Carol Duval-Leroy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am

How has the champagne house changed since you took over in 1991?

'The first step was to improve the quality of the wine, so we bought better grapes. Once that was done, we developed our presence at restaurants in France - mostly in those that are Michelin-starred. We're working with the sommeliers. We're partners of the French Sommeliers' Union and are part of a contest to find the best European sommelier. This has been the trend since I took over - first quality, then distribution. Instead of [being sold] in supermarkets, we're in nice restaurants. The next step was to develop the export market. We've created subsidiaries in Brazil, London and Germany - 50 to 60 per cent of our production is for export. Our main markets are not only in Europe - Britain, Germany, Belgium - but also in the United States and Japan.'

What are the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry?

'It's not a question of gender [but] of opportunity. As soon as you have a woman at the company, she's no better or worse than a man. The opportunity [for women to rise to the top did not exist] in the past, not only in winemaking but also in a lot of other industries. Now every woman has the opportunity to do something great. I've had to prove myself, but as soon as success came, it was OK and I was accepted by everyone.'

How does your wine stand out?

'We are the only champagne house that has a woman winemaker. The quality of the wine has a feminine touch. It's due to the chardonnay that we use predominantly in our cuvee, because we specialise in chardonnay. We're from the C?te des Blancs and we have the best chardonnay grapes there. But the wine stands out because we're trying to do champagnes that are not aggressive, but very light and delicate. [My favourite is] Femme de Champagne. The wine is only produced in great years so we had it in 1990, 1995, 1996 and 2000. It's made only with grand cru grapes - it was 95 per cent chardonnay and 5 per cent pinot noir in 2000, so it's delicate and light. Ten years in the cellar and it has plenty of aromas that you won't find in other champagnes. Even the bottle is designed by us, so you won't find it [anywhere else]. The shape of the bottle and what's inside it are like a woman: very feminine. It's our flagship.'

How do you view the China market?

'China is growing very fast. But it's starting from nothing. So [consumption] is still very low and it's still not a big market. It's 1.3 million [bottles, the same size as the market in] Austria. It's growing and in 20 years it will probably be something important, like Japan.'

Is the Asian palate different to that of the French?

'The way of drinking champagne is not the same and knowledge of it is not the same. First, developing [mar-kets are drinking] brut to get a taste of champagne. But most of the time [the palate] evolves into wanting something more delicate, with more chardonnay. And once you have a balanced [selection], like in Japan for example, usually people [will become] very interested in wine and food pairing. It's growing in Asia.'

What food do you like to pair with your champagne?

'It depends on the season and time of day. For example, for an aperitif, I love oysters with champagne. And fish, quickly seared on both sides in a pan with olive oil [goes well with] a glass of Femme de Champagne.'

What would you be doing today if you hadn't taken over the champagne house?

'My passion was cooking before I took over the winery. I gave up the ambition of becoming a great cook. Things happened in the factory and I took over the business but I wanted to be a professional cook. So I've been looking for the best food pairings and I'm very involved and interested in the food business.'


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