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Who runs the world (of champagne)? Yep, you guessed it – Girls.

Who runs the world (of champagne)? Yep, you guessed it – Girls! When you think of the world of champagne it’s undoubtedly not a female landscape that springs to mind, but now a crop of savvy, innovative women are once again at the helm.

When you think of the world of champagne – not the iconic and glamorous side, but the real bit with centuries of farmers working those famous lands and winemakers down in the cellars creating some of the worlds most loved and prestigious wines – it’s undoubtedly not a female landscape that springs to mind. Traditionally thought of as very male-dominated industry (this actually applies to many areas of the wine industry) it may come as a surprise to hear that champagne as we know it – the big houses, brands of huge global scale – is very much down to a few notable women who led the charge in the 19th century to make it the most famous wine in the world. What’s even better to hear is that 200 years on, after a very testosterone filled period, a crop of savvy, innovative women are once again at the helm, giving champagne a face-lift to ensure it remains at the top of its game.

Where it all began…

It’s an interesting fact that some of the most widely known champagne brands – Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier – were the result of tragedy-tinged widows who happened to be shrewd smart businesswomen and grew their late-husbands wine houses into global brands, no mean feat in 19th century France. What’s even more interesting though is the innovation they showed to entirely shape the way champagne is made and stored. Beginning with Madame Clicquot, credited for being the first businesswoman in France, Veuve (French for widow) Clicquot created rosé champagne, the world’s first champagne label and the revolutionary technique of riddling - still used today - whereby the bottled is tilted and turned over a period of time to remove the sediment left after ageing. Equally as inspirational was Madame Pommery, another formidable woman who was the first to buy land over chalk quarries – masses of land for that matter – which at that time deemed worthless were dug out and fashioned into the now-famous crayères (essentially these are chalk walled cellars and tunnels deep underground that keep a steady temperature no matter the season, providing the optimal storage for champagne to be aged). It was also Madame Pommery who invented the style of brut champagne… before this champagne was unbelievably sweet and it was said to be the taste of Queen Victoria, one of her best clients, and the drier palates of the Brits that led her to experiment with new styles and thus she brought brut to the world.

Madame PommeryMadame Pommery

Champagne today…

Last month I was lucky enough to visit this holy wine region and over the course of the trip it was apparent that once again the women are leading the charge and taking champagne in a new modern direction across all areas of business. Speaking with Maggie Henriquez, MD of Krug and co-founder of female champagne think-tank LA Transmission, it was enlightening to hear her take on the female presence and how this has changed throughout the years - there are now more female winemakers than ever before, with the last 10 years finally seeing a shift with women actively being encouraged to train in the field and take over family businesses where before this was a notoriously difficult domain to break into. Over two days I met with three female winemakers and tasted some of the finest wines I’ve been lucky enough to try… starting with Mme Laureen Baillette at Champagne Jean Baillette-Prudhomme, who I’m certain must still only be in her early 30s yet took over 14 years ago when her father passed away, we walked the underground chalk tunnels dug by her father’s own hands – connecting his family property to her mother’s underneath the village – whilst she told us of how she learnt her craft by being at his side from at a young age but still found it immensely hard to get respect as a female winemaker 15 years ago, something that has thankfully changed now. Our next tasting was with the inspirational Mme Sandrine Logette-Jardin, winemaker at renowned Champagne Duval Leroy, where we were treated to a technical tasting of some her most prized wines. Having been working at the house since 1991 and winemaker since 2005, Sandrine has evident skill and expertise like no other. Using innovative techniques to achieve new styles; layered flavours that pull on recognition from childhood memories, immensely fine bubbles that carry flavour to taste wine at its best, richness without the sugar content - every element of production is so carefully thought out and the results are wines of elegance and finesse that would suit any taste. Last but by no means least was a joyous afternoon spent with Mme Lucile Proy-Goulard of Champagne Proy-Goulard - a small scale grower champagne made by Lucile herself and in business with her husband. Yet again both Lucille’s passion and skill were clear, but all with such an air of humble grace that the outstanding intricately flavoured wines we tasted were almost a surprise – like a pool hustler that suddenly brings out the big guns when you least expect. So good they were that we *had to* buy some to take home.

Sammy & Emma from Drink Up meet Lucile Proy-GoulardSammy & Emma from DrinkUp meet Lucile Proy-Goulard

With groups such as LA Transmission putting together some of the smartest and most diverse female brains in the business (their members span different age groups, big houses and small growers, all with different points of view but a common goal) Maggie believes the change over the next 10 years will be even more noticeable. Attempting to move forward and present champagne not only as a wine for celebration, but as a quality driven product for any occasion, it is her belief that the gap between producers to consumers can be translated by women to connect the dots and help the category evolve. What with that and the changing attitudes that are allowing more women winemakers to gain recognition and influence others to come into the field, it’s an exciting time ahead for champagne. We’ll toast to that.