Few wines demonstrate as much grace and joy as Champagne. With its dancing bubbles and seductive texture, Champagne exudes a certain “joie de vivre” unmatched by any other libation. Along with these often considered “feminine” attributes, Champagne has historically been home to many female leaders in the French wine industry. Following in the footsteps of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, Louise Pommery and Lilly Bollinger, Carol Duval-Leroy inherited Champagne Duval-Leroy upon her husband’s untimely passing. Determined to keep the company within the family, she subsequently became one of a handful of women leading Champagne houses, and over her 23 years in charge, Carol has brought Duval-Leroy to new heights and a global market. The Daily Sip had the chance to catch up with Carol and learn what it means to be a woman in the Champagne business.
The Daily Sip: In the United States, Champagne is closely associated with celebration. Is it the same in France, or do you believe Champagne is a good choice for any evening?
Carol Duval-Leroy: We are very lucky that Champagne is a magical word around the world! Champagne is associated with happiness, pleasure, celebrations such as births, weddings, etc. At Champagne Duval-Leroy, we also celebrate all happy moments with Champagne. For me, Champagne is a wine and because the personality of our cuvées is recognized for lightness, elegance, fine bubbles and dryness, we can choose the perfect pairing during a meal. Any moment of a day can be enjoyed and celebrated with Champagne!
TDS: What is your favorite memory with Champagne?
CDL: I do not have one favorite memory, but three in fact: the birth of my three sons! In Champagne, the tradition says that any new baby must receive a little drop of Champagne on their tongue and this is what my husband and I did for our three boys on days they were born! And the result has convinced me, as they are now all involved in our business. This was the promise I gave to their father!
TDS: What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen at Champagne Duval-Leroy in your time as its president?
CDL: Duval-Leroy gave a new orientation to its distribution. We are present in more than 250 Michelin starred restaurants in France and all over the world, and we are recognized by sommeliers and by those involved in high-quality gastronomy. We now sell our wines in more than 60 countries on five continents. We also focused on the environment, one of the fundamental values for Duval-Leroy. We are proud to say that we use precise and sustainable viticulture with respect to nature and regulations. Champagne Duval-Leroy encourages organic viticulture.
TDS: What has your experience been, being a female proprietor in the Champagne region?
CDL: As in any other field, it is not more complicated or difficult; you just need work and will. However, more is asked of women than men. Women need to prove they can act as well as men, or even better. Once this has been proven, it becomes easier. Furthermore, a woman in charge can send a message. I remember well when my husband died, and I announced my presidency of Duval-Leroy. Some famous names in Champagne were happy; others expected to see me fail. No matter what they thought about me, it was essential to prove I was as capable as a man. A few years ago, I received a very high honor in the Champagne profession. I was asked to be the President of the AVC, the “Champagne Viticulture Association.” It is the viticultural organization in Champagne for cooperatives, négociants and wine growers. I accepted this role, which no woman had ever held before in Champagne.
TDS: Would you describe Champagne as a feminine wine?
CDL: It is said that Champagne Duval-Leroy produces feminine wines, most likely, because both the president and chef de caves (head winemaker) are also women. As I said, our wines are known for their lightness, elegance, dryness and fine bubbles, easy to drink and to pair with food. The bottle for our Prestige Cuvée Femme de Champagne 2000 Grand Cru has feminine curves adorned with the initials of my sons. But despite this feminine touch, the wine has a strong character. It is 95% chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards, which gives it a precise finesse. The 5% pinot noir gives the wine structure and body. Because the base wines that make up Femme de Champagne 2000 have been aged in oak barrels, the wine is round and well balanced. It is not a Champagne for women only!
TDS: Who are some other women in the wine industry you admire?
CDL: The late Philippine de Rothschild (of Bordeaux’s Château Mouton-Rothschild) was a great lady in wine.
TDS: Do you have any favorite holiday food pairings with your Champagnes?
CDL: I have a passion for cooking, and I have a high respect for chefs and what they cook. Our partnership with “Les Grandes Tables du Monde” allows, once a month, to pair our Champagnes with haute gastronomy, in France or elsewhere in Europe. I personally enjoy a glass of our Fleur de Champagne Premier Cru as an aperitif with salmon tartare as an amuse-bouche. Because our wines are not heavy and they are very dry, they can be paired easily with various courses like fish, white meat, poultry, etc.
Photo Credit: Terroir de Chefs