Being International Women's Day, it seemed a good time to cast a light on a couple of trailblazing women we work with at Sip, who are making waves in a male dominated industry.
Both French by birth, but now on opposite sides of the Channel, and at either end of our supply chain, vigneron, Hélène Beaugrand, and wine bar founder and owner, Carole Bryon, spoke to us about their time in wine.
The Beaugrand Champagne house, now managed by Hélène, is situated in the renowned village of Montgueux, just west of Troyes. Hélène's grandfather was the first to plant this area with grapevine in the early 1900s.
According to Hélène, the magic of Montgueux Champagne comes from the fabulous terroir – a mix of chalk, clay and firestone – and the sun-drenched South-Southeast exposition. This combination creates a style of Chardonnay like nowhere else in Champagne – rich, complex, exotic with a crisp chalky edge.
Vineyards are still traditionally handed down to sons, so when Hélène took over the winemaking process at the family estate some 15 years ago, it was initially as a consultant, because it was rare for women to independently manage a Maison at this time. However, in 2017 part of the family decided that they no longer wished to make Champagne. Determined to continue her grandfather's work, Hélène began creating her own cuvées and is now ready to take things in a new direction under the independent label 'Hélène Beaugrand'.
"I'm doing things a little bit differently. I have created 6 cuvées and they are all low dosage – between 0 and 5g/ltr – and also one special cuvée called 'Derrière la Cabane' which comes from one specific plot and is more distinctive of the terroir of Montgueux than past wines. My first harvest is 2018 – good Champagne takes time!"
Hélène typically works with old vine Chardonnay – some up to 50 years old! – which create incredibly concentrated grapes that make her wines so inimitable. However, she has plans to shake this process up.
"I intend to plant some new vines this year, possibly of Pinot Blanc. I don't want to just replant Chardonnay or Pinot Noir; I want to do something more fun and interesting and experiment with what it can bring to the wine."
It will certainly be interesting to see what comes from her experiments and indeed her new range of wines which are currently being labelled and should be heading over to us in the coming months. Watch this space!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel, in London's Covent Garden, lies a little red-fronted shop emblazoned with the words 'Lady of the Grapes'. The lady in question is Carole Bryon, who stepped away from her former life as an Art Director in an Advertising Agency in 2018 to follow her passion into the world of wine.
"Before I started Lady of the Grapes I worked in a wine shop and, because I was young and female, I found that a lot of customers would bypass me and go straight to my male colleagues for advice. At the same time I also began to notice just how many wine labels were named after a male, even if it was a couple making the wine! It was this that gave me the idea for Lady of the Grapes which is focussed on female-led winemakers and organic wine. I wanted to take women out of the shadows and say: 'they are here, doing the same job and the wine is delicious!'"
Despite having recently passed her WSET Diploma, and fronting a business that champions female winemakers, it can, however, still be an uphill battle to change some customers' perceptions.
"Even now in Lady of the Grapes people often assume I'm a waiter and will ask me if I've tried a wine, or if I know about a particular wine. A couple of months ago for instance someone asked me who the owner was. When I told them it was me they replied, 'Oh, you don't look like the owner.'
"I'm not sure what the owner was meant to look like in their mind, but it made me laugh. I don't get upset by it, but it's funny how often people unconsciously do these things."
Lady of the Grapes is open Tuesday to Sunday, stocking a veritable bounty of female-focussed and organic wine from across the world, including the odd bottle from the Sip Champagnes collection.