is unfortunately replete with toxic relationships. Amidst the misogyny and obstacles, Victoria James manages to emboss a successful name in the wine industry.

At the age of 21, Victoria James became the youngest certified sommelier (a person who is an expert in fine wine and is responsible for serving it to clients). Throughout the book she talks about her journey – her thawed upbringing, the innumerable humiliations she faced coupled with casual and violent sexism she had to deal with at work – to reach where she is today.

I listed to her interview on National Public Radio and loved how she discovered the book Wine for Dummies and said "I found myself purchasing another wine book, and another wine book — and I eventually came across this word 'sommelier,' and I Googled it, and I realized this could be a profession. You could drink wine for a living"
The story is indeed captivating but somewhere things got a tad bit repetitive. Overall a decent book to read if wine is something that interests you.
Profile Image for Amanda.
107 reviews
July 2, 2020
I read Cork Dork last year, and enjoyed its madcap forays into the insane world of rare and expensive wine. I was hoping for a similarly fun and informative wine memoir with Wine Girl, but this book isn’t really concerned with wine at all. It’s more of a dark, personal coming of age story, told by an author who had a challenging childhood and has experienced some real brutality (content warning: multiple rapes and sexual assaults, not to mention rampant casual misogyny) in the restaurant world. As a memoir, it unfortunately lacks the critical distance and perspective that comes with time and reflection; as a result, much of what is relayed lacks emotional nuance.

The author seems like a determined young woman, but I worry she has absorbed some of the unhealthy machismo of restaurant culture, taking pride in the inhumanely long hours, the irrational sacrifices made, the amounts of booze drunk and food not eaten. If James had spent some more time on the actual subject of all this frenzied activity— the wine itself— I might have better understood her singular focus on being a somm. Lacking that greater context, this book ultimately just ended up reminding me why memoir isn’t usually one of my go-to genres.
Profile Image for Whitley Lopez Bolin .
17 reviews3 followers
June 20, 2020
4.5/5 stars rounded up. I FLEW through this memoir and loved every page of it! The book is written in a way that made me feel like the author was in the room telling me about her life. I felt so connected to her and felt her pain/fear/joy/happiness. Her dry sense of humor (which I loved) made the book flow perfectly for me. The overall message for women was for them to “share their stories, take charge of their lives, and empower others. Stand for social justice and create positive change.” HERE FOR IT!

Part of the fun in reading this book might be because I live in NYC. Each time a neighborhood or restaurant that I’ve been to was mentioned, it just created that much more of a connection for me. It was interesting to hear about the behind-the-scenes things that go on in Michelin-starred restaurants. I’m also a wine fan and I’ve always wanted to study more about it. Some of the wine jargon that other readers might find boring was right up my alley!
Profile Image for Brianna Benton.
124 reviews13 followers
April 3, 2020
Breathtaking memoir about America's youngest sommelier about her experiences in the service industry. A highly recommended read, especially for fans of Educated!

CW/TW: child neglect alcoholism, sexual assault. Please be aware of your triggers when you pick up this book
Profile Image for Heather Gadd.
233 reviews15 followers
April 8, 2020
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.

Many thanks to the publisher for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for melhara.
1,276 reviews57 followers
September 29, 2020

I don't really drink wine (although I have, on occasion, enjoyed wine tasting in the Niagara region), and don't know a thing about sommeliers even though half my family are in the restaurant business. So this book, Wine Girl offered a great introduction into what it means to be sommelier, and what it's like being a young and female sommelier for Michelin restaurants in New York City.

Working in the restaurant business is stressful enough on its own, but the added pressure of working for Michelin-starred restaurant, being the youngest sommelier in the country, and being a female in a male-dominated field presents many challenges. To be honest, I was completely shocked by Victoria James's traumatic and dark experience in the hospitality industry and the level of disrespect that she had to endure from her colleagues and patrons. I found it hard to believe that such sexism still exists in the culinary world... but perhaps the restaurant industry or the world of Michelin-starred restaurants is more brutal and misogynistic in New York than it is in other parts of the world?

This book was really interesting, especially the parts about being a sommelier (and the journey of becoming a sommelier). The weakest points of this book were the personal stories, which were good, but could've benefitted from more self-reflection and emotion.

TW: rape

*** #24 of my 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge - A book on a subject you know nothing about ***
Profile Image for April.
355 reviews44 followers
June 1, 2020
Thanks to EccoBooks for my free copy of Wine Girl in exchange for my honest review!

I love wine and I loved this book! I love reading memoirs and books that dive into the experiences that have shaped people into who they are today! Victoria's story was interesting and heartbreaking, reading about the way she grew up and the way she was treated throughout the restaurant industry! I loved reading about the way she grew over all the years working at different restaurants and loved reading about her competing and winning many sommelier competitions. The amount of dedication and time she spent towards something she loved and something she wanted to prove to herself and others was inspiring. And the amount of abuse and hate she endured working over all the years was disgusting, but it was beautiful reading about her overcoming all the obstacles and helping other women against what she experienced! She is one strong and badass sommelier and I am so glad I was able to read her story! And it was also so fun to read and learn more about wine and just how intense the wine world is! Pick this up if you love memoirs, wine, and strong and inspiring women! (Trigger Warning for sexual assault and abuse)
Profile Image for Taylor M.
103 reviews14 followers
April 21, 2020
I was given Wine Girl as a gift by a friend who knows my love for a good glass and a great memoir and, this was just what I needed. With a childhood backstory reminiscent of Educated, or the Glass Castle (albeit perhaps with trauma to a lesser extent), this is a story of overcoming odds, restraints and patriarchal constructs to achieve great success at a young age. Victoria’s life was not roses and rainbows, she battled for every inch of ground in her professional career, often finding herself in compromising and heartbreaking positions, but overcoming with absolute resilience.

Not just a book about wine, this is a story of a woman rising to the top of a male-dominated field, despite everything working against her.
Often reads like a work of fiction because it is so interesting and at times, crazy to take in.

Would truly recommend to any memoir lover!
Profile Image for Janalynn.
166 reviews2 followers
April 27, 2020
One of my takeaways from this memoir is that I'm most definitely drinking bad wine, haha.

I enjoy a glass of wine here and there, but I can't say I'm really INTO wine. And because I've never really taken a dive into the wine world, this book was actually really informative. Most of my favourite bits revolve around Victoria's training to be a Sommelier.

There are no doubt better books out there about working in the NYC restaurant industry. That being said, I did like Wine Girl. It's #metoo for the restaurant world, with a trigger warning for rape and sexual assault.
549 reviews35 followers
February 15, 2021
I have mixed emotions on this book. The author’s brain trust of wine knowledge is impressive. There is a lot of information about the wine industry, restaurants, and the perks and perils of being a sommelier. I wish it stayed on this track. Instead, the narrative has some large jump-cuts. The timeline includes some very descriptive personal reveals of a difficult childhood, strained parental relationships, and abuse. The point-of-view, pacing, and agenda get muddled.
Profile Image for Dana DesJardins.
257 reviews34 followers
July 15, 2020
WARNING: there are multiple depictions of sexual assault in this book. Here is how the review describes her serial rape and abuse: "there were still groping patrons, bosses who abused their role and status..." As disturbing as attacks were, James' lack of reporting them or getting therapy made me wonder how and even IF she had gotten over what she subtitles "humiliations."
I learned a good amount about wine, but this is more of a tell-all about the demeaning and damaging treatment of women and minorities in sommelier culture. It left me with a terrible taste in my mouth.
Profile Image for Victoria Rodríguez.
595 reviews23 followers
March 11, 2021
This book surprised me because it is one of those that I found in the library. I'm glad I did because otherwise, I wouldn't have read it. It is the story of a girl who lived through difficult times but who achieved many successes. I had no idea how difficult is the world of sommeliers. Wine is a very complex product. I invite you to read this book if you want to know the life of a very talented and brilliant girl whose name is the same as mine.
Profile Image for Mirjam.
392 reviews13 followers
October 20, 2021
See, apart from being kinda trashy, this "memoir" was already getting on my nerves before I even started reading it, because wine tasting is absolute bullshit. All wine tastes more or less the same, no matter how old it is, no matter how dark its basement home has been kept, no matter its price tag, no matter whether it was crushed by the delicate pink soles of cherubim or the wrinkled leathery clogs of elephants. Who gives a shit? If it tastes good, it's good; if it gets you drunk, it's better.

Now, don't get me wrong, what our friend Vicky says here about sexual harassment and misogyny in the workplace is absolutely worthwhile. I'm sorry she had to go through that, and I relate, as a woman working higher-up in a male-dominated field. But I just couldn't divorce the unbearably pretentious bullshit science from the more personal (and possibly also bullshit?) details. I'm too sober for this.
Profile Image for Anjor.
3 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2020
As a bit of background, I'd like to add that I had the immense privilege of working with Victoria for a year and a half. She once remarked to me when facing a minor work-related quandary, that "if we lead with love, everything will be alright."

This book is a testament to that statement, one I've carried with me since. Upon starting the book, I very quickly realised that I would not be able to put it down, and read it in one sitting. It's written with infectious honesty and beauty. I think that anyone that has worked in the service industry will relate to the things Victoria James details in this book, but I am certain that women especially will be able to find themselves within these pages. James accurately writes of how you can feel unwanted while working, how women must jump through different hoops and run through different mazes, only to realise that they are simply not playing the same game. She lays bare the blatant and horrid sexism and harassment she faced, and I'm certain readers might be relate to it all too well. James calls for change and to speak up for each other, and if we have Victoria James to help us lead the way, then change is certainly coming. Throughout every trail and tribulation, she continues to lead with love, and, as a result, you root for her every step of the way. It's such a joy when to see that hard work, grit, and determination win out for our hero, and even better to know that this book is not just a story, it's real life, and this hero walks among us.

Do yourself a favour and pick up this book. I'm certain you won't be able to put it down. xx
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