Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.
Lets travel by glass to Champagne, France to meet with Vitalie Taittinger, President of Taittinger Champagne
When it comes to wine, France is in a league of it’s own. It would take a lifetime to learn all there is to learn about French wine, and that’s not a bad journey to embark on. There is no other country as diverse in terms of quality or wine styles, which is why some of the world’s most coveted bottles are from France… particularly Champagne. Champagne was the first region in the world to make sparkling wine and it’s home to the traditional method – this is where the bar has been set for decades. Wines here are blended with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The most treasured wines age for a minimum of 3 years. If sparkling wine has a role model, it’s Champagne. This region is comprised of five wine-growing regions and three towns: Epernay, Ay, and Reims where Taittinger Champagne is located. This historic estate has deep roots that can be traced back to Champagne as early as 1734! Taittinger is one of only five Champagne houses to cellar wine in the famous Crayères of Reims which are chalk caves originally dug out by the Romans. Today, the Champagne House remains family owned and operated with Vitalie as President of the company. She’s done an exceptional job at honoring the family’s tradition and dedication to excellence in Champagne. She’s a breath of fresh air who believes in living life to the fullest each and every day.
Without further ado, here is our virtual interview with Vitalie Taittinger…
Ashley: Can you describe Champagne Taittinger for us without describing the wine?
Vitalie: A family adventure for generations, focused on excellency of producing champagne.
Vitalie: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Decide with your heart”. My grandfather told that to my father. When you are at the head of a company, you are always challenged on your brain ability… to be able to consider that heart is part of the decision is a unique way to stay human and humble. This is also very linked to reality : what makes your real place on Earth? Maybe we should consider that pleasure is a very good instrument of measure!
Ashley: How can women support other women in the wine industry?
Vitalie: Easily…being there when needed without being in competition, more in a kind of building spirit. This is great to be part of a business which totally includes the women talents and it would be a shame not to be able to be conscient of that. Since a few years now I am part of a woman’s association called la Transmission and this is probably the greatest adventure I could have experienced in Champagne. 9 Women decision-makers and owners, all having chosen to embody and reflect the Champagne diversity and ecosystem. Our Houses and Estates are established from North to South of the appellation, are of various sizes and structures. The unique way to defend a common vision of Champagne for tomorrow.
Ashley: As President, what do you see as the most important part of running your business?
Vitalie: I am probably the one who carries the challenge to reinforce and give a certain harmony to the human adventure of the company. Each one has to be at the right place, developing himself within the company. This is a real question of how to build the talent capital of our House in the happiest way! We are building on long-term perspective, and are even more engaged to make choices that are less financially driven and are coming from the heart. It also means restraining one’s ego in the interests of building something based on a set of values that can be transmitted to the next generation.
Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?
Vitalie: I am not considering my own career at all… I am following my way, my ideal and really would like our Team to take pleasure and develop itself working towards the ambition and vision of the company…the second thing is to inspire enough to the next generation, to be able to transmit in complete harmony this piece of art that Champagne can be…
Vitalie, thank you so much for taking the time to share your passion and business expertise with us. We admire everything you are doing for the brand and respect the dedication to tradition while incorporating a sense of modernism into the brand.
This post is overflowing with great insight. Next up we had the pleasure of virtually interviewing Christelle Rinville, Vineyard Director of Taittinger Champagne
Christelle joined Taittinger in 2015 and brought with her about 10 years of consulting experience with various Champagne Houses in technical services. As Vineyard Director, she leverages technology for maximum output in producing the highest quality wine grapes. Technology isn’t scary to her and she’s passionate about people and agriculture. It’s inspiring to see you an experienced female in this position for such a prominent, well-established Champagne House. Without further ado, our virtual interview…
Ashley: How did you get started in wine?
Christelle: My father was a steelmaker. I did not come from a family of viticulturists but he pushed me to study, my sensibility brought me naturally to an ecologic subject. I wanted to do a job linked with environment . I had an opportunity at the Comité Champagne in Epernay and discovered the vineyards and the Champagne area, that’ s when I knew my career would be linked with the vines!
My first job consisted in managing all subjects in relation with vineyards (experimental phase, research, pest and disease management, soil and subsoil), in local and national communication, to create and implement a Magister network (close observation of vines and sustainable wine growing education).
I have learnt a lot about the spirit of growers. I have met different points of view, different technical levels and different ecologist’s sensitivity. I needed to be creative and innovative with dynamic and visionary leaders.
Ashley: What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career in vineyard operations?
Christelle: Be yourself, have a good sense of humane welfare is also a key because managing a vineyard means also being in touch with the workers who are in the vineyards (work organization, safety and hardship), having strong environmental convictions to answer societal challenges, knowing how to observe, listen.
But perhaps above all: have a lot of humility and strength to adapt because you work with nature and it is nature that is the strongest, nothing is ever acquired!
Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about producing a successful crop every year?
Christelle: Sustainable objectives are a combination of science, economic and human parameters. With global warming there are harder weather conditions since a few years like storms with hail, heavy rain and specially more spring frosts. It is threatened for our yield! Vines need to be well protected from diseases under our climate even if you would like to do without it. Downy mildew, powdery mildew, botrytis.
Ashley: What’s a day in the life of a Vineyard Director?
Christelle: There is not a single day that looks like the other: a lot of human and managing issues (technical and organizational policies, exchanges and support for managers, meetings with teams in the field, social dialogue, Management Committee), a large administrative component (budget monitoring, needs assessments and orders , environmental policy, traceability/certifications, regulations) and the priority of being close to the field through visits to the vineyards (observations, technical evaluation, monitoring of practices, evaluation of areas for improvement). Not to mention the involvement in professional and inter-professional bodies (Champagne Committee, Corporation of Champagne Winegrowers, Magister, etc.).
Christelle, thank you for walking us through the details and responsibility of your role! You are incredibly adaptable and doing an exceptional job. Truly an inspiration a great source of knowledge for women in wine.