May 16, 2021

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Bursting the bubble – meet the women winegrowers who broke the patriarchy

6 min read


When Julie Cavil arrived in Champagne at the age of 28, with a husband and a newborn baby in tow, she was “not very well received”. “People used to say: ‘You are a woman, too old, a mother, coming from a bad background,” remembers the former head of publicity for her ambitions of becoming a winegrower. “But that resistance made me more determined to succeed.”

Last year, almost two decades later, Cavil became the first woman to be appointed cellar master at Circle – one of the best professions in champagne viticulture. She had been on the team since 2006, so it was hardly a flash. But her femininity, if news coverage was anything to go by, was still something of a surprise.

Champagne likes to brag about its famous historic women when it suits it – see the effervescent Lily Bollinger, who ran the champagne house from 1941 to 1971, or the entrepreneur Madame “Veuve” Clicquot, who took over the company. company at 27 when her husband died. 1805. But, in reality, women are still remarkably under-represented in the upper echelons of champagne – especially in higher wine-making functions. The CIVC (which controls the production, distribution and promotion of Champagne wines) estimates that around 10% of cellar master jobs are held by women.

Alice Paillard and Julie Cavil © Vincent Desailly

Changes are underway. Perrier-Jouët and Champagne Henriot recently appointed women cellar masters for the first time. The hiring of Perrier-Jouët was Severine Frerson, a 43-year-old man who previously held the same role at Piper-Heidsieck. Champagne Henriotwas 31 years old Alice Tétienne, a young talented oenologist formerly of Nicolas Feuillatte and Krug. “Diversity is important,” says Tétienne, unfazed by the attention, “but the diversity of personality [in a winemaking team] is much more important than gender. It’s a feeling shared at Krug: “It’s about contrasting different textures, flavors – we need individuality,” says Quibble, who leads a team of six winegrowers made up of half women and half men. “We ask our winegrowers to cultivate the differences in grape and terroir, and all the members of the wine-making and tasting committee also have very strong personalities. Each of us contributes something to the final decision. “

More and more women are also taking the reins of management. Two highly publicized successions in recent times have been the appointment of Vitalie Taittinger as chairman of Champagne Taittinger and Alice Paillard as CEO / owner of Champagne Bruno Paillard. “You can designate me as a director, or owner, or owner-manager or CEO if you wish – although that’s a very ‘business-oriented’ term for a small house!” Paillard laughs, failing to mention the practical role she plays in the assembly of each cuvée.

The contribution of women to champagne has often gone unnoticed. The transmission is an organization that aims to make it more visible. Co-founded by Anne Malassagne, co-owner of the family business AR Lenoble, and Chairman and CEO of Krug Maggie Henriquez, this collective of nine women, composed exclusively of women, aims to show “a new face” of champagne to the world, by organizing tastings and events (open to all, whatever their identity) and by creating a forum for women in industry. “Considering that 70% of champagne is bought by women, we should have more women leading its future,” says Henriquez.

Alice Tétienne, Séverine Frerson and Vitalie Taittinger

Alice Tétienne, Séverine Frerson and Vitalie Taittinger © Vincent Desailly

La Transmission’s membership encompasses homes of all shapes and sizes: on one end of the spectrum is Delphine Cazals, owner / manager of Claude cazals, a small producer with only nine hectares in the heart of the Côte des Blancs; on the other, the aforementioned leaders of premier brands such as Taittinger and Krug.

Some members, such as Charline Drappier, 30, now co-owner and commercial director of Champagne Drappier, say they always anticipated a career in wine. Others have been forced to do this. Anne Malassagne was working as a financial controller at L’Oréal when her father fell ill, forcing her to take control of the family business, along with her brother, at the age of 28. “I had no experience in winemaking,” she recalls. “The first 10 years at Lenoble were so difficult – I had to fight to convince others of my credibility. Today, aged 55, she chairs one of the most respected small houses in Champagne. But the memory of that time is still intelligent: “This is one of the reasons I wanted to found La Transmission – in order to share my experiences. I knew I was not the only one.

Melanie Tarlant is the first woman to run her family business for 12 generations. But, as a 40-year-old co-owner Champagne Tarlant is quick to point out, women have always been a part of it, behind the scenes. “My mother worked with my father for 40 years, my grandmother worked in the vineyards – I learned everything from her. My great-grandmother, like many women, operated the vineyard during WWII. But no one was talking about my mother or my grandmother – no one was saying a word about what they were doing.

Mélanie Tarlant and Anne Malassagne

Mélanie Tarlant and Anne Malassagne © Vincent Desailly

Perhaps it was precisely because of her status as an outsider that the former filmmaker spotted the opportunity to tell a different story when she joined Tarlant; she was one of the first winemakers to embrace blogging and social media, building a picture of life in a vineyard that is by turns raw and beautiful, far removed from the glossy world. major brands. “I needed to show that my wines are not just a score on a guidebook,” she says, “I wanted to share the little details, the stories and convey our feelings: not just the pretty pictures of lamps in the frozen vineyards. , but the difficult times too. It’s raining, the vines are destroyed and we cry. It gave me and my brother the opportunity to speak for ourselves.

This non-conformist spirit is also reflected in the vinification of Tarlant. His latest project, Argility, is vinified in Georgian clay qvevri buried in the ground – a first in Champagne, to my knowledge. “Being experimental is a family trait,” Tarlant says with a smile. Proof that you can be a disruptor while staying true to your roots.

The magnificent seven

Alice Paillard

Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2012

Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2012

Appetizing, expressive and wonderfully complex, this blanc de blancs would be at home on the dinner table. Give it time in the glass. £ 96.10, hedonism.co.uk

Vitalie Taittinger

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2008

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2008

Elegant yet rich, with creamy nougat notes – a renowned long-lasting prestige cuvée that will continue to evolve for years to come. £ 198, thefinestbubble.com

Julie cavil

Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition

Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition

The wines of the ripe 2012 harvest give this multi-vintage with broad shoulders a golden and sunny quality. £ 182, thefinestbubble.com

Severine Frerson

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2012

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2012

Apple, honey, white flowers and a hint of vanilla – Perrier-Jouët’s famous prestige cuvée is Chardonnay at its most hedonistic. £ 137, hedonism.co.uk

Anne Malassagne

AR Lenoble NV Rosé Terroirs Chouilly-Bisseuil

AR Lenoble NV Rosé Terroirs Chouilly-Bisseuil

Precise and super refreshing, with hints of tangy citrus, dried apricot and spicy rose – a coppery rosé for the sophisticated. £ 43.43, stannarywine.com

Melanie Tarlant

Champagne Tarlant La Lutétienne Brut Nature 2005

Champagne Tarlant La Lutétienne Brut Nature 2005

Vinified in small oak barrels and bottled brut nature (no added sugar), this uncompromising tribute to the Lutetian limestone plots of Tarlant is tense and intense. € 72 vinsetmillesimes.com

Alice Tétienne

Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs Brut

© Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs Brut

Henriot’s signature cuvée is a beautifully turned blanc de blancs with hints of jasmine, white fruit and delicate minerality. £ 48.95, thewhiskyexchange.com





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