In focus: The women shaping Champagne today

Jacquart’s chef de cave, Floriane Eznack

Another woman who found herself unexpectedly at the helm of a Champagne house is Belgium-born Carol Duval-Leroy, who took over Duval-Leroy in 1991 following the death of her husband at 39. Aged 35 and will three young sons to look after, Duval-Leroy put her dream of running a restaurant aside and flung herself into her new role, having promised her husband that she would keep the house in the family.

Over the past 28 years, she has not only kept her promise, but helped the maison to thrive, expanding exports, increasing production and launching a prestige cuvée called Femme de Champagne, in a nod to her status as one of only a small number of women in charge of a Champagne house. Taking over the domain “turned out to be the best possible remedy for my sorrow”, Duval-Leroy told Vigneron magazine in 2011, though it wasn’t easy at first. “No one thought I would succeed.

Severine Frerson, who will soon take over as cellar master of Perrier-Jouët

The task was huge, and offers to buy the house came in daily, but things started to change once I gained the trust of our employees, suppliers and clients,” Duval-Leroy recalls. “Success came little by little. Running a Champagne house is like navigating an ocean liner – the decisions you make take time to come into effect.”

Among her proudest achievements thus far is serving as the first female president of the Association Viticole Champenoise from 2007 to 2010. She has also made a point of championing other talented women in the region, promoting winemaker Sandrine Logette-Jardin to the role of cellar master at Duval-Leroy in 2005, and in doing so making her the first female chef de cave in Champagne.

This desire to help others succeed is, according to Duval-Leroy, what sets women apart from men in business. “Women focus more on succeeding collectively while men compete for themselves. The wine industry is still very male oriented, and I feel many of the ego battles among them wouldn’t exist if there were more women at the top of the industry,” she says.

Fortunately, Logette-Jardin is no longer the sole female cellar master in the region. For the past eight years, Floriane Eznack has been ushering in change at Jacquart, while last September Séverine Frerson was named as the successor to Perrier-Jouët’s longtime cellar master, Hervé Deschamps, four months after being made chef de cave at Piper-Heidsieck.

Neither of these achievements have come easily, with Frerson describing Champagne in a recent interview as a “hyper-masculine” world. In her new role Frerson is seeking to follow in the footsteps of the house’s co-founder, Rose-Adélaïde Jouët. “She was a woman of great character and determination, and is a great source of inspiration for me,” she says. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Frerson’s goal at Perrier-Jouët is to preserve and perfect the house’s floral style by getting the best out of the Chardonnay she works with. Having dreamt of being a fighter pilot, Jacquart’s Eznack has had to fight a few battles to get where she wanted to be.

Charline Drappier of Champagne Drappier

“It’s still very hard being a female chef de cave – I’ve had to work harder than my male counterparts to prove myself and my ability because I’m a woman. I have three male colleagues and they still think I’m the gentle blonde that is more focused on communication than the technical side of things.

It’s exhausting having to constantly fight to prove that I’m capable of doing my job,” she admits, though believes things are slowly changing for the better. “There are a lot of women poised to take over their houses in the next 10 years, but it’s still hard for women to reach the top in Champagne.

I’d love to see a change in the patriarchy as there is a glass ceiling above our heads, and a lot of women in the region are viewed as only being interested in marketing and communications,” she says.

One woman who has managed to smash through the glass ceiling is Krug president and CEO Margareth ‘Maggie’ Henriquez. The Venezuelan-born Harvard graduate is known as the ‘turnround CEO’ for her canny ability to breathe life back into flagging companies in need of a fresh direction.

Beginning her career in Central and South America, Henriquez was the first female president of Seagram in Venezuela, and went on to bring American cookie company Nabisco back to profitability at a time when it was hemorrhaging money. Moving back to drinks, in 2001 Henriquez upped sticks to Argentina to run Bodegas Chandon – a Moët & Chandon offshoot producing Andean fizz. The experience stood her in good stead for her current role at Krug, which she took on in 2008, having turned down the chance to run Veuve Clicquot eight years earlier. Henriquez is honest about being unsure at first if she was the right woman for the job.

“I thought that Krug had an arrogant image and a closed culture, which was the complete antithesis of my personality,” she told Meininger’s Wine Business International in a recent interview. In the midst of the global financial crisis, the big bosses at LVMH were clearly hoping Maggie would work her magic on the fizz firm, whose volume sales were plummeting when she was appointed, and dipped further still during her first year in the role, giving Maggie her biggest challenge to date.

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