Women in Wine: Four Fabulous French Female Winemakers

What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday March 8th than with a tasting of classic French wines made by women.

Writer Gina Baksa savours a selection of special grapes from the Languedoc and the Rhône Valley…

Just a decade ago you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of women involved in hands-on wine production in France.

Today, this former male bastion is crumbling and women are well represented in all aspects of wine production, not just PR and marketing. Here are some superb French vineyards where women are running the show.

1 Ormarine Conchylia Picpoul de Pinet 2019

M&S RRP £9.00, abv 12.5%

See more: cave-ormarine.com

Ormarine’s Conchylia (exclusively at M&S) is made by winemakers Marie Lefebvre and Virginie Berthuit who is in her 15th season with the producer. A crisp, elegant and fruity white from the Languedoc near the Etang de Thau saltwater lagoon, Conchylia pairs well with seafood and grilled fish, thanks to the saline flavours created from the wind over the lagoon. “I always knew I would become an oenologist,” says Marie. “My grandfather Henri Garriguenc was a winemaker and taught me how to make my first Grenache at 12. The challenge is to produce wine that meets expectations and market trends, while adapting to climatic and economic challenges.”

Her colleague Virginie’s love of her work is equally palpable: “Being an oenologist for me is more than just a multi-faceted job; it’s a passion,” she says. “And no two days are the same since I work on different types of wine; I vinify organic wines, châteaux, estates, Terra Vitis wines and conventional wines.” 

2 Les Jamelles Viognier 2019

Co-op RRP £7.35, Abv 13.5%

See more: les-jamelles.com

Winemaker (and amateur beekeeper) Cathérine Delaunay-Favre is the fifth generation of her Burgundian family to produce wine. She co-founded Badet Clement & Co. with her husband Laurent in 1995, which sells 16 million bottles of wine a year globally.

Les Jamelles is the company’s flagship brand, and Les Jamelles Viognier is made from 100% viognier grapes from several terroirs, mainly from the Thau lagoon basin and the Marseillette marshes. It’s fresh, with notes of peach, apricot and pear.

Ideal with sole and asparagus, or fish-based Asian cuisine. And has a slight floral bouquet. Nowadays, Catherine works with a team of 7 winemakers and 2 agronomists who oversee the vineyards and the 4 wineries of the group.

“I have always sought to create easy-drinking wines that are authentic, pleasing, expressive, with lovely length and nice freshness,” says Catherine. She has certainly succeeded with Les Jamelles Viognier. 

3 Clavel ‘Syrius’ Côtes du Rhône Villages St-Gervais 2017 – 91 points Wine Enthusiast

Ake & Humphris RRP £10.99, abv 14% 

See more: domaineclavel.com

Claire Clavel’s family have been producing world-class wine since 1640. Today, Claire is CEO of the 80ha Domaine Clavel in the southern Rhône valley, and is a member of Femmes Vignes Rhône. She strongly believes in the influence of the moon on wine production.

Clavel Syrius is made from 70% grenache and 30% Syrah grapes grown in vineyards around the local village of Saint-Gervais. Planted in red clay sandstone and limestone the grapes are bursting with intense aromas, thanks to the cooling Mistral wind. Full-bodied, silky and long, Syrius is excellent with any meat dish.

“I’m a passionate winegrower,” she tells me “And very proud to have taken over the family estate. Following the journey of the grape from vine to bottle is extraordinary; each year is a new beginning. I believe female winegrowers have a different sensibility towards the grapes which is reflected in the quality of the wines we create.”

4 Crémant de Limoux Brut, Tholomies, La Baume NV 

Oxford Wine Company RRP £11.99, abv 12%

See more: domaine-labaume.com

This superb crémant is made by winemaker Marie Toussaint who works at several vineyards for Les Grands Chais de France group in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

Made from 90% Chardonnay 10% Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc grapes, all hand-picked, this crémant from the Limoux appellation is produced using the traditional ‘Champagne’ method, then aged for a minimum of 15 months in bottle. The pale mimosa colour, delicate bubbles and citrus and passion fruit zing give this elegant sparkling wine a long finish and a hint of toastiness.

“As an oenologist, I work with estate and vineyard managers at each stage of production,” says Marie.

“We vinify most of our grapes without sulphites; and prefer to use oxygen to refine the tannins. I work in the best wine-growing area in the world: Languedoc has such a diversity of terroirs. Thankfully, there are many more female wine-makers now across the world. I look forward to the day when it’s not even considered a rarity.” 

5 Château des Jaume Cru Maury Sec 2016

Connolly’s RRP £14.95, abv 14.5%

Marie Toussaint also makes Château des Jaume Cru Maury Sec 2016 which hails from the Maury appellation in the Roussillon region of southern France.

A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Carignan grapes grown on black schist and slate soils, this smooth, full-bodied red is bursting with red berry flavours with a hint of vanilla. Velvety smooth, with elegant tannins and a long finish, it’s an ideal accompaniment to blue cheeses and chocolate. Perfect for celebrating International Women’s Day.

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