Femmes et Vins: Women Winemakers of Burgundy
Whoever said wines made by women are naturally more feminine would do well to chat with the following women winemakers from Burgundy. Lively and quick-witted, they might admit to certain physical limitations in the cellar but won’t stand for being consigned to a particular style of winemaking. There are too many factors involved, and so many personalities at play. This group alone includes a motorcyclist, a former banker, a former hairdresser, and an internet guru. One Australian, one American, and seven native Françaises. Here’s what they had to say about winemaking, Burgundy, and so-called feminine wines.
Jane Eyre, Domaine Newman, Jane Eyre Wines (Beaune)
In the fifteen years that Jane Eyre has been in the wine business, she’s worked harvests in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and France. Her mentors and prior employers include Ernst Loosen, Dominique Lafon, Frederic Mugnier, Thierry Matrot, and the De Montille family. Some might call the former hairdresser lucky. She says good luck rhymes with hard work.
Jane comes from Gippsland, Australia, and aside from occasional pit stops at Brown Brothers winery in Milawa on the way to ski holidays, her family didn’t have anything to do with wine. “When I was young, I always wanted to be a vet, so I think the need to study and prove myself came back in the form of an interest inwine,” she says, “and I’ve done alright.”
After earning her winemaking degree in Australia Jane moved full time to Burgundy in 2004. In 2006 she became assistant winemaker at Domaine Newman, a Burgundian estate (owned by American Chris Newman) with an incredible Grand Cru lineup (Mazis-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and Bonnes Mares). Like most winemakers in Burgundy, she only spends half her time in the cellar – the rest of it is spent everywhere else.
“I do everything from tastings and vineyard work to tending the wine in the cellar, and occasionally things like dropping Chris [Newman] off at the train station.”
Her willingness to manage even minor tasks has given Jane the experience, confidence and – of utmost importance in Burgundy – the credibility to launch her own négoce brand in 2011. “In Burgundy, you have to pay your dues,” she says, before insisting that she met with no resistance when starting her business. “There are more and more foreigners investing in Burgundy, and there are so many women now, we’re no longer a novelty.”
Jane’s first wine was a 2011 Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Aux Vergelesses. The same year, her Australian friend and fellow winemaker Bill Downie proposed that she fly Down Under to help with harvest in exchange for fruit. So, in 2012, Jane released her first Australian pinot, from Mornington Peninsula, in addition to her Premier Cru Burgundy. Her next big project is to import some of her Australian wine to France, to combat the Yellow Tail image and “to keep myself busy,” she laughs.
“That’s the great thing: I get to see so much. Yeah, I juggle, but it’s interesting. It keeps me thinking, and questioning what I’m doing…I can’t complain. If I did, no one would feel sorry for me!”
Photo: James Broadway
Virginie Taupenot-Daniels, Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Morey-Saint-Denis
If there were only one Burgundian wine that could be described as feminine, the easy choice would be one from the Côte de Nuits village of Chambolle. If there were only one woman who could represent those wines, the easy choice would be Virginie Taupenot-Daniels. The picture of elegance and finesse, full of generosity and a bit of mystery, Virginie knows the characteristics of her wines because she embodies them.
The marketing and commercial director of her family’s estate, Domaine Taupenot-Merme in Morey-Saint-Denis, Virginie is also the founding president of Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne, an association that has grown in membership from six to 36 women winemakers since its beginning in 2000.
“We’re not feminists; we all work with so many men. But it’s a good network, and we inspire each other,” she says.
Virginie is such a strong ambassador for Burgundy (“I sell Domaine Taupenot-Merme, but also the image of Burgundy…”) that it would be difficult to imagine her anywhere else. But, growing up in Morey, she didn’t necessarily see herself staying in the region. She moved to Paris, and then studied in New York and Tokyo. During her time abroad, she had a revelation.
“The culture was so different in Tokyo. There was nothing that resembled Burgundy for me,” she says. Perhaps a little homesick, she took the opportunity to visit her parents’ Japanese importer.
“He was so kind; he welcomed me with good wine, good cheese, and I realized for the first time how lucky I was, not only to come from Burgundy, but also to be part of seven generations of winegrowing heritage.”
Once back home, she followed a newfound desire to understand the technical part of winemaking, enrolling at the Centre de Formation Professionnelle et de Promotion Agricole in Beaune. Then she began working with her father, who remains the vineyard manager today.
Her older brother Romain eventually joined the team and began directing vinification, but Virginie is grateful she was the first to come back to the family business.“I made a place for myself,” she says, “and my dad was able to see that I was capable on my own.”
Although certain of Domaine Taupenot-Merme’s wide range of wines are frequently described as feminine, Virginie says it’s all about the terroir. Chambolle is known for its charm and finesse, whereas one village over, the wines of Morey-Saint-Denis are often called robust.
“Women bring a certain sensitivity and emotion to winemaking,” says Virginie, “but the softness of Chambolle is in the soil.”
Véronique Drouhin, Maison Drouhin (Beaune) and Domaine Drouhin (Oregon)
In French, use of the word simple in reference to a person bears a host of positive meanings. “Easy” and “straightforward,” sure. But also “down-to-earth, natural, without pretention.”
So to say that Véronique Drouhin is simple — as I was told before I met her — is a compliment, and one that suits her perfectly. Despite Maison Drouhin’s worldwide renown, sitting down with Véronique Drouhin in her beautiful exposed-beam Beaune office is as natural as chatting with a friend. Her posture is relaxed. She never glances at her watch. The informal “tu” rather than “vous” glides from her lips in an expression of warmth, not superiority. When I ask her about women in the wine world, she speaks about the “courageous” women with whom she has worked, rather than her own accomplishments.
One of her interns, for example, was always the first to arrive at the winery in the morning and insisted on accomplishing the notoriously physical task of punching down the caps during vinification. Another woman, “tall as three apples, with a laugh you could hear from three floors above,” never backed down from manual labor.
“Even if they might seem less substantial compared to men, the women who adopt this kind of work have such interior force that it works,” explains Véronique.
Véronique has three brothers, all of whom are also involved in the family business. But she says her father, Robert Drouhin, always acknowledged a special respect for women’s talent in the field. “When I was ten, my father hired a woman who would become the first female enologist in Burgundy, Laurence Jobard,” she says. “She influenced my vision of the future. I spent twenty years by her side. Laurence would take me to check on the vats, to taste the grape juice, and later, when I began working in the lab, it was under her supervision.”
After beginning her career as an enologist in Beaune, Véronique interned in both Bordeaux and California. While she was in the States, her father encouraged her to go to Oregon, saying he had tasted some “very interesting” Pinot Noirs from that region. In 1986, Véronique interned at three Oregon wineries during harvest.
“The winemakers thought it was nice that a Burgundian producer was taking an interest in their region, rather than automatically going to California to make wine,” she said. In 1987, when a great parcel became available for sale in the Willamette Valley, those winemakers encouraged the Drouhins to invest. Véronique and her father visited the land, and her father, then fully devoted to the harvests and vinification in Burgundy (which often overlap with harvests in Oregon) turned to Véronique.
“He said, ‘if it interests you, it interests me to try.’” They bought the land, and Véronique adopted her new role as Oregon winemaker beginning in 1988.
“I was not alone,” she says discreetly. “My parents came, my cousins… it was very familial in the early years. We made a few barrels of Pinot Noir and were happy with the results, so we planted, built a winery—and the adventure began.”
Today, Domaine Drouhin is a leading producer of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has been instrumental in drawing attention to the Oregon wine region. Véronique estimates that there were about 30 Oregon producers in the late 1980s. Now there are more than 400.
Describing the Oregon wine community, Véronique is all smiles: “We were welcomed as friends, rather than foreigners.”
Athénaïs de Béru, Château de Béru (Chablis)
“Feminine wines?” My host repeats the question as if wondering about the meaning, then, in the same breath: “Women aren’t necessarily elegant!”
Athénaïs de Béru is a tall blonde with a broad smile. She seems to enjoy testing the limits of stereotypes. “No one dares call my winesfeminine. They’re afraid I’d beat them up.”
Of course she’s kidding; in reality people rarely call her wines feminine because she produces whites, and the “masculine-feminine distinction is more typical with reds,” she says.
Athénaïs [pronounced ah-tane-ah-ees] bears the family name of the tiny Chablisien village her ancestors, the Counts of Béru, have inhabited for 400 years. Just about the only things that pre-date the Bérus are the vineyards, thanks to the delineation work of 13th century Cistercian monks. The château was constructed in the center of one of their prized enclosed vineyards between 1400 and 1600.
“As a result, it’s not the clos du château, but the château du clos,” she says.
A fitting distinction for Athénaïs de Béru, who seems happier to share the name of the historic vineyard than that of the magnificent Renaissance château. After six years in Paris specializing in mergers and acquisitions, it was the vineyard that “danced in her head.” So, when the opportunity arose in 2003 to take over the vines, which had been under lease, she took it.
Athénaïs makes Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru from her family’s 14 hectares (34.5 acres) of vineyards, including the entire 4 hectares of Clos de Béru Monopole, which surrounds the château. In 2010 she launched an eponymous négoce label to widen her range.
“It’s surprising, but I think it might be easier for a woman winemaker than a man winemaker to get a start these days. People are impressed to see a woman who’s not intimidated by this masculine universe. They say, ‘she must have overcome a lot of challenges to succeed.’ In reality, it’s great marketing to be a woman winemaker! It draws attention.”
She flashes a playful grin before clarifying that “of course, in the end, people taste your wines and it’s not the fact that you’re a man or a woman that counts, it’s the quality of thewine.”
Good marketing aside, one thing Athénaïs can’t stand is organized tastings of wines made exclusively by women. “What are the criteria for participation in these tastings? The fact that you’re a woman? That’s not very assuring as a gauge [of quality]. When was the last time you went to a special tasting of ‘man-made’ wines? It would be the same problem.”
Diana Snowden Seysses, Domaine Dujac (Morey-Saint-Denis)
“Come for dinner,” said Diana Snowden Seysses, when I called to ask about her work in the wine world. “But, I will be distracted until about 8:00, when the kids go to bed. That’s part of being a woman winemaker, you know.”
When I arrive at her home in Nuits Saint Georges, Domaine Dujac’s enologist is in fact occupied, but not distracted. Sitting at the kitchen table with her sons Aubert and Blaise, Diana chops herbs while the boys chatter, one sentence in English, the next in French. Still, she seems completely present, almost zen, as we spring into wine conversation.
“It’s nice to celebrate women in wine,” she says, “because it is tough; it is a very masculine atmosphere.”
She mentions Triennes, the Provencal venture between her father-in-law Jacques Seysses and DRC’s Aubert de Villaine, plus their Parisian friend, Michel Macaux. Even in this world of rosé, where Diana does a bit of consulting for Triennes, “those southern men are macho. They’re very proud of their pink wine!”
When asked if she has ever felt intimidated, even a little, she reveals herself as a woman who can stand her own. “I was out there with something to prove,” she says. Matter-of-fact and to the point. I get the feeling this is typical of Diana, whose nickname at U.C. Davis was “Senorita Macho.”
Diana was always into science, but it was an internship at Mondavi when she was nineteen that provided the impetus to declare a major in enology. Since then, she has been makingwine at her family’s Snowden Vineyards in Napa Valley as well as with her husband Jeremy Seysses’s family at Domaine Dujac in Morey-Saint-Denis.
“Women winemakers aren’t different from men, we just have a lot of things to juggle,” she says, casting a glance at the kids.
About the infamous “feminine wine” comments women winemakers often hear, she says only that “my [Napa] cabernet has been said to be ‘made with a Burgundian touch.’”
But, that’s a comparison for another conversation.
Anne-Victoire Monrozier, Les Vins de Vicky (Beaujolais)
With a name like “Miss Vicky Wine,” an outrageous amount of pink, and a rubber ducky mascot, you might not expect Anne-Victoire Monrozier’s wine gig to have much staying power. “It’s not necessarily what people are looking for in French wine,” admits Vicky.
But she’s unperturbed.
Five years ago, Vicky had two goals: first, to help her father—who had just taken over the family domain—to sell his wines, and second, to travel in California.
A city girl in Paris, Vicky knew next to nothing about wine, but that didn’t fluster her.
“It was the beginning of the web [2.0], so I started a blog in English. I wrote in simple terms about wine because I didn’t know much, but the blog allowed me to create a business card, learn, and meet people. I contacted every American wine blogger I knew through Twitter.”
Thanks to her knack for communicating, Vicky rapidly positioned herself in the center of an emerging group of connected wine drinkers, the kind who have no problems juggling awine glass in one hand and a smartphone in the other. She organized a series of “after works” in Paris, proposing approachable wines in a relaxed, no-snobs-allowed atmosphere. Meanwhile, her blog was picked up by the national magazine Express’s website. And this, all before she had introduced her first cuvee of Les Vins de Vicky in 2010.
After her inaugural 1,200 bottles of Fleurie from her dad’s Château des Moriers in the Beaujolais, Vicky launched a range of wines in partnership with various winemakers. Chosen blind by a jury, each wine bears its producer’s name on the label, “to give them visibility,” she says, even if the label has Vicky’s personality written all over it.
“‘Wine for everyone’ is my motto,” says Vicky, who is also fond of the phrase, “I’m cool, I drink wine,” which can be seen on much of her pink paraphernalia.
Her latest creation is the increasingly in-demand Vino Camp, a weekend “anti-conference” held every few months in a different wine region and sponsored by local trade organizations. Conversations and brainstorming sessions revolve around wine communications, commerce, the internet, and innovation.
“I want to help people connect,” Vicky says, crediting social media for much of her success, “but it’s also necessary to be on the ground, not just on a screen, to create the real persona.”
One thing is sure: online or face-to-face, Vicky’s persona is nothing short of original.
Nadine Gublin, Domaine Jacques Prieur (Meursault)
Having grown up in a family of grain farmers in the Champagne region of northeastern France, Nadine Gublin, celebrated winemaker for the Labruyère family estates (most notably, Domaine Jacques Prieur), can attest to the presence of women in agriculture. “Women have always done manual labor in the fields and in the vineyards,” she says, implying that the phenomenon is nothing new. The significant development since the beginning of her career has been the rise of women executives in the wine world.
“Today, women do not hesitate to take the reins from their parents, or their husbands, to become chefs d’entreprise,” she says.
Nadine Gublin earned her leadership roles by employing the same grit she recognizes in many of today’s women winemakers. “We’re extremely focused, and we persist until the very end of the task at hand,” she says.
In 1979, Gublin was one of only three women in her class to graduate with an oenological degree from the University of Dijon. Today, in addition to her work in the cellar, she avidly supports women in the industry. As a participant in the association Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne (Women and Wine of Burgundy), she serves as unofficial consultant to its 36 members.
An advantage to working with other women? “There are no taboos and no secrets among women winemakers. We like to communicate rather than to compete, and that helps us all progress."
When the subject turns to stereotypes, however, Ms. Gublin is firm. “There is no style that is markedly feminine in winemaking, and there are no ‘men’s wines’ and ‘women’swines,’” she asserts. “We cannot jump to conclusions; the issue is much more subtle than that.”
Sophie Woillez, Domaine de la Croix Montjoie (Vézelay)
On a sunny Saturday at 9:00 a.m., seventy miles northwest of Beaune, Sophie Woillez contemplates the view of Vézelay’s St. Mary Magdalene basilica from her courtyard at Domaine la Croix Montjoie. It is a peaceful spring morning, and Sophie speaks quietly of the history of this nineteenth century farm, once the property of the nearby Château de Tharoiseau.
At the end of 2008, having just gathered investors, (“our parents’ friends and our friends’ parents”) and purchased 10 hectares of Bourgogne Vézelay vineyards, Sophie and her husband Matthieu, both agronomists by training, stopped in front of this farmhouse, searching for a place to produce and store their future wine.
“I said, ‘there’s no way, it would be too perfect, but even if it were for sale, it would be inaccessible,’” recounts Sophie. “But — la Providence! — it was for sale, and at a price that was completely reasonable."
Unexpectedly, after nearly a year of searching for opportunities first in the Beaujolais and then in Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, Sophie and Matthieu had found their vineyards in the Grand Auxerrois, and, 200 meters away, their house and cellar too.
With four vintages under their belt, Sophie and Matthieu are excited about the potential of their adopted region. Bourgogne Vézelay is a small appellation, with 250 acres planted to Chardonnay, but an upgrade from regional to village level classification is in the works at the INAO. And, with 1 million visitors per year, Vézelay is one of the premier tourist destinations in Burgundy. Two details that Sophie hopes will attract more winegrowers to the region.
“We have the opposite problem of Chablis, where there are so many producers and a very competitive atmosphere. Here, we say, ‘come, make wine in Vézelay!’” she says.
Sophie is as strong a proponent of the region as she is the commercial voice of her domain, although it is clear that she and Matthieu are “completely egalitarian teammates.”
“We [women] work in a very macho environment, where the men are ‘real men,’” she says. “When one drives a tractor, when one punches down a vat, it demands a lot of strength. And it’s not true that women can do everything.”
For Sophie, the different assets that men and women bring to the table make winemaking more interesting. “A woman doesn’t taste wine the same way a man does,” she gives as an example. “I’m convinced that it’s a question of education, and little girls are often much more trained in tastes and smells just by association with their mothers’ cooking and their perfumes. I see this tendency in my own daughters, which differs from my son.”
Despite the disparity in physical strength between men and women, Sophie says women have a true “card to play” in the world of wine.
“There is a real potential for complementarity in this field,” she says. With an impish smile she offers this example: , “working with Matthieu is a manifestation of the harmony between strength and finesse!”
Alexandrine Roy, Domaine Marc Roy (Gevrey-Chambertin)
“Feminine, as in the opposite of masculine, or rustic, I can understand,” says Alexandrine Roy, the spunky winegrower at Domaine Marc Roy, in Gevrey-Chambertin. “But ‘feminine’ because a woman made the wine, that’s something that doesn’t jibe. I know girls who make hefty, tannic wines and men who make delicate wines.”
She usually takes “feminine” as a compliment nonetheless, assuming people mean her wines are “elegant, gracious, velvety, delicate.” Raising her hands, palms outward, to display wine stained calluses she adds, “but I’m not as delicate as my wines!”
Alexandrine Roy has been making wine at the family domain since 2003 and is quick to give credit where it is due. “My father was a great winegrower,” she says as she points to his name on the label, a tribute she voluntarily conserved despite other updates. “But no one knew where to find his wines, because there was no communication.” Her contribution, she decided, would be not only to pursue ever-higher quality, but also to make the domain known. To cultivate “both savoir-faire and faire-savoir.”
To accomplish this goal, Alexandrine packed her bags for the United States, where she attended her first Burgundy trade tastings in California and Oregon. She attributes numerous valuable encounters to her energetic, “amusing” personality, but insists it was the quality of the wines that drew journalists and importers. “It’s not because I’m friendly, or blonde, but because I’m exacting. I’m not joking around with my wines,” she says.
Today, Alexandrine sells the wines of 10-acre Domaine Marc Roy by allocation only, with preference for “the clients who supported us in the beginning, before we were known.” In 2012, she also became director of winemaking at Oregon’s Phelps Creek Vineyard, a venture born of connections made at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville.
Of the four cuvees she produces in Gevrey-Chambertin, her “rock in the edifice” is the Cuvee Alexandrine. Produced using a selection of small (millerandés) berries from six parcels, it has become the pearl of the domain’s range.
“With my arrival at the domain I wanted to have something to share,” says Alexandrine, who developed the cuvee in 2005. “This is my contribution to the tradition, my way of proposing, rather than imposing.”