Women in Wine: France’s Female Winemakers on Their Fave Cuvées

Grapes harvest. Young farmer woman with freshly harvested grapes.

France has a long history of women running things in and around the vineyards that produce its famous wines. But up until recently, many of these women were on the edges of the glory, an had to enter the winemaking business through the back door. Take the “Champagne Widows,” for example, including Veuve Clicquot (the Widow Clicquot) and Veuve Pommery. Both of these innovators at heritage Champagne brands took over production after the death of their husbands, which at the time, was the only way women could come to own property or run a business.

And while many French women in wine still get into the business through a family connection, as vineyards are often family affairs, the wine industry has had to make way for some incredible female talents, including both legacy vintners and new kids on the block. Today, some of France’s most esteemed vineyards are overseen by women winemakers, oenologists (wine scientists), and other experts, so we thought we should introduce a few of them to you, along with some of the wines they are most proud of working on.

Ann Vermeersch of LePlan Vermeersch

Ann Vermeersch
Ann Vermeersch

When the Vermeersch family moved to France in 2000 from Belgium, Ann was barely 18 years old. Soon she followed the footsteps of her father Dirk and attended the local oenology school in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region to learn her trade. There she met her future husband, Sebastian. In 2005, she joined the LePlan Vermeersch Winery and became co-manager and winemaker, living and working by the motto: “Making wine is not difficult, making the difference is.” Ann oversees the new and super-modern Vermeersch winery in Suze la Rousse and, when not working late shifts, she loves throwing parties, dancing the night away, cooking cozy meals for friends at home and going for runs in the surrounding woodlands or skiing in the nearby Alps.

“I’m very proud of our GTS or ‘Grand Terroir Syrah‘, because it’s unique…It’s the first high end cuvée that my father made in 2003 and still is our bestseller to this day in powerful red wines. I’ve been managing the cellar without my father ever since he returned to Belgium in 2020, and I have been working on making our bestseller even better. Syrah is a great grape but it needs the perfect picking moment and good guidance in the cellar. I’m trying to keep the round and full-bodied style, but with a twist and a slightly romantic aspect. This wine is made for long nights around a beautiful table and enjoying every sip.”

Maryline Gianna of Patriarche + Veuve du Vernay

Maryline Gianna
Maryline Gianna

Maryline Gianna was born in Beaune, the capital of Burgundy wines. Her grandparents managed a vineyard, where she grew up learning about wine and with respect for the land. After receiving her Oenologist Diploma, Maryline spent years innovating and developing wines at various growers before becoming winemaker at Veuve du Vernay and Patriarche. Her greatest satisfaction is in sharing her enjoyment and knowledge of wine with her customers.

“I am proud to have worked on Veuve du Vernay Ice Rosé; it was an enriching experience of collaborating with various winegrowers to craft a unique blend that strikes the perfect balance. Not overly sweet, yet wonderfully refreshing when served over ice. This sparkling’s success fills me with immense pride and reinforces my passion for the art of winemaking.”

Florence Tessier – B&G

Florence Tessier
Florence Tessier

After graduating with a Master of Advanced Studies degree in oenology, Florence worked for 14 years for a major supermarket group, where she held responsibilities in the laboratory, cellars, quality control, and purchasing. She then worked in Saint-Émilion as the buyer for a négociant firm before arriving at Barton & Guestier in May 2015. She now works as B&G’s oenologist in Bordeaux, Southwest France, and the Languedoc.

“I like all the wines we make! We invest a lot of energy and hard work into making all of them! Our aim is for each one to be perfectly representative of its appellation and appreciated by our customers. However, if I had to choose one wine, I would say the ‘Héritage.’ Although open and easy to appreciate, it is a wine of great complexity, combining fruity, spicy, and oaky aromas. It is rich, velvety, and has a long aftertaste. All the hallmarks of a great wine!”

Angélique Vigouroux — Cos d’Estournel

Angélique Vigouroux
Angélique Vigouroux

Cellar Master Angélique Vigouroux, determined to follow a path in wine, decided at the age of 23 to pursue a higher education in viticulture and oenology. Her first harvest dates back to 2002 in the Médoc, where she fell in love with the process of winemaking. Five years later, she joined Cos d’Estournel as assistant to the cellar master. After a decade in the cellar, creating new cuvées and helping to bring Michel Reybier’s vision to life, she was appointed “Cellar Master,” making her the first woman to occupy that position at Cos d’Estournel.

“Looking at the totality of my tenure at Cos so far, I’d say the vintage that has had the biggest impact on my career, and the one I’m probably the most proud of, is the 2017. I refer to it as my ‘crazy year.’ This was the year that Michel Reybier’s cellar master at the time, and with whom I had worked for ten years, retired and passed the torch onto me. It was a significant change, not the least of which because it coincided with my final exams for my oenology diploma! It meant that I really had to find a way to step up and take charge of the team, while also caring for my two daughters at home. By the September harvest, however, I was more than ready, and we ended up producing a stunning cuvée. The Cos d’Estournel 2017 is a testament not just to a characterful vintage, but also to the year where I proved to myself that I was capable of anything.”

Léa Rouyet — Château Gassier

Léa Rouyet
Léa Rouyet

Léa Rouyet was born and bred in Basque Country, and grew up in the Pyrenees surrounded by fauna, flora, and sheep. She is passionate about the environment, and found her ultimate haven of peace in 2015 when she joined Château Gassier, which lies at the foothills of the Sainte-Victoire mountain. Following in the footsteps of Cézanne, Léa made the mountain her muse, and spends her free time hiking, roaming, and wandering her way around the mountain, getting to know its secret little caves. Léa now pours all of her passion and energies into creating both easy-drinking and gastronomic wines that respect the surrounding environment, whilst offering an authentic expression of the Sainte-Victoire terroir.

Léa: “When I joined Gassier, I had the privilege of inheriting a legacy of enduring and sustainable craftsmanship, which I perpetuate every day in perfect synergy with an outstanding environment. I take pride in unveiling expressive wines, characterized by great finesse and lively vibrancy, produced from grapes grown in the preserved terroir of Sainte-Victoire, nestled in the heart of Provence. However, if I had to single out one wine today, it would be the 2019 vintage of Château Gassier, ELEVAE. This gastronomic rosé stands as a testament to the quality of our entire range, similar to the Esprit Gassier cuvée. It also reflects our artisanal ethos, combining precision with selection in a unique blend of plot-by-plot selection of organically cultivated Grenache, Syrah, and Rolle grapes, matured for 24 months in Austrian oak demi-muids.”

Marianne Fabre-Lanvin — Souleil

Marianne Fabre-Lanvin
Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, Credit: Credit Laurent Vilarem

Marianne was born in the heart of France’s Languedoc wine country, where her family has had vineyards since the 19th century. After working in communications and events, she eventually found her way back to the wine industry. She directed the Maison de la Region Languedoc-Roussillon in New York, and organized wine trade shows, education, and festivals celebrating southern France’s culture and wine. While working to promote wines and regions she believes in, Marianne also wanted to create a wine she could call her own. Collaborating with a childhood friend from Southern France, Thomas Delaude, the duo started dreaming up the concept for Souleil Vin de Bonté in March 2020. They wanted to create a community of friends around this wine, and collaborated with an independent winemaker (also a friend) on the blend of organic grapes. They have since worked with friends every step of the way, from design to distribution.

Marianne: “Souleil is a passion project. Our organic wines were crafted by friends and for friends. We created wines that we wanted as our house wines. Souleil Vin de Bonté, including Le Blanc, Le Rosé, and Le Rouge, possess an easygoing charm, ensuring they appeal to everyone at the table. Beyond the wines and the excitement they generate, I am thrilled that we have contributed to supporting a cause close to our hearts. Our team, along with our extended circle, participates in beach cleaning events that lead to plastic upcycling, organized by our nonprofit partners worldwide. Also, a portion of our proceeds supports nonprofits working towards ocean preservation.”

Emma Bertrand — Gérard Bertrand

Emma Bertrand
Emma Bertrand

Like her father before her, Emma Bertrand was 22 when she joined the family business in 2020, initially as a trade marketing manager before becoming the brand’s creative director two years later. This position builds on the experience she gathered externally as a digital marketing assistant for New York fashion label, Steven Alan. Emma’s youth and keen eye for design means she has her finger on the pulse for what’s on trend, and for how to best tap into the world’s burgeoning new generation of designers. Emma holds a master’s degree in viticulture and oenology from the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).

“I work as creative director with my father, the vintner, Gérard Bertrand. I get a lot of joy from setting up collaborations that combine wine and the arts. We’ve had so much fun with this, particularly for the design of the Côte des Roses bottle and its rose-etched base. And with our recent release of the organic Côte des Roses Art Edition, we were delighted to work with Morgan Jamieson, an Australian artist whose strong connection to nature and local surroundings is one my father and I can relate to.”

Agathe Casanova — Maison Sinnae

Agathe Casanova
Agathe Casanova

Maison Sinnae’s Agathe Casanova, 54 years old, has been a winemaker since 1994, along with her husband in Saint-Victor-La-Coste in the Gard department. Agathe works full-time on her farm, from pruning season to harvest. The farm spans 30 hectares of vineyards, certified HEV level 4, with its production brought to Maison Sinnae according to specifications established within an upstream commission, of which she herself is a part. Agathe is also the president of a CUMA (Cooperatives Comprising Users of Agricultural Materials), and a mother and grandmother. A modern woman, very active on all fronts, she has achieved her position with the passion and enthusiasm that characterize her.

“Certain plots of the farm are primarily selected for the Enfant Terrible Rouge and Eléments Luna Blanc cuvées. The latter is the cuvée I am the most proud of! It expresses itself with a lively attack, but ends harmoniously. With a beautiful aromatic richness, it has notes of citrus and white flowers on the nose. Notes of almonds, hazelnuts, and white fruits, like pear, combine with freshness on the palate. An enchantment!”

Catherine Rickman is a writer, professional Francophile, and host of the Expat Horror Stories podcast. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman, or on TikTok @catinthekitchen.

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