Women in Champagne have a long tradition. At least in Champagne there is a long tradition of taking care of widows after the death of their husband or son. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, Louise Pommery, Lily Bollinger are three of the most famous examples.
But these exceptional female leaders are just that: exceptions. As in most wine-producing regions, women in Champagne are usually in the background.
But things are changing. One sign of the times is the formation of two groups promoting their wines and the place of women in Champagne.
The Transmission has women in leadership roles, including owners, managers and cellar masters, many of whom work in large houses. The Fa’Bulleuses de Champagne are made up of young friends who have taken on the responsibility of starting a family on their own. Their goal is to maintain this independence and to promote the group’s champagne in group tastings.
Here are the portraits of the five women who take their places on the Champagne management team.
Photo courtesy of Ann Cuveri
Anne Malassagne, Champagne A.R. Lenoble, Damery.
Twenty-five years is a long time to execute a plan. But that’s how the 55-year-old Malassagne has long pursued its vision: the survival of the family champagne house, AR Lenoble, in the world of big producers.
In 1993, she quit her job as a financial controller at L’Oréal in Paris to work with her father. Her sudden illness caused Malassagne to fall into debt and a few months later, at the age of 28, she found herself in crisis at the champagne house.
Together with his brother Antoine, they began the road to survival in 1996 to develop their successful niche.
“The question was whether or not to sell in supermarkets,” she says, “Antoine and I decided to go the third way.
They decided to keep it small. They will focus on their treasure trove of vineyards in the Grand Cru Chouilly and Premier Cru Bisseuil, south and east of Épernay respectively. To do justice to their terroir, they have produced a unique Burgundy-style champagne.
“Our credo is life from the ground. That way you have fewer grapes and better quality”. Anna Malassagne
To make these wines, they needed a stock of champagne that could be blended with each release. Since 2010, these reserve wines are no longer stored in barrels or vats, but in magnums. Today, 30,000 magnums are stored in Lenoble’s cellars.
Thus was born the Mag series, a Champagne blend based on a single vintage with at least 40% magnum-aged reserve wines. The first, Mag 14, was released in 2018. The final iteration, Mag 16, an extra brut, was released in 2020.
It has been a long road. Last year, they planned to celebrate Lenoble’s centenary. When the celebration was postponed, Anne and Antoine decided instead to produce a special set of four champagnes, one from each generation of the Lenoble family.
Photo courtesy of Champagne Louise Brison.
Delphin Brulez, Champagne Louise Brison, Noët le Mallet.
Louise Brison’s Champagne has a tradition of women leaders.
“My grandmother, Louise Brison, was a strong woman,” Brulez says. “She’s the one who bought the vines when they were so cheap. She knew it was our future.”
Today the estate extends over 37 hectares. The Brulez family, 38 years old, represents the fourth generation of the family in the Côte de Bars, in the south of Champagne, on the banks of the Aube. She sees herself again as her grandmother.
“I’m organized and volunteer,” she says, “and it hurts me to see men doing work that women could be doing. Why do we always end up in marketing and not production”.
It is fabrication that interests Brulez. His father retired two years ago, but he hasn’t stopped working.
“He likes selling, I like making wine,” she says.
Trained in Dijon, Mr. Brulez gained experience in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Niagara, Canada. “I didn’t want to go to California,” she says, “there are too many French people there.
In 2006, she went home to make wine.
She practices what she learns. It took her a while to understand the vineyard, but after ten years she felt able to change her organic practices. The vineyard became certified organic in 2020.
From the beginning, Brulez has produced only vintage champagnes (apart from the rosé of the range) and wanted, as he says, “a snapshot of the year.” It’s also a way for a small producer to stand out. It is a real concern for them and for the family business.
“I know that the balance in Champagne is shifting to the detriment of small producers, especially in these difficult economic times. But I believe in our Champagne, and I have to believe in the grapes, the grapes and my skills.”
Photo courtesy of David Picchiottino
Vitalie Taittinger, Champagne Taittinger, Reims.
Vitalie Taittinger, 41, is the president of Champagne Taittinger. She knows full well that her family name appears on every bottle the house produces.
Nevertheless, the champagne brand was separated from its family for a while. In 2005, Taittinger was sold to an American real estate investment fund under pressure from family shareholders who wanted their money.
A year later, his father, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, tried to buy the champagne company. This involved giving up the group’s hotels and Baccarat crystal.
At 26, Vitalie was already in business with her brother Clovis. Today she emphasizes that one of her priorities as president of the company is “protecting our heritage.” She is much stronger than we are. I am here to preserve the soul of the house”.
She succeeded her father as president in January 2020. Is it easy to replace such a charismatic figure?
I’ve been with him since I was a kid, so I know all his facets,” she says, “honestly I don’t see anything charismatic about him, but someone who has always been very open with us. ….I will never be like him.”
Almost immediately after receiving his doctorate, Taittinger immersed himself in a novel about the coronavirus pandemic. She quickly learned a lesson.
“I recognized our enormous responsibility for the economic well-being of the families who work for us,” she says.
If Taittinger is concerned with the present, it must also look to the future. There are two things that worry her.
One is Champagne’s place in the world of many sparkling wines. “We need to position Champagne as a wine and not just a sparkling wine, to tell the story and our terroir and not compete too directly,” she says.
The other is climate change and the need for sustainability. It is another reminder of the importance she places on a proud family tradition. “We care about the environment. After all, my name is on the bottle”.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Attimon
Charlotte de Souza, Champagne de Souza, Avize…
De Sousa, 30, loves to travel and meet people. When her father Eric, who still heads the company, retired last year, it was only natural that she would take on sales, marketing and, normally, travel.
His sister Julia took over the vineyard while his brother Valentine took charge of the winery.
After earning a Master of Science in Wine Management from the International Wine Organization (OIV), De Souza feels ready for his new role. The course brings people from all over the world together in a happy, even temporary, family. And although she has taken on a role often filled by women in the wine family, she still feels the need to prove herself in what she sees as a man’s world.
“I have to show that I am just as capable and earn the respect of men, especially when I visit restaurants and importers,” she says.
This is one of the reasons she is an enthusiastic member of the Fa’Bulleuses, a group of friends who lead independent and family champagne producers.
“As a group, we can show that we can do anything, in the winery, in the vineyard and in sales.” Charlotte De Souza
Like many small producers, De Sousa describes how difficult it is to remain independent. His father has built an enviable reputation for De Sousa champagne, particularly for the quality of the wines, such as the Blanc de Blancs from the Grand Cru Côte de Blanc vineyard in Avize, but also for his commitment to the principles of biodynamics.
“It’s hard to work our land because the price of the vineyard is so high, so we’re constantly replenishing it to keep our reputation high,” she says.
As successors to their visionary father, the three siblings strive to keep up the momentum, use new technologies in the basement and work diligently to spread the family name. Charlotte will be back on the road as soon as possible.
Photo courtesy of Leif Karlsson
Evelyn Rox Boyzelle, Champagne Boyzelle, Épernay
Now retired after 47 years at the head of the family business, Ms. Boisel, 71, can afford to take stock. She can talk about changing attitudes toward women in the wine industry. And she can look to the future, where women are increasingly able to claim their rightful place.
At first, she didn’t belong in the family business, and she didn’t want to. She wanted to be a museum curator.
“I left Epernay and never wanted to go back,” says Boisel.
But in 1972, his father died. Then her brother became seriously ill.
“We’re either sold out or acquired,” she says.
She returns to Epernay with her new husband Christophe and studies for her job.
“Back in the day, our neighbor, Christian Paul Roger, borrowed his cellar master to help us make wine,” she says.
In 1994, Boizel again faced a choice: sell or find investors. Together with Bruno Paillard of Champagne Bruno Paillard and Philippe Baillot of Champagne Lanson, she saved the company. They formed the company Lanson-BCC (“B” for Boisel), which exists to this day.
Boisel is still the director.
“When I was just starting out, it was hard to be a woman,” she says, “if I went to meetings with my sales manager, they wanted to talk to him.” Today, she says, “business is harder, but women are more respected.”
The creation of La Transmission, a group of women with positions of responsibility in Champagne houses, reflects these changes. The group champions Champagne, and members exchange ideas and research on topics such as climate change. But, says Boizel, “we want to help women feel empowered, motivated and courageous, and demand that they take their rightful place.”
The future of Champagne Boiselle is promising. Their two sons, Florent and Lionel, are at the helm.
“The challenge now is to make Boisel better known,” she says.
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