Cover image for Wine Girl : The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier
Wine Girl : The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier
Physical Description:
256 p. ;

On Order

R.H. Stafford Library (Woodbury)2On Order
Hardwood Creek Library (Forest Lake)2On Order
Stillwater Public Library1On Order



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 leader 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.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Mar.)

Kirkus Review

A memoir from the youngest certified sommelier in the male-dominated wine industry.After her passionate response to the final question of the competition, James (Drink Pink: A Celebration of Ros, 2017) won the Sud de France Sommelier Challenge in 2013, becoming the first American female sommelier to take home the title. Soon after, at the age of 21, she became the youngest certified sommelier. Getting to that point was not an easy task. Along the way, she endured a tumultuous upbringing due to an absent mother and an alcoholic father as well as verbal and sexual abuse from customers. Growing up, James felt "that one's social class did not define one's character" and had the notion that she could "bring people together through wine" as a sommelier. Becoming a certified sommelier should have been a life-changing event, but she soon discovered it was not. Despite her successes, she was continually belittled for her age and faced sexism and abuse of power from employers and clients. After years of humiliation in the high-end restaurant world, where men hold the majority of the power, James became disillusioned and escaped to the vineyards of France, seeking authenticity. There, she also discovered a true sense of purpose. On her return to the States, with the support of her family, she felt "empowered to make a change." She established a zero-tolerance policy at the restaurant she now co-owns, and, with a vision for "diversifying the wine world," she created Wine Empowered, a nonprofit organization that offers tuition-free education for minorities and women in the hospitality industry. She also finished her book, which shares this journey and dispels many of the myths associated with the wine industry. Many of the details James shares about her experiences are disturbing and graphic in nature; however, her story also exudes warmth as she breezily weaves in her knowledge and passion for wine and shares the generous love she has for her siblings, friends, and husband.An inspiring, captivating story of resilience. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

James was just 21 when she became the youngest sommelier in the U.S. But her journey to achieving the wine industry's highest accolade was filled with trials and tribulations that ultimately influenced her to become the woman she is today. For fans of Tara Westover's Educated (2017), James' first memoir is a #metoo story for the fine-dining industry, full of bosses who abused their roles and patrons with a clear lack of boundaries. She describes taking her first diner job at 13 to escape her strict father and how this evolved into bartending positions and eventually work in the fine-dining scene. James also takes us through her abusive and traumatic childhood and reflects on how those experiences strengthened her resolve to share her love of wine and hospitality with people. Inspiring, and a true testament to the author's strength, Wine Girl is like a good meal paired with the finest wine: meant to be savored in all its many subtle layers.--Danielle Bauter Copyright 2020 Booklist

Library Journal Review

James became the youngest sommelier at a U.S. Michelin-starred restaurant at the age of 21. How she got there is the focus of this warm and enjoyable memoir. Growing up, James knew little about food and even less about wine. She began her hospitality career waitressing at a diner when she was just 13. Work was not only a way to earn cash, but also a way to escape her dysfunctional family, if only for a few hours at a time. Bartending at a small Italian restaurant in New York exposed her to wine; in order to learn more, she went to an industry wine tasting class and eventually found her new career. The requirements for a good sommelier are steep: a strong palate, masses of memorization, and serious customer service skills. James kept pursuing the career, despite having her youth and gender used against her; she was frequently dismissed and harassed. VERDICT While informative about what it takes to become a sommelier, the focus of this moving memoir is more on James's personal journey. A satisfying read overall.--Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI