France-Amérique: You did not include your own story in the book. Could you tell us more about yourself and how you came to the industry?
Monique Fillioux: I am originally a lawyer, a musician, and an equestrian. I left Paris for the Charente region in 1977, after marrying Pascal Fillioux, who was a fourth-generation cellar master for his family’s house. Soon after, I became responsible for Cognac Jean Fillioux’ management, marketing, and communication. I retired in 2015 and handed over the reins to the fifth generation – our son Christophe and his wife Virginie Viarouge-Fillioux, who is a trained oenologist – but I remain a Cognac woman at heart.
What gave you the idea to write this book?
In 2019, Michel Guillard, who edited a book on Grande Champagne, one of the six Cognac crus in the Charente region, asked me to write about the changing role of women in our business. I put together a short article, but I felt the need to write something more complete. However, very little information was available from official sources, such as the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, the local Chambre d’Agriculture, and the University of Poitiers’ International Spirits Center at Segonzac. So in November 2020, I decided to do it myself and began interviewing the women around me. They were in more and more roles in the vineyards, on the tractors, in the offices, in magazines, and on the boards of professional organizations. It was the right time to write a book about these women.
How did you pick the 28 women you highlighted?
First, I wanted the whole industry to be represented, from estate managers to company directors, winegrowers, distillers, cellar masters, wine and brandy brokers, and coopers. Then, to show a range of perspectives, I included stories from different generations. Julie Fouassier, a technical advisor at Courvoisier, is 29, while Francine Forgeron, who runs her family’s Cognac house, is 76. I wanted to show how each had claimed her own place in an industry long dominated by men. Things might have been simpler for Marine Babinot, a 30-year-old winegrower in Saint-Laurent-de-Cognac, than for Maryline Ardouin, 60, who launched her brokerage firm in the late 1980s. Being a woman in Cognac can certainly be difficult, but being a young woman brings different challenges. Ultimately, I wanted to show that women have always played a major part in our business, whether they were recognized for it or not.
What was their reaction when your approached these women with the idea?
They were unanimously enthusiastic! Because I was one of them, I knew what to ask, and they trusted me. They felt comfortable sharing their work and life experiences with me, sometimes for hours. Some of these women hold multiple university degrees. Almost all have traveled the world and often returned home to save their family’s estate. Each has inherited a lot of hard work and graciously accepted it. They are passionate, talented, hard-working leaders. Since its publication in French in 2023, the book has created a true community, and has allowed people in Charente to discover the face of the women who make their favorite drink! I’m now hoping it can inspire young women. They might even think: “I can do something like this, too. I can blaze my own trail in the Cognac industry, and succeed!”