podcast

Ep 1: Jacki Buys Victoria James & Lyle Railsback a Drink

By The ThirstyNest Editors

ThirstyNest is coming out with its first-ever podcast, Can I Buy You a Drink. On this 20-minute show the Founder of ThirstyNest, Jacqueline Strum, will interview real couples and industry influencers on how they met. Whether it be in a bar or on an app, we’ll get the adorable intel on how love really begins before the walk down the aisle.

Episode 1: In the first episode, Jacki will interview Victoria James, who was the youngest Michelin-starred Sommelier in America, alongside her wine industry husband Lyle Railsback. They'll chat about how this wine power couple met, their dreamy wedding in a real-life Italian castle, and what advice they would give to couples getting married now.




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Jacqueline Strum:

Hi, there, and welcome to Can I Buy You A Drink?, a podcast from the ThirstyNest team, where we interview our favorite wine and wedding folks about their meet-cute stories and what's in their glass right now. I'm your host, Jackie Strum, founder and CEO of ThirstyNest, the first wine and spirits registry for the modern couple.

I'm really excited to welcome my guests today. They're both up and coming wine industry darlings. Victoria James was the youngest sommelier in America at 21, when she began her career at Michelin-starred Aureole and went on to work at numerous illustrious restaurants in NYC. She's currently the beverage director and partner at Cote Korean Steakhouse in New York, and her career also includes two incredible books, Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé and, most recently, Wine Girl, which dives into the dark side of the beverage hospitality industry that James endured.

Also joining us is Victoria's husband, Lyle Railsback, the national portfolio manager for Kermit Lynch, which is one of the most iconic importers of fine French and Italian wines in the United States. Additionally, Lyle started a wonderful winery with his brother called Railsback Frères. So how are you guys doing today? How's it going?

Lyle Railsback:

Good. We're great. Thank you.

Victoria James:

Awesome.

Jacqueline Strum:

Great. We're so happy to have you. So let's dive in. Where did you guys meet?

Lyle Railsback:

We met in the New York restaurant scene. Victoria was working at Marea, and I was selling wine to Marea.

Victoria James:

Yeah. So he sells wine, and I buy wine. It's a good relationship.

Jacqueline Strum:

A match made in heaven, I think, right?

Victoria James:

Exactly. Yeah.

Jacqueline Strum:

What was your first date night like? I heard there was a little surprise, so I'd love to hear more about it.

Victoria James:

Well, yeah. So when Lyle and I first met in the restaurant scene, as he mentioned, I was obviously very attracted to him. When he walks into a room, his presence and his voice, it's very alluring, but, at the time, we were dating other people. So nothing really came of it. Months later, he was no longer dating this person, and he was like, "Well, do you want to come over to my place for dinner? I'd love to cook for you." I said, "No. I'm dating someone." He said, "No, invite your boyfriend. That's not what I meant. I meant like a dinner party. I'm having lots of people over."

So then, the day before, I ended up breaking up with this person. So I said, "I'm sorry. I hope I don't mess up your seating arrangements, but it's just going to be me at the dinner party." What did you say to me?

Lyle Railsback:

I had been traveling and hadn't really taken the time to invite anyone else. So I said, "Okay, that's good. It's just going to be you and me."

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Lyle Railsback:

So it was a party of two, and we roasted a whole chicken a la Zuni Cafe, which is my favorite recipe, with bread salad and greens. We drank a magnum of wine from Collioure, one of my favorite wines from the South of France.

Jacqueline Strum:

That's pretty scandalous that you actually thought you were going to be having a double date dinner party, and then just the two of you came. It's like a match [crosstalk 00:03:12].

Lyle Railsback:

I was hopeful that I could have rallied a crowd, if I had tried to, but it worked out.

Jacqueline Strum:

Were you secretly hoping that would happen, or it was just luck?

Lyle Railsback:

No. It was just luck, I guess.

Victoria James:

Interesting. Yeah, well, I mean, it was one of those things that I think just worked out well, and we just instantly enjoyed one another's company and, I think, realized we have so much in common. We spendt all night reading poetry to each other. We realized we had a lot of the same books. We had a lot of the same music and food. With one, I was actually a little nervous. I thought he was going to pull out a very fancy bottle of wine, because he works for Kermit Lynch, which has my favorite wines in the world in their portfolio, but these are wines that can go up to thousands of dollars a bottle. Instead, he impressed me by, as he mentioned, pulling out a magnum of Collioure Rouge from Domaine La Tour Vieille. It's a very affordable bottle. How much does it retail?

Lyle Railsback:

$25.

Victoria James:

$25, maybe retail. Well, we drink a magnum.

Jacqueline Strum:

The right amount. The correct amount is one magnum for two people.

Victoria James:

Yeah. That's true. [inaudible 00:04:27]. So I think that was one of the things that really stuck with me, that he lived in this very romantic and circular world. Wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good. It can just bring people together.

Jacqueline Strum:

Yeah. I wonder, Victoria, in your role, you must read a lot into what people order and what it says about them. So did this kind of tell you a lot about Lyle, what he chose for you guys together?

Victoria James:

Yeah. It was also a wine I had never heard of from the Kermit Lynch book, which-

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Victoria James:

... I've always been a fan of. So he was telling me about it, and I asked what the wine was like. He said, "This comes from right by the Spanish border, where the Pyrenese Mountains fall into the Mediterranean Sea."

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Victoria James:

He told me all about the magical town called Collioure, where artists and poets lived. He's good at sales. He sold me.

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow. It sounds like, Lyle, you're almost a poet yourself when you talk about wine.

Lyle Railsback:

I took poetry classes in college, and I really like reading different poetry. But Collioure is an important place for poets, and the Spanish poet Antonio Machado is buried there. So Jim Harrison, who is a poet and author, he went on a pilgrimage to Collioure to see the grave site of Machado and fell in love with the place and the wines. He was also a fan of Kermit, and he would write stuff for Kermit's newsletter over the years. Jim Harrison's been a major source of inspiration for me.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, that's so cool. I love wine stories like that. They give you a little bit more about the history and the terroir than just what's in the bottle itself. So you have so many storied wines like that in your portfolio. It must be really fun.

Lyle Railsback:

Yeah, definitely. It's endless.

Jacqueline Strum:

Yeah. You both clearly have a lot of the same interests, as you were mentioning. So what are your favorite things about working in the same industry?

Lyle Railsback:

Yeah, when we talk about work at home, it's not like we're talking about work, I guess. Yeah, we both love what we do. Victoria right now is ... Cote's during delivery, and she's going in and peeling potatoes and working 14-hour days to do food to go.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh my gosh.

Lyle Railsback:

Obviously, she's exhausted, and it's kind of a crazy time right now. I'm working from home. So it's a little weird being in this pandemic, but when we come home, like last night, we made French fries and cooked a whole feast here. So we're passionate about what we do, more than just a job. So that's nice. We're lucky.

Jacqueline Strum:

I love that. Yeah. What did you drink last night? Right before we started recording, I think you mentioned Fernet, which is such an industry fave.

Lyle Railsback:

We found this 180-year-old distillery in Turino. This guy has his own fields up on the Swiss border, where he grows his own botanicals, and then he does macerations and makes his own vermouth and spirits. He's this amazing little distilleria in Turino. He has a Fernet that's his great grandfather's recipe, and he won't tell anyone what's in it, but it's a lot of local mint. I've always liked Fernet-Branca, working in restaurants, as you mentioned, but this is like kind of next level Fernet. We went a little hard on that after we ... That was after some Beaujolais and some-

Victoria James:

[inaudible 00:07:51].

Lyle Railsback:

... [inaudible 00:07:54]. Yeah.

Victoria James:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Lyle Railsback:

It was like a laundry list of great ones.

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Victoria James:

Yeah. One of the joys, also, of working in the same industry is that you have so many of the same interests in common. During the week, as Lyle mentioned, now during this pandemic especially, I don't like to drink, because the days are so demanding. So the weekends, it's such a joy to be able to share these special bottles together. It's really just lovely, because usually I feel like most couples don't have the joy of sharing all these commonalities. Lyle is also so understanding. I feel like I also am understanding, too, when he has to travel all the time for work or I have to work these long hours. For anyone else, it might not make sense for them. They might not understand why it's so important. But for us, because we love hospitality and food and wine, it's not work. It's just kind of a way of life.

Jacqueline Strum:

I love that. That's so nice, and it's so great that you guys are both working right now. Victoria, the work you're doing right now is amazing. To be going into the restaurant and everything, I'm so impressed. So bravo to you both. It's such a challenging time for hospitality. So yeah, really, it's great that you're both working together. With that, you clearly both have a lot of the same interests. So have you collaborated together at all?

Lyle Railsback:

Yes. Victoria's first book, Drink Pink, a book on rosé, she wrote the book on-

Jacqueline Strum:

I love that book, by the way. It's a favorite of mine.

Lyle Railsback:

I did the illustrations for it. So she [inaudible 00:09:30].

Victoria James:

No, I mean, when my literary agent said, "Well, we're thinking about doing this book on rosé. I think you'd be a great fit for it. You should write it. Do you know anyone who can do illustrations just for the book proposal so we can show publishers?" I said, "Well, I might know someone that has an art degree he can brush off." The publishers loved the illustrations so much in the book proposal, they said, "We have to go with Lyle." So he did a wonderful job with the illustrations, and it's so funny, I think, because I don't know why, but even when we were on the book tour together, so many people assumed that I had done the drawings and Lyle had done the writing.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, really? Do you think that's a gender thing?

Victoria James:

Maybe. I can't even draw a stick figure. [inaudible 00:10:22]. Yeah. I mean, but you haven't done just the book. You've done wine labels.

Lyle Railsback:

Collaboration together.

Victoria James:

Oh, collaborations together. Yeah, fun for us. Yes. He also has some articles as well, so he's very talented.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, that's so great, and you're a poet, too, you mentioned.

Lyle Railsback:

I don't know.

Victoria James:

That's true.

Jacqueline Strum:

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So let's get to the good stuff. How did you propose to Victoria?

Lyle Railsback:

It was on the book tour, actually, for Drink Pink. We were traveling along the West Coast of the US, and we were doing Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and LA. We took a week. We took some time off and did a vacation/book tour thing, and we did some events on Orcas Island, up and off the coast of Seattle, actually north of the Canada border. We had this really amazing rosé dinner there. There's a wonderful restaurant in the wine store there, and we had this rosé dinner with wines from Bandol and some of the best rosés made in France. Right beforehand, I took Victoria out to this beach on Orcas Island and got down on a knee on the rocks and proposed to her. Then it was very hard for her to concentrate during the rosé dinner.

Jacqueline Strum:

I think you mentioned when we spoke about this last time that you guys kind of kept it to yourself for a little bit.

Victoria James:

Yeah. I was completely taken aback, and so the first night after he proposed, we went into this dinner together, and I was, of course, on cloud nine. But we kept it to ourselves and didn't tell anyone, becuase we kind of wanted to share that special moment. But with us, too, Lyle also brought his sister, one of my best friends, Richard, our friend Ross as well.

Lyle Railsback:

Matt.

Victoria James:

And Matt. So Lyle really orchestrated this nice group as well so that we can also celebrate our engagement together, which I thought was very nice and thoughtful.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, that's so sweet. It's really wonderful to hear something like that on this dreary Monday we're experiencing. So it just warms my heart. Did you guys pop something specific to celebrate? Obviously, you had the wine dinner, but then when you had a moment alone, maybe?

Victoria James:

I think that we were just so excited. I don't know. I think when we got back, we just ... I don't think we drank anything, but during the dinner, we drink definitely lots of chilled Bandol Rouge from [inaudible 00:13:39] and rosé as well.

Jacqueline Strum:

Yum.

Victoria James:

I had such butterflies in my stomach. It was just such a great time.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, that's amazing. That's one of the best moments. Thank you for sharing that. So tell us about your wedding. I saw the photos on Facebook. They're amazing. You got married in what looks like a literal castle in Northern Italy. It looks like a wine-soaked fairytale. So how did this location come about? I know Victoria has a little connection to it, or a big one. So I'd love to hear about it.

Lyle Railsback:

Yeah, there's a lot to complain about when you have to choose which of your family's castles you're going to get married in.

Jacqueline Strum:

Yes, that's right.

Lyle Railsback:

We had a big party for the wedding at one of the castles, and then, the next day, got married at the other castle. That way, none of the family members were insulted.

Jacqueline Strum:

Ah, yes. You didn't want to offend the castle [inaudible 00:14:27].

Victoria James:

No, in all seriousness, on my mother's side of the family, my grandmother was a countess and from Northern Italy, right in Piedmont, by Turino. They have these beautiful old castles, [foreign language 00:14:47] and [foreign language 00:14:48], which are really lovely. Growing up, I didn't really have a connection to them, because, well, as anyone can read in the book as well, my mother was absent in a lot of my early childhood. So it wasn't until later in life that I actually rediscovered this heritage I had, and I was like, "Wow, my family has castles in Italy. That's insane."

Then when I was a teenager is when I started visiting them for the first time. Then later, when Lyle and I got engaged, I was like, "Well, wouldn't it be just lovely to" ... All of the women in my family have gotten married there for centuries, and it's kind of a return to that tradition, I thought, that was really great. My family that lives there are just the nicest, sweetest people in the world, and they were so happy to have a wedding there in the family, which they hadn't had for quite some time. So it was really joyous to be able to connect to that heritage again, marry the man I love there, and also have winemakers from all around the world and friends of ours in restaurants come to this special place and bring wines from their vineyards. It was really magical.

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow. That sounds so wonderful. So I have to ask, then, what did you guys drink? I'm sure it was amazing. So tell us.

Lyle Railsback:

We overbought, which is rare, but we wrote a lot of producers, our favorite people, and said, "Hey, can we order a case of wine or a couple of cases of wine from you to have sent to the castle?" So we ordered wines from Château Thivin and [inaudible 00:16:20] and [inaudible 00:16:20]. We ordered [inaudible 00:16:23], red and rosé. We ordered Vieux Télégraphe and everything in magnums.

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Lyle Railsback:

[inaudible 00:16:28] champagne and a lot of great Italian stuff, like [inaudible 00:16:33] and Moretto, Lambrusco, [inaudible 00:00:16:36]. We called a lot of producers, and then we showed up at the castle and there was half a pallet of wine left over after the wedding. So we went a little heavy, but ...

Victoria James:

Yeah. Yeah, we didn't think, too, that, also, all these producers, if we ordered a case, they would send an extra case for free. We're like, "Oh, shoot."

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow. Almost as a wedding gift, or they just wanted to send it?

Victoria James:

I guess probably both. I don't know. So now my family has a nice wine cellar collection.

Jacqueline Strum:

Amazing. For the listeners, why do you prefer magnums? I know, in the general, it typically ages best. Is there any other reason that you asked specifically for magnums?

Lyle Railsback:

That's a great question. We actually open magnums regularly. We'll open one and drink it sometimes over four or five days, if we're not celebrating with people. Magnums are the best format. There's more wine per surface area, and the wine tastes better. Even if you open a young wine, an everyday wine, out of a magnum and a 750 and taste them side by side, the magnum is clearly better. That's something we try to talk about a lot with clients, because we just think more people should drink magnums. Victoria, at Cote, only pours magnums by the glass.

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, interesting.

Lyle Railsback:

The wine's just better.

Victoria James:

Yeah. I mean, especially at the restaurant, too, it's kind of a symbol for us. When someone sees a big bottle, it's the way we tell our guests that we love them and we care about them. I go out of my way to get all these wines specially bottled for us in magnum, because it just tastes better. I think if you're working in a restaurant and you're able to coordinate this, it's just such a nice touch for the guests, because the wine just tastes way better. Also, magnums are inherently impressive.

Jacqueline Strum:

Right. Sure. How many glasses do you get, typically, out of one magnum?

Victoria James:

Ten.

Jacqueline Strum:

Ten? That's a nice group of people or a fun evening, I would say. Wow, I mean, the wine industry is wrought with so many wonderful romantic stories, because it's just an industry that brings people together. But this is one of the dreamiest I've ever heard. So now that you're married, what do you guys love most about being married?

Lyle Railsback:

It's a real partnership. Victoria is my best friend. We go through all sorts of stuff together, and it changes over time. So it's not the same fuzzy newness that you have at the beginning. But, instead, you get this real closeness and all the ... Yeah, everything's exposed. I think it's good.

Victoria James:

Yeah. I mean, being able to have someone that you can completely rely on is just really lovely. Yeah, I think that when I first met Lyle, I thought he was so impressive in this industry, and he had accomplished so much. One thing I like best about our partnership is that he always challenges me to be better. I hope I do the same for him as well, and we always push one another to be better people, to be better at our jobs, to be better with other people. It's just so nice to have someone there that is your cheerleader, can hold you accountable, can offer you this unconditional love. It's just really, really nice. Yeah. It's amazing.

Jacqueline Strum:

That's great. I lastly wanted to ask what you're drinking right now, but it sounds like, in quarantine, you're enjoying some homemade Fernet, which is wonderful. But once we're through this mess, where will your first date night be together?

Lyle Railsback:

We think it's going to be at King restaurant, which is one of our favorites in New York, on 6th and King. Three ladies, two of them were cooks at the River Cafe in London, and they do this sort of British take on Franco-Italian country cuisine, provincial cuisine [inaudible 00:00:20:39]. It's just a lovely place, and they're lovely people. So we miss that place.

Jacqueline Strum:

What do you usually order there?

Lyle Railsback:

They have a very small menu. Some people are put off by it. They actually have customers leave because they're surprised that there's only five things to choose from. They change the menu daily-

Jacqueline Strum:

Oh, cool.

Lyle Railsback:

... depending on what's in the [inaudible 00:20:59]. So it's the kind of place that you take four people to, and you just tell them to bring you the entire menu.

Jacqueline Strum:

Wow.

Lyle Railsback:

That's what we always do.

Jacqueline Strum:

So nobody picky.

Victoria James:

I mean, I love it, too, because everything on the menu is just so delicious and soaked in olive oil. One of my favorite things to eat there is the Panisse they start you with, which is the fried chickpeas, and Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc, which is a white Provençal wine. If you sit outside on King, it's not exactly the Italian Riviera. It's more like the 6th Avenue Riviera.

Jacqueline Strum:

I think a lot of us would love to be on the Riviera right now, so hopefully soon. Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. Your story is just brimming with heartwarming romance and yummy details. I really appreciate it. Before we go, I know you're both very active in the hospitality community, as we've discussed today. Are there any charities or causes you'd like to recommend or highlight during this time?

Victoria James:

Yeah, sure. I would really love it if anyone listening can support their local businesses and restaurants by ordering delivery if they're open or gift cards and also supporting Roar, R-O-A-R, New York, which is really, really crucial to bringing back restaurants.

Victoria James:

Lyle, do you want to add any?

Lyle Railsback:

Yeah, I mean, for our winery in California, we've been ... and also Kermit Lynch as well have been supporting the James Beard Beverage Industry Relief Fund. That's another thing. If anyone can do that, that's going to be very helpful for restaurants as they come back.

Jacqueline Strum:

We're actually partnered with them on the wine enthusiast side of our business. So I'm very familiar. It's a great organization, so major props to them, too. All right. Well, thank you both so much. I have such immense respect for your careers, and I'm so happy we could sit down and chat today. So thanks again, and cheers.

Victoria James:

Thank you, Jackie.

Lyle Railsback:

Thank you.

Jacqueline Strum:

Now's the time in Can I Buy you a Drink? where I like to share my favorite drink hacks for your bar cart adventures at home. Have you ever had a white wine that's so cold you can barely taste it or a red that's almost hot upon opening and all you're tasting is the alcohol? One of my favorite tricks is something I learned from my colleague, Susan Kostrzewa, an editor in chief at Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

If you're chilling white, rosé, or sparkling, put them in your fridge one hour before you plan to serve them and take white or rosé out 15 minutes before opening to shake off the chill just a bit. Sparkling can remain in the fridge just until you're ready to pop. Red wine, on the other hand, is actually also best served with a slight chill.

So for reds, place it in the fridge 15 minutes before serving to allow the wine to come down to a bit more of an enjoyable temperature. This little rule allows an easy swap at the 15 minute mark if you're prepping white and red wine for dinner, and that's it. Just remember, one hour and the 15 minutes to keep all your wines at the perfect service temperature, and thanks for joining. We'll see you next time on Can I Buy You a Drink?

You can subscribe to The ThirstyNest Can I Buy You A Drink Podcast on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear what you think so please write us a review. Use the hashtag #CanIbuyyouadrink and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also send us an email at Hello@thirstynest.com. The ThirstyNest Podcast is produced by Jacqueline Strum. See you next time, cheers!

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