Find us a person talking about wine in a funnier or more relatable way than LA’s Marissa A. Ross. She's not your parents’ Sunset Magazine wine writer, nor is she a wine snob of Sideways proportions. She curses a lot, she uses Kanye West lyrics to deal with haters, and is exactly the kind of woman we want telling us about the different wine regions of France.
The Bon Appétit wine editor started out as a contributor reviewing cheap-ass bottles for HelloGiggles as a side gig to being Mindy Kaling’s assistant, and now is ready to release her first book on the subject and looking toward traveling the world for her second. Recently, she co-hosted our Women in Wine panel at The Standard, Hollywood alongside Ashleigh Parsons of Alma at The Standard, and we got her proper drunk beforehand. As evidenced by the photos, three drinks doesn’t include the swigs from the bottle that were had throughout.
MARISSA A. ROSS: When I moved to LA 10 years ago, there were two people already named Marissa Ross. One was a casting director, and the other was a plus-size lingerie model. Hunter S. Thompson was one of my favorite writers. Also, my mom told me when I was younger that Marissa A. Ross was a great author name. That worked out.
You drink wine for a living and tout your experience as a casual drinker. How does someone go from frequent wine drinker to Wine Editor at Bon Appétit?
I was pursuing comedy writing and acting when I moved to LA. I really liked drinking wine, and my friend Molly McAleer had founded HelloGiggles. I had this whole online persona there and she thought it would be funny for me to write about this shitty, cheap wine I was drinking all the time.
So you’ve kind of always been into wine?
I grew up in Southern California. In the '90s, drinking wine was really big and the adult thing to do, which I continued to believe even when I was 22 and couldn't afford shit. I lived in the most insane place when I first moved to LA and I would hole up in my room to avoid my roommates. One was a hoarder, another was a hooker, and another was a heroin addict.
The three H’s.
Yeah, and the other was a drug dealer. I didn’t know this when I moved in with them because I was an idiot from the suburbs. Finally, I started a video series for HelloGiggles called Wine Times, where I’d review these bottles under $10, and that's when I realized I enjoyed it and liked actually tasting the wines. So, I started a blog called Wine All The Time in 2012, and no one read it. I did it for myself and was continuing a comedy career where I was Mindy Kaling’s full-time assistant for five years. Finally, New York Magazine found my blog and did a profile on my writing and videos, the next week I had a lit agent, and three months later I was selling a book.
Whoa…that’s a big leap.
Oh, yeah. I was doing Vice pieces after that for a while, and then Bon Appétit reached out and I fucking took that job. I probably shouldn’t have, seeing as a full-time job while you’re writing a book is a nutso idea, especially since it was my hobby to write about wine. But now it’s what I get paid for.
It seems like a pretty pretentious space at times. Intimidating at least. How do you break into that and not care?
A lot of people don’t like me.
Did comedy prep you for having a thick skin with that?
They’re really different actually. I’m used to going into meetings where someone will say, “I can’t wait to work with you,” and then you never hear back. I’m really used to rejections. I kind of don’t have hopes. As depressing as that sounds, it’s not. I do what I do and hope to God people fucking like it, and if they don’t, whatever. In comedy, I was a small fish. Wine writing is a smaller pond, and I kind of made a splash the way I talked about it… But yeah, a lot of people don’t like me. I think two weeks ago a wine writer that is more of the old guard said my wine writing should be used to recruit for ISIS.
But there is room for both, no?
If I get one person who would normally order a vodka and soda to order wine at your restaurant, doesn't that help us both? If you think that affects your sommelier’s opinions, then that is a misplaced insecurity. I cuss a lot, I chug wine out of the bottle. Of course people are going to call me a bitch.
How did the Ross Test (Marissa’s signature move of giving you feedback about what a wine is like chugged out of a bottle) come to be?
There is definitely the comedy component to chugging wine. As someone who was 23 and sad often and had a hoarder roommate, sometimes cups are unnecessary. Past that, it’s interesting to see when a wine is great out of the bottle. You never know.
Favorite wine shops in LA?
Domaine LA, Silver Lake Wines, Helen’s, Lou, and Esther’s if I had to go to the West Side. Let’s finish this glass.
Yeah, we’re at that spot.
That sounded sexual. You know, the biggest notes on my book were actually "less jizz jokes and Beatles references."
I was a hobbyist, so it was hard. I don’t know how I survived it, to be honest. I’m also a college dropout. I’ve never had to do a long-term project in my life. I would get drunk and say something like, “This wine makes me feel like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by The Kinks,” I was suddenly like, “Shit, I’m writing about regions.” In the words of a man named Drake, it went zero to 100 real quick.
How has the feedback been from the book?
No bad feedback yet, but I’m sure it will come. I’d say if you like my personality and writing, this book is for you. If not, maybe don’t read the book. I have a disclaimer saying I’m not a sommelier. It’s for a young person who wants to give a shit about what they’re drinking, but hopefully in a funny way.
And any negative reviews are thankfully going to be padded with wine.
Well, I don’t really drink when I’m sad.
Because that sounds like the beginning of alcoholism?
Yeah, and I drink all the time, but out of happiness and joy for it. If you’re sad, just smoke weed.
You listen to Kanye, and I’m a believer in this philosophy as well...
50 told me go ahead and switch the style up, and if they hate, then watch them hate and watch the money pile up. That’s a mantra.
But do naysayers signal that you’re actually doing something strong?
The post-it I keep on my computer at all times reads, “Don’t read the comments.” It’s there at all times and I rewrite it when it falls off, and then I still read the comments, because I’m a masochist.
You’ll never know. I’ll leave your house and you might think, “Eh, she was a little drunk,” but in reality, I come home with this. [Writer’s note: She shows me scrape on shoulder. ] This was after cocktails, actually. It takes two or three of those. Natural wines I can drink for nine hours and be fine. I’m great at being buzzed... and drunk, but most people don’t know when I am.
Is there anything in your personal life you wouldn’t turn into comedy?
Eh, probably not. It’s my coping mechanism. I grew up in a Nat Geo and Discovery Channel household. Very non-comedic. A lot of crazy shit happened with my family and comedy was a good release.
Most expensive wine you’ve had?
I have an unopened bottle of Opus One in my fridge that was a gift. I laugh about it because I don’t know what I’m doing with that. Other than that, it’s probably some fancy ass champagne that I drank too quickly.
Do you stand by “write drunk, edit sober”?
No, I do both buzzed. I’m neurotic about my writing. Because I started as a blog, I was very aware of what I was putting out. When I submit something now, it is never a draft. It's ready to go.
In the last five years, what is the longest you’ve gone without wine?
Maybe three or four days. Not very long. It’s hard when it becomes your career. I should take a month off or something.
You could just go to one of those Scientology spas.
I honestly don’t know how I’d do it. I got thrown into this profession, and natural wines make you feel more alive. If someone asked me to write an article about prosecco and I didn’t drink prosecco while writing it, that feels pretty weird to me.
Favorite part of the wine industry?
Drinking it. Other than that, the natural winemakers and the stories behind where these wines come from are special. There is a passion and care there, sometimes with all they have invested, and you can taste it in the wine.
Is there something you would change about it immediately if you could?
As a woman, it’s a judgmental space. It can be hard to see the old way of things fighting the new wave. I’m just trying to share the wines I love with people. The sexism is bananas. It’s from men and women equally. I wish that wasn’t the answer, but I’ve been burned by females in the industry a lot. We need to be more supportive of one another.
What's next for you?
I’ve been trying to sell a wine TV show since 2013. It’s in talks, and I hope it happens. It’s hard because most wine shows have failed. OK, I’m starting to slur.
It’s OK if it’s too much. I can lie and say you finished it.
Oh, no! I’m finishing it.