A woman running a business was unheard of in 19th Century France. Yet the Champagne widows did just that, ‘veuves’ who stepped in to fill the shoes of husbands killed in battle or dying otherwise:
Mathilde Emilie Perrier lost her husband Eugene Laurent and went on to launch the first “Grand Vin Sans Sucre,” or Ultra Brut in 1889, the same year the Eiffel Tower was completed.
Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin lost her husband Alexandre Pommery and went on to invent “Brut” Champagne, as Queen Victoria, also a widow, preferred a drier style.
Emily Law de Lauriston Bourbers, or “Lily” lost her husband Jacques Bollinger and went on to dominate international markets and leave her imprint on the world with her witty quotes.
France’s first female CEO, 27-year old Nicole Barbe de Ponsardin lost her husband Francois Clicquot and recast the brand as Veuve Clicquot. She invented “Rose” Champagne, redesigned the bottle to its slender, feminine shape, and came up with the groundbreaking technique that was early riddling, a process refined by her Chef de Caves.
So why is it that today, in mid 2015, the women are once again in the background in Champagne? Particularly notable to me, the fifth woman in the world to become a Master Sommelier and one of only 21 out of 140 total worldwide, is the lack of female Chef de Caves. It is always “he this, he that.” Has it not been brought to light that a woman’s palate is not only capable, but that it might even excel that of a man’s? Many men will admit they are less comfortable describing aromas and flavors. Formative years for them stereo-typically involve dirt, snails, rocks and owl pellets rather than silk, flowers, cooking and perfume.
Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised and delighted to meet the young, whip-smart and well-spoken Elise Losfelt, Moët & Chandon’s Winemaker/Oenologue, at Waterbar in San Francisco recently. Prior to joining Moët & Chandon, Elise was Assistant Winemaker at Chateau Beychevelle in Bordeaux, Bodega Mortix in Spain and at the Dominique Portet vineyard in Yarra Valley, Australia.
Part of a team of ten, Elise is responsible for 600 base wines each harvest, checking for quality, characteristics and flaws, which are then presented to the Chef de Caves. After the Chef de Caves does initial blend trials, the entire team chooses which best fit the Moët & Chandon house style. Elise was on a multi-city USA tour to showcase Grande Vintage Rosé and to present the newly released Rosé Imperial. Perhaps one day she will be the Chef de Caves and I will be one of the first to toast to that!
NV Moët & Chandon Imperial Rosé Brut Champagne
Easy going, dry and soft with notes of bright citrus, tart raspberry, spicy turmeric and chalky minerality.
2006 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé Brut Champagne
Tart and earthy with notes of orange marmalade, cashew, raspberry, dried flowers, honeycomb, prosciutto, and gingerbread.