In focus: The women shaping Champagne today

Melanie Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant

“When I arrived the house was in crisis, but being a good Latin American, I’ve been through many a crisis throughout my life, so it didn’t faze me,” she says. Her aim was straightforward: to simplify the Krug message and turn it from a house loved by a knowledgeable few to a leading player in Champagne. Progress, however, was slow, and Henriquez is open about the fact that she was criticised early on in her role for not making an impact quick enough. Her lightbulb moment came after meeting the president of Dior at a leadership conference, who let her in on a secret – all luxury brands need a founding myth.

Carol Duval-Leroy of Champagne Duval-Leroy

At the time, Krug had lost its connection with its founder – Joseph Krug – so Henriquez set about researching his life, and made it her mission to tell his story to both the trade and consumers to bring the brand back to life.

Keen for Krug to be more transparent, one of Maggie’s proudest achievements is the introduction of the Krug ID code on all bottles of flagship fizz Grande Cuvée, which gives people access to detailed information about the wine in their bottle, from the disgorgement date, the year of the base wine and the number of wines that make up the blend to the varietal composition and where the grapes hail from.

A radical move for Krug, at first the idea didn’t go down well with the family but has since been embraced by both house director Olivier Krug and chef de cave Eric Lebel.

Her next big goals are to get more women drinking Krug and to mentor the next generation of female leaders in the wine industry, a role that comes naturally to Henriquez, who was a teacher before entering the drinks trade.

A number of Champagne’s rising stars, including Charline Drappier and Alice Paillard, are part of La Transmission, and benefit from the wisdom of its more experienced members.

Drappier was so honoured to be asked to join the fold that she initially didn’t feel she deserved to be in such esteemed company. “I’m the newest member of the group and also the youngest. I was surprised when Anne asked me to join because I wasn’t sure I had the right to be there, but she said she needed my energy and that I represent the next generation.

I certainly take a lot more from the discussions than I can give back at the moment,” she says. No stranger to hard work, 28-year-old Drappier “never really stopped working” after giving birth to her daughter Gabrielle six months ago, and is poised to take over the running of her family’s Champagne house from her father Michel when he retires. Encouragingly, the next generation of female leaders in Champagne are entering the industry out of choice rather than obligation. “I wanted to be an artist and studied art.

Vitalie Taittinger of Taittinger

My father gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to do,” says Vitalie Taittinger, who asked her father, Pierre-Emmanuel, if she could work for her family’s house after he bought it back from American private equity fund Starwood Capital Group in 2006.

Unshackled by the prejudices of the past, Vitalie sees a bright future for women seeking to smash Champagne’s glass ceiling. “Being a woman in Champagne is no longer a handicap; it’s an asset. People first and foremost respect someone that is doing a good job,” she says.

The path has also been smoother for Melanie Tarlant, who co-runs her Marne Valley-based family house, Champagne Tarlant, with her brother, Benoît. “Growing up, I saw my mother, grandmother and great grandmother helping out in the vineyards and the cellar, but I’m the first daughter of the Tarlant family to have an official role at the estate,” she says.

Things move slowly in the wine world, and with its tradition of long cellar ageing before release, the pace of change is at its slowest in Champagne, so any disruptions of the status quo will be felt in ripples rather than waves. With a small number of women present in boardrooms in Champagne, and those who are there having to adhere to rules devised by men that don’t always take having a family into account, there is still a long way to go before Champagne becomes a region where women are given ample opportunity to thrive at every level.

But initiatives such as La Transmission are helping to oil the wheels of progress, and we’re likely to see many more female cellar masters and estate owners in the not too distant future, particularly as the world is waking up to the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence at management level, as Henriquez points out: “Women are more protective and connective in their behaviour, and these characteristics are expected of people in leadership roles now, which is hugely positive, as women are being encouraged to be themselves in business rather than having to act in what is perceived to be a masculine way.”

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