Fizzy Ceiling

The Leading Ladies of Champagne

Many of us forget that the biggest Champagne houses are the result of the work and vision of women who took over the family estates from their late husbands. The best known among them, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, replaced her husband as director of the Cliquot house in 1805. She changed the company to her widowed name, Veuve Cliquot, and became the first woman to manage a Champagne company. Inspired by the figure known as “Champagne’s leading lady,” a new generation of female winegrowers and entrepreneurs is now making forays into what is still a largely male-dominated domain.
Vitalie Tattinger. © Luc Valigny

Margareth Henriquez: The Pioneer

The woman everyone knows as “Maggie” actually started her Champagne career in Argentina! In 2001, she was named president of Moët Hennessy for the country, which was then in the grips of a terrible financial crisis. “I’d never seen such an economic disaster,” she said in an interview with Le Figaro. “The restaurants, the cafes, the airports… everything was empty.” Seven years later, she had put things back on an even keel and saved the business. The LVMH group then appointed her C.E.O. of the Krug Champagne house the following year, which offered a further challenge for the Venezuelan graduate of Stanford, Harvard and INSEAD in Fontainebleau. She currently chairs La Transmission, a professional network featuring nine “women owners and leaders” in the Champagne region.

Vitalie Taittinger: The Driven Heiress

This young woman was an illustrator when her “family history caught up with [her]” in 2007. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger had just purchased the estate founded by his grandfather in 1932 from the American investment fund Starwood Capital. He wanted to restore a family focus to the Taittinger house, and his daughter convinced him to let her “earn her spurs.” Trained in illustration at the Ecole Emile-Cohl in Lyon, she started working as a consultant in the marketing department before becoming an employee and climbing the corporate ladder. Appointed to the position of art director and then head of marketing and communications, she finally took over the company from her father on January 1, 2020, at the age of forty.

© May van Millingen

Charline Drappier: The Rising Star

At the age of 31, the sales director and co-owner of the Drappier estate is one of the youngest figures in the Champagne winery world. “I still have a lot to learn,” says the woman who now runs the house founded in 1808 with her brothers and her father – her “mentor.” But Charline Drappier is no novice. She grew up among the vineyards of the Côte des Bar region of Champagne. After studying literature and a Master’s in geography at the Sorbonne, she drew inspiration from the “strong family character” of her grandmother and turned to management, representing the family business for some time in the United States. While in New York in 2016, she and French chef Daniel Boulud opened a six-liter methuselah of Drappier Champagne from 1989, the year she was born!


Séverine Frerson: Champagne in the Blood

In 2018, this chemistry and oenology graduate from the University of Reims turned heads by becoming the cellar master of Piper-Heidsieck. She is the first woman to hold this title in one of the ten major Champagne houses. Less than a year later, she was head-hunted by Perrier-Jouët to replace Hervé Deschamps after his retirement. The passing of the torch took place in October 2020, when she personally received the keys to the estate and the cellar journals – a collection of notes written by her predecessors since 1811. In homage to Rose Adelaïde Jouët, who founded the winery with her husband Pierre Nicolas Perrier, Séverine Frerson likes to say that she is “the second woman of the house… in 200 years!”

Pauline Lhote: Champagne-Born, California-Based

Her internship at Domaine Chandon, the Californian vineyard owned by Moët & Chandon, was only supposed to last three months. Fifteen years later, Pauline Lhote is still in Yountville, in Napa Valley. This University of Reims graduate and mother of two has been the director of winemaking since 2017, heading up the development and production of the brand’s American sparkling wines. “A winemaker once told me that this was no job for a woman,” she said in an interview with the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, which elected her “Wine Country Personality of the Year” in 2019. “I proved him wrong, and it’s now my role to help other women get there.”

Article published in the December 2021 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.