Updated: Mar 29
Champagne is one of the most conservative wine regions of the world and today less than 10% of the region’s chef de caves are female. And for a very long time, the industry has looked very white, very male and very much middle aged.
However, a wind of renewal is sweeping the region, and it started very softly in the XVIII th century, with the widows (in French veuve) of the region. Today we are lucky to have some wonderful role models to look up to who are smashing the glass ceiling, and highlighting the way for the young women who may well run Champagne tomorrow. Here is a list of the trailblazers, leaders and emerging talents of the world of Champagne.
Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin was widowed at the age of 27. After her husband passed away, she convinced her father in law to let her run part of the family business, and took on their champagne business to the next level. She is credited with the invention of the riddling rack, the first blended rose and selling en masse to the Russians in a gutsy move hours after the embargo.
Coming out of retirement when she welcomed her second child into the world at 40 in 1856, Louise and her husband purchased vines to ensure their daughter’s legacy. Mr Pommery passed away soon after leaving Louise with the business and two young children to raise. She is now lauded as the creator of brut champagne (under 12 grams of dosage) as she was the first person to commercialise a champagne with no added sugar in 1874. She was also the first woman to give medical benefits, and retirement plans to her employees and even created a creche within the domaine in the 1870s. She was the first woman in France to have a state funeral at which over 10,000 people attended including the President of France.
Before the 1900s, women in France were considered to be the property of their father or husband, therefore the only women to have the autonomy to run a business. Veuve Clicquot and Veuve Pommery never remarried, and ran their business until their dying days.
Today, although we have advanced in leaps and bounds, women are still the minority in the wine industry. With less than 27% of French wineries owned or run by women in 2020 we have a long way to go. There are however women wanting to make bigger contributions and encourage more young females to join the industry. Here are a few that I find inspiring.
Carol Duval-Leroy & Sandrine Logette-Jardin
Carol wanted to run a restaurant, but at 35 she was flung into the position of CEO of the family house: Duval-Leroy. She has greatly expanded the footprint of the brand worldwide, as well as creating a prestige cuvee Femme de Champagne in ode to the few women in the industry.
On top of this, Duval-Leroy is the only house which has both a female CEO and Cellar Master. Sandrine Logette-Jardin was hired by Carol in 2005 and was the only female chef de cave of a house at the time.
Maggie Henriquez – CEO Krug
Maggie Henriquez became the first female president of powerhouse Krug in a time that the house’s image was lacking in sheen in 2009. She was the genius behind Krug’s wildly successful rollout of the Krug ID, which enabled each bottle to be tracked by consumers using an app. The native of Venezuela was knighted this year for her contribution to Champagne.
And she has tirelessly pushed to support the younger women of the industry to showcase their potential within her teams, but also through an association she co-founded: La Transmission. She truly understands the importance of building up the next generation of women in the industry.
Charlotte De Sousa – Champagne De Sousa
While her brother Valentin and sister Julie are involved in the vineyard management and cellaring, Charlotte is walking in her father’s footsteps and becoming winemaker and the head of the maison.
There was never a doubt in Charlotte’s mind about joining the business as she speaks fondly of helping her parents in the vines when she was little and the various trips she tagged along for when the family brought their new cuvees to the wine lovers throughout the world.
With close to 11 hectares in some of the most sought-after crus of the cote des blancs, the De Sousas were the pioneers of organic and biodynamic viticulture in the area. As Charlotte takes the helm of the business, they celebrate 20 years of organic certification and 7 years of Demeter certification, something that Charlotte intends to maintain for decades to come.
Manon Boutillez-Guer - Champagne Boutillez-Guer
At 27 years old, Manon has just officially taken over her small family house in Villers Marmery.
Originally trained as a nurse, she worked in hospitals until 2018 when she decided to join Avize Viti vini school to learn the trade, and she will be launching a brand new range in 2021.
Stay tuned for some exciting developments.
Follow her on instagram here.