Chrissie McClatchie is one of the region’s most established freelancer journalist. FromWine Enthusiast to easyJet Traveller, and from Business Insider to Superyacht Digest, the Australian from the Northern Beaches of Sydney demonstrates her lexical versatility in wine, travel and yachting, subjects often associated with life on the Côte d’Azur.
It was in 1993 when Chrissie first came to France to visit one of her sisters (she has four much older siblings) living in Lyon. She was accompanied by her geologist dad and mom, who was born in Vietnam to French parents. “I still remember that flight with the now-defunct airline UTA,” Chrissie recalls. “It had started in New Caledonia before stopping in Sydney, Jakarta and maybe Melbourne, and was full of returning compulsory conscripts who spent the whole flight smoking. As soon as we landed at CDG, they all cheered and kissed the tarmac. It was pretty impressionable to a 12-year-old who had never left New South Wales before.”
She returned to France a few years later with her mom to spend Christmas with her sister, who by then was working with her husband as villa guardians in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. “That is the moment when my love affair with the South of France started,” she says.
Chrissie has had Australian-French dual nationality since she was eight and even though her mom never spoke French at home, she did emphasise her European roots to the family.
“My mom and I used to follow my dad on his geological trips to the bush and we’d often visit a town called Mudgee, where mom would take me to cellar doors while he was working. I remember deciding, much to her delight , that I wanted to be a winemaker.”
Both wine and France would niggle in her brain for years to come.
By the time she graduated high school, her sister, who was now living in Nice and had just had a baby, suggested that Chrissie come over for a gap year to improve her French. “I spent nine months studying in the morning at the Alliance Française on rue de Paris and quickly found an international friendship circle. I loved the global vibe, beach picnics, ease of travel, and sense of history, although I may have spent too much time in Vieux Nice, particularly at Chez Wayne’s and Thor!”
Post-immersion, she returned to Australia to study Medieval History and language at the University of Sydney and in 2002 vended up back in France as part of a six-month exchange in La Rochelle, in the southwest of the country.
Clearly cut out for the jet-set life, as soon as her exams were done, she took a “trip of a lifetime,” travelling through the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Armenia and Iran (“It was incredible to visit places like Palmyra that have suffered at the hands of IS”) – and then spent some time in Washington DC as another sister had moved to the US. “I volunteered at the Smithsonian, which was incredible, but as I couldn’t get a work visa I booked a cheap flight to Nice and gave myself six months to find a job.”
When in wine country
Within the first week of arriving in the Mediterranean city, she got a job at Vins sans Frontieres (VSF), fine wine and spirits provisioning for yachts.
“There is actually a thriving local wine community here, with four Masters of Wine – the highest qualification in the wine world – living in and or around Nice, plus plenty of other interesting characters.”
She worked at VSF from 2007 to 2014, and was mentored by Rod Smith, a Master of Wine, and Helen Brotherton, a WSET diploma graduate. “We all had a crash course in the superyacht world, though.”
She wouldn’t realise at the time, but she had really fallen into a niche segment of the market. “The wine yachts order for their owners or charters is really top end – the best chateaux, the best vintages – but the flip side is that ‘no’ isn’t an answer.”
As Chrissie points out, acclaimed wines may be produced in finite quantities but as a yacht supplier you have to make sure you can find what your clients want, when they want (“yesterday”). “It is definitely more competitive now than it was when I first started. I remember a client calling at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon and by 4 pm we were delivering €80,000 of wine to his yacht in the port of Nice. I think now quotes and management company approvals would be required.”
The job was demanding but there were some incredible perks. “I will never forget a three-day trip to Champagne as guests of LVMH. We had dinner at Veuve Clicquot and Krug and a tour and tasting with the Dom Perignon winemaker,” she describes.
Chrissie started to share her local wine discoveries on her blog Riviera Grapevine, which became “the catalyst for everything that has happened in my career since.” It led her to the Bellet vineyards, behind Nice, doing cellar door tours of both Château de Bellet and Château de Crémat but, most importantly, led to regular writing work. “I have had great opportunities come my way from people discovering the blog, starting with a column for the Riviera Reporter. It all helped me build a portfolio that took me to The CEO Magazine, a global business publication that profiles high-level executives from around the world.” By this point, she was back in Australia.
Chrissie and her Irish husband, whom she met though friends in Nice, decided to move to Australia in 2016 for a year. “We just had our first child and it seemed like the best time to head back home. The CEO Magazine was my first in-house writing role. I learnt so much about the magazine production process in the ten months I was physically there but while it was great to be near family, there were lots I missed about Europe.”
In 2017, the family moved back to France, swapping Nice for Villefranche, where they have very much embraced French village life, playing football with the local club and sending the kids to public school. “Even though I have spent the best part of my adult life here, I still feel like an Australian in France. And I think I always will.”
Bilingual Chrissie has been working remotely for The CEO Magazine since June 2019. “Last week I interviewed the CEO of La Monnaie de Paris, the French Mint, as well as the CEO and Founder of a Swiss electric vehicle company. No profile is ever the same, which keeps the role exciting and challenging.”
The magazine has five editions (ANZ/EMEA/North America/India/Asia) and Chrissie writes across them all. “The cover story on Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada, was a particular favourite as it was just when Covid hit and air travel ground to a halt. A tricky, topical subject and the client loved the story!” she enthuses.
Chrissie also writes travel and lifestyle features for the monthly magazine. “Last year’s Norway trip was a definite highlight. A five-day cruise with Viking from London to Tromsø in search of the Northern Lights – although the story is still on hold because no one can leave Australia to travel.”
She has tapped into her base in Nice to become a local expert on the French Riviera and her travel stories have appeared in easyJet Traveller and The Culture Trip. “For Atlas Obscura, I really enjoyed tracking down Philippe Arnello, the man behind Nice’s midday cannon, and witnessing him light the cannon at noon.”
Hands down, her proudest publication moment was in easyJet Traveller. “I love the magazine’s fun spirit and it has always been the goal publication for me. I pitched a behind-the-scenes Nice carnival story for the February issue and found the perfect angle – a new, high-tech piece of equipment that the carnavaliers were using to sculpt the floats. I’d sent numerous pitches for other stories before with no bites but this one in late December was commissioned two hours after my email – and I filed it five days later. I was actually flying on easyJet the day the issue was released and it was cool to see my name in print, fresh off the press.”
Thanks to a year as a content editor for Relevance in Monaco and some freelance content marketing for yachting companies, Chrissie has also penned for industry publications like Dockwalk and Superyacht Digest. “I love having the chance to tell unique stories, like digging into the world of designing crew quarters on yachts and speaking to Espen Oeino, Zaniz and Winch Design.”
Covid when you’re already working from home
As a freelancer, Covid lockdowns fortunately haven’t affected Chrissie’s writing routine. “Since I already work from home, I’ve been able to continue to do so since the pandemic hit, even when schools were closed. I’m lucky to have the backing of a supportive employer at CEO mag,” she admits.
She wrote a piece “A postcard from the future: Living in lockdown in France” for The CEO Magazine, an insider’s view on how one of the world’s toughest confinements touched the community of Villefranche, including Foccacaria Mei, the local cold cuts and cheese shop where Alessandro (above) lives across the border in San Remo, Italy.
Chrissie had just cracked the airline magazine market when Covid brought travel to its knees. “I had four stories –Turkish Airlines, Hemispheres for United, easyJet and N by Norwegian – that I doubt will see the light of day. Yet at the same time, there was a wealth of more news features and I started writing about real estate and yachting pandemic angles for Business Insider. The work has been there, it’s just about taking a different approach.”
Chrissie can imagine much worse circumstances than her household of four (she has a 5- and 3-year-old), which has some outdoor space. “As a mom, I’m rarely out in the evening and with the French schools open and the 6 pm curfew like there is now, things don’t feel too different. I am looking forward, though, to having a meal at some of my favourite restaurants when they re-open.”
Like many other working moms, Chrissie, says her biggest accomplishment is being able to juggle young children and a career. “To have landed a dream in-house journalist role at a global publication when my first child was 12-months-old and to be able to continue to acquire career skills while having another is something I am immensely proud of.”
All photos courtesy of Chrissie McClatchie.