Although the world of wine has long been a men’s game (with a couple notable exceptions), women are increasingly playing greater roles in winemaking around the world.
Perhaps nowhere are they having more of an impact than in the Burgundy region of France, where it seems women own many of the best and most prestigious domaines. The region, whose wines are often described as elegant and subtle, seems well suited to a woman’s touch. Here are some of the women who are making Burgundy tick. Just don’t call their wines feminine.
The female winemakers association of Burgundy, Femmes & Vins De Bourgogne, is about 40 members strong. For the first time, the Director of the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne is a woman; but to the women of Burgundy, this is not really news. “I don’t think you make a better wine if you are a man or a woman, “ said Caroline Parent-Gros, the daughter of winery owner Anne-Francois Gros “you have to understand it.”
Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg & Domaine Anne Gros (Casey Hatfield)
An only child, Anne Gros (unrelated to Anne-Francois Gros) took over the family’s small estate in Vosne Romanée in 1988. She makes elegant red and white wines out of a property that includes a farmhouse with vibrant blue doors, as well as a more modern winery built in the late 90’s. Gros took us into her cellar at Domaine Anne Gros (parts date back to the 1800’s) where we tasted wine straight from the barrel.
Caroline Parent-Gros & Anne-Francois Gros (Casey Hatfield)
Her 2012 Cuvée Marine, named for fossils found in their vineyard in the Hautes Côtes de Nuits, is fresh and balanced. The Clos Vougeot Grand Cru has lovely floral notes balanced with good acidity. Gros recently started in the Minervois, in the Langudeoc region in the south of France, with her partner Jean Paul Tollot (they have three children together, but remain unmarried). When I asked her about this, she replied with a laugh “We’re engaged.”
Burgundy wine expert, Cristina Otel left her home in Transylvania, Romania for Beaune at the age of 17 and never looked back. She had the good fortune to meet and live with Becky Wasserman, an exporter of Burgundy wines often referred to as the American Godmother of Burgundy. Otel quickly developed a passion for the region. After receiving degrees from the Lycée Viticole and the University of Burgundy, she started her own business, Taste Burgundy Wine School, which introduces people to Burgundy through educational courses and wine tastings.
Shutters at Georges Mugneret-Gibourg (Casey Hatfield)
Otel is passionate and self-effacing. We met up with her at a great local haunt in Beaune called Bar Du Square. She has an absolute wealth of knowledge on Burgundy and is worth seeking out—she’s happy to share insider tidbits on where to eat and what to see.
Barrels at Domaine Berthelemot & Brigitte Berthelemot (Domaine Berthelemot)
Brigitte Berthelemot dreamed of owning a winery ever since she visited her uncle’s estate in the Mâconnais region of Burgundy as a child. After a raising four children and a short stint in banking, she seized an opportunity to purchase parcels from two retiring winemakers. In a short amount of time, she has amassed 7.8 hectares of land in 15 different appellations in the Côte d’Or, no small feat in an area where 1 hectare (2.47 acres) can cost in the tens of millions.
Brigitte Houdeline & Anne-Francois Gros (Casey Hatfield)
Domaine Berthelemot’s headquarters in Meursault are located in a wisteria covered stone house that dates back to the 1600’s while, in stark contrast, the production facility in neighboring Tailly is a modern building equipped with state-of-the-art thermo-regulated vats and a pneumatic press. Domaine Berthelemot’s whites stand out, like the award winning Puligny-Montrachet Les Levrons, a crisp, mineral chardonnay.
With her perfectly manicured nails and feminine style, Anne-Francois Gros, does not look like your typical winery owner, though she comes from one of the area’s great wine making families: her grandfather Louie Gros was one of the first to export wine from the region to America. Along with her husband Francois Parent, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s wine guide during his trip to Burgundy in the 18th century, the couple cultivates 10 hectares in some of the best vineyards in Burgundy.
The couple’s daughter Caroline, who will take over Domaine A.F. Gros-Parent in a few years along with her brother Mathias, is equally stylish. Anne and Caroline speak with incredible passion about the wines they produce– they like to compare their Echezeaux Grand Cru to 007 himself. “It’s complex, it plays with you,” says Anne. We sampled several of their wines including the 2010 Chambolle Musigny, an elegant red with aromas of raspberries and violet.
Anne Gros & Domaine Berthelemot (Casey Hatfield)
Back in Vosne Romanée two sisters have been quietly making excellent wine at Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg for over two decades. Marie-Christine was a chemist before she took over the family’s domaine in the late 80’s after her father’s death. Her sister Marie Andrée, nine years her junior, went to oenology school before joining the winery in 1992. The Mugneret sisters make only Côte de Nuits reds, including three Grand Crus and three Premier Crus. They actually own a vineyard adjacent to their winery, a bit of a rarity in Burgundy. Both have two daughters, so the winery will likely stay a female-run affair, even though they say there’s no pressure. “Our daughters need to take their time. I don’t want to tell them, you need to do this with me, “said Marie Christine.
Brigitte Houdeline says she came to Burgundy for the wine and stayed for her man– a wine shop owner in Beaune. After studying wine trade and communications and working for prestigious domaines like Domaine Lafon in Meursault, she was made Director of the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne in September of last year and is the first female director in the organization’s 40-year history. Under her direction, the school, which offers classes for neophytes and professionals, is making a concerted effort to offer more tasting sessions in English, including a three-day World of Bourgogne Wines program this October. Even Houdeline herself says there’s always something new to learn “Each wine is very different. I’ve been here for 15 years and the more I go out in the field, the more humble I feel about my knowledge. I need several lifetimes to learn about Bourgogne wine,” says Houdeline.
Domaine A-F Gros Cave & Cristina Otel (Casey Hatfield)
Written by Casey Hatfield for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.