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Anson: Where are the diverse voices in Bordeaux wine?

Jane Anson speaks to an academic expert about the challenges of breaking into the upper echelons of Bordeaux's wine industry, and shines a light on women in senior roles at classified châteaux.

You’ll rarely find me getting involved in arguments on Twitter, but the closest I have come recently was over the En Magnum publication of a sexist cartoon that created a rare moment of reflection for France’s wine industry.

I made a fairly mild point about the French wine media being walled off to everyone outside of a tiny circle, whether men or women – meaning that a lot of the issues in French wine are about privilege rather than specifically about sexism.

I was told that I was missing the point, and perhaps I was.

I was certainly not suggesting that I am ignorant of sexism in this industry, nor does it mean that I haven’t had to work hard to be taken seriously. My wider point was that the specific insularity and privilege of the industry in France excludes all kinds of minority voices, including but certainly not limited to women, and it needs urgently to be addressed.

All of which made me look with interest at a question raised this week by Florine Livat at Kedge Business School in Bordeaux.

Armed with a PhD in Economics, Livat worked as an economic analyst for a wine broker before joining Kedge Business School, where she teaches on wine economics and microeconomics.

She released a statement drawing attention to the not only ‘patriarchal but often patrilineal’ wine industry. It is this second part that drew my attention, as key to the exclusion not just of women but also whole groups of those outside the inner circle.

‘The transmission of knowledge in wine families tends to give priority to male children,’ Livat told me when I called her to discuss the question further. ‘Even though getting experience outside of the family circle allows for the acquiring of new competencies that can help navigate difficult times such as we are facing today.’

Anyone who spends time in Bordeaux knows just how deeply certain key families are entrenched here. It means that even without actively trying to exclude newcomers, a patrilineal industry puts up psychological, social and practical barriers to new groups.

Livat said, ‘I have become increasingly tired of reports by my female students telling me that finding work placements and permanent positions, even from the masters of wine business programmes that I teach, is difficult.

‘Administration and marketing roles are available, but they are still told that managerial roles are not for them.’

Livat pointed me towards a study released in California in December 2020 by Santa Clara University.

Led by Lucia Gilbert PhD and John Gilbert PhD, the study compared the number of women lead winemakers working across California in 2020 versus 2011.

In 2011, they found the number of women holding the lead winemaker position across California stood at 9.8%. In 2020, the percentage had climbed to 14%.

The highest percentages were found in Sonoma/Marin and South Central Coast regions, at 17%. In Napa Valley, women were the principal winemakers in 12% of cases.

How do these numbers compare to what is happening in Bordeaux? There is not an official study from recent years, and the best Livat could find was a 2013 study by Valérie Kociemba and Hélène Velasco-Graciet, using the 2007 Féret guide as a base.

So, I thought it might be useful to give you a state of play of châteaux, merchants and brokers at the top level, as recorded in my Inside Bordeaux book published in April 2020.

What follows is an informal audit of classified properties in the Médoc, Pessac-Léognan and St-Emilion, plus high-profile estates in Pomerol.

That covers:

  • 61 Médoc classified estates;
  • 27 in Sauternes and Barsac
  • 14 Pessac-Léognan (Cru Classé de Graves)
  • 82 in St-Emilion;
  • and around 25 estates in Pomerol.

I make that 209 estates, although, yes, that makes Haut-Brion count twice.

I am tracking this in a separate database to share with Livat so that we can build a picture of how things stand today and going forward.

Please feel free to point out any that I have missed. It would also be worth adding to this with women working in key roles in the cellar and vineyard.

Women owners

This numbers in this category are partly due to a generational lottery. For example, women have recently been at the head of Mouton Rothschild and Haut-Brion, but their sons have now taken over.

However, for the sake of record, female owners of classified Bordeaux estates include:

1855 Classified, Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac

  • Saskia de Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild
  • Corinne and Alexandra Mentzelopoulos, Château Margaux
  • Nathalie Perrodo, Château Marquis d’Alesme (also female technical director, giving them a clean sweep of women in the top two positions, I think only one of two estates in 1855 reds to see this, along with Léoville Poyferré).
  • Sara Lecompte, Château Léoville Poyferré (also female technical director)
  • Anne-Françoise Quié, Château Rauzan-Gassies
  • Claire Villars-Lurton, Château Ferrière and Haut-Bages Libéral
  • Caroline Frey, Château La Lagune
  • Sophie Schyler, Château Kirwan
  • Justine Tesseron, Château Pontet Canet (alongside her father Alfred Tesserson)
  • Lilian Barton, Château Léoville Barton and Langoa-Barton (her daughter Mélanie is winemaker at another family estate, and along with brother Damien forms the next generation)
  • Céline Villars Foubet, Château Camensac
  • Aline Baly (co-owner with uncle), Château Coutet
  • Bérénice Lurton, Château Climens
  • Laure Compeyrot, Château Sigalas Rabaud (also female technical director, so joining Marquis d’Alesme and Léoville Poyferré in the 1855 rankings)
  • Laure de Pontac, Château Myrat

Cru Classé de Graves

  • Sophie Lurton at Château Bouscaut
  • Florence Cathiard at Château Smith Haut Lafitte (two daughters form the next generation, but both rather have their hands full with their own business empires…)

St-Emilion Classification

  • Pauline Vauthier, Château Ausone (also technical director alongside winemaker Philippe Baillarguet)
  • Hortense Manoncourt and Blandine de Brier-Manoncourt, Château Figeac
  • Juliette Bécot at Château Beauséjour-Bécot
  • Stéphanie de Boüard, Château Angélus (also a woman technical director at this estate)
  • Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, Château Barde Haut (also winemaker along with her husband)
  • Sylvie Cazes, Château Chauvin (also part-owner of Château Lynch Bages, and previously held roles as CEO of Château Pichon Longueville and president of Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux). Her daughter Julie is next in line at the estate.
  • Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet, Château Corbin
  • Magali Decoster, Clos des Jacobins
  • Denise Adams, Château Fonplégade (there is also a female director at this estate)
  • Emilie Faniest, Château Rochebelle (owner and winemaker)
  • Jacqueline Sioen, Château La Marzelle
  • Florence de la Filolie, Château Laniote (owner and winemaker)
  • Sylvie Pourquet-Becot, Château Grand-Pontet

Pomerol

  • Frédérique Vayron, Château Bourgneuf (owner and technical director)
  • Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, Clos L’Eglise (owner and winemaker along with her husband)
  • Denise Adams, Château L’Enclos
  • Constance Durantou, Château L’Eglise-Clinet
  • Marine Treppoz, Château de Sales (president of a family board)

Châteaux CEOs

Among the 61 1855 classified estates in the Médoc, there are two female CEOs/general managers:

  • Ariane Khaida, executive director at Mouton Rothschild (succeeding the role of Philippe Dhalluin, meaning she is also be on the board of Opus One and Almaviva)
  • Marjoliane Maurice de Coninck at Château Marquis d’Alesme
    (plus at non-classified but high profile Château Phélan-Ségur we have Véronique Dausse as CEO).

Cru Classé de Graves

  • Véronique Sanders is CEO of Haut-Bailly

St-Emilion Classifieds

  • Gwendoline Lucas, general manager at Château La Dominique
  • Martine Cazeneuve, managing director at Château Franc Mayne
  • Marie-Laure Latorre, managing director at Château Jean Faure
  • Hakima Dib, director at Château Fonplégade

Pomerol

  • Marielle Cazeaux, managing director at Château La Conseillante

At Château Dassault, Laurent Brun was long-time director until her retirement in 2019. She succeeded her father André Vergiette in 1995 and became vice president of all Dassault Wine Estates, as well as president of the Association des grands crus de St-Emilion.

Over in Pomerol, things are a little different as estates tend to be smaller, and run directly by family members. It is therefore less surprising that I don’t record a single female director, although there are numerous technical directors, which is in-line with the Californian description of a ‘lead winemaker’.

I note below, for example, that Diana Berrouet Garcia has been promoted to assistant general director across Petit-Village and Beauregard as of last month.

Technical directors

I count 20 out of more than 200 estates, but I could be missing people here. Please let me know if so.

My list would mean 10% of technical directors at these estates are women, so in fact not so very far away from the percentage in Napa cited by the Santa Clara study. The proportion is also certainly a lot higher than a decade ago.

1855 Médoc, Sauternes & Barsac estates

  • Hélène Génin, Château Latour
  • Cécile Dupuis, Château Ducru Beaucaillou (moved over in 2019 from Clos du Clocher in Pomerol)
  • Isabelle Davin, Château Léoville Poyferré (so woman owner + technical director, although this is relatively new after the retirement of owner Didier Cuvelier, who hired Davin).
  • Caroline Artaud, Château Clerc Milon
  • Anne le Naour, Château Grand Puy Ducasse
  • Christelle Spinner, Château Grand Puy Lacoste
  • Angélique Meynieu, Château Cos d’Estournel (cellar master / winemaker)
  • Virginie Salette, Château Gruaud-Larose
  • Sandrine Garbay, Château d’Yquem
  • Caroline Chevalier, Château Suduiraut
  • Marion Clauzel, Château Sigalas Rabaud (so female owner + technical director)

Cru Classé de Graves

  • Jeanne Lacombe, Château Pape Clément
  • Valérie Vialard at Latour Martillac (also the first female technical director in the Pessac-Léognan appellation back in 1987)

St-Emilion Classified

  • Emmanuelle Fulchi, Château Angélus/Château Bellevue (so female owner + technical director)
  • Carmen Onclin, Château Villemaurine
  • Sophie Mage, Château Franc Mayne
  • Penelope Godefroy, Château Le Prieuré (assuming she is remaining under new owners)

Pomerol

  • Juliette Couderc, Château L’Evangile
  • Penelope Godefroy, Château Vray Croix de Gay (assuming she is remaining under new owners)
  • Diana Berrouet Garcia, Château Petit-Village (also assistant general director across Petit-Village and Beauregard since December 2020)

Broker firms/Courtiers

Livat and I looked at the contact names given for the 76 listed firms that are included in the Syndicat de Courtiers en Vin directory.

It does not give job titles for the people listed, but going on the ones that I know, the contacts seem to be high up in the firm’s structure.

The women listed include:

  • Valérie Bernard at Bourgeais Courtage
  • Sylvie Cotreau at Emmanuel Brun brokerage
  • Marie Charron da Esperanca at MDE Courtage
  • Katia Farau at Farau Courtage
  • Marie-François Granet (independent, based in St-Emilion)
  • Anne-Marie Gibaut at Bureau Lillet
  • Sylvie Latestere (also seems to be independent)
  • Caroline Lévêque at Bureau Lévêque
  • Stephanie Robert at Bureau Ripert.

There is also Aurélia Lillet, not listed by the Syndicat contacts books, but who heads up the powerful brokerage firm Les Grands Crus alongside her brother Valentin.

This is in-line with Livat’s own experience, working in a brokerage firm in 2000.

‘I worked in the industry around 20 years ago, so things may have moved on,’ she said. ‘But at the time women were sometimes given the role of working with smaller estates, but classified Bordeaux was an entirely closed, masculine domain.’

Speaking to me by phone this week, Katia Farau said, ‘I am certainly used to being one of only a handful of women in meetings. It’s not a problem though, you just get on with it’.

Farau has been a broker for almost 20 years, working alongside her mother-in-law and husband, but as of next year will be running the company alone.

‘I am self-taught, having grown up as a winemaker’s daughter in Cognac,’ she said. ‘I used to enjoy seeing the wine brokers coming to buy our Colombard grapes for Cognac, and became interested by the role.

‘I saw my (now 97 year old) mother-in-law tasting wines when heading up the brokerage that had been started by her father, and I wanted to join.’

Farau Brokerage specialises in petits châteaux, largely on the Right Bank, an area where it is easier to get a foothold as an outsider, but she sees the path to the profession as being a little more open today.

‘When I took the exam back in the late 1990s, I had to stand in front of a panel of nine men and justify why I wanted to be a broker,’ she said.

‘Today it is at least more open, as young women wanting to be in the industry today can follow a clearly set-out pathway, are able to get traineeships across different parts of the trade, and take an exam.’

Farau is referring here to a process that was finally clarified in October 2020, after years of discussion. Brokers can now be certified only after six months of work experience in a wine company (or following specific wine studies), followed by an exam and an interview in front of a jury.

Négociant houses

There are 300 négociant houses in Bordeaux, give or take. Many are staffed with women in key export roles, and a few of the smaller ones were created by women (or husband and wife teams, such as Benoit and Valerie Calvet).

However, when it comes to the big names dealing primarily with Cru Classé estates, the diversity appears to shrink.

As far as I know, Ariane Khaida was the only woman running a major Bordeaux négociant house when she was at Duclot.

She is now at Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, and I am no longer sure that there is a woman at the top of any of the big négociant companies in Bordeaux.

I’m very happy to be wrong on this, but it underlines the story that Khaida told me herself a few years ago, of a dinner aimed at over 100 négociants, where the host opened with, ‘Good evening gentleman. Good evening Ariane’.

Consultancies

There are female consultants working throughout Bordeaux as part of teams of oenologists, but very few that are high-profile. The exceptions are:

  • Corinne Comme (biodynamic specialist);
  • Valérie Lavigne (white wine specialist and consults for many classified estates);
  • Cécile Dulimbert (also the president of the Union of Oenologists of France, southwest chapter, since 2013).

How does this stack up in terms of other minority voices?

You don’t need me to tell you that the world of wine in Bordeaux (and in France as a whole) is extremely white, so comparing the (already small) numbers above to the numbers of black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups working in these roles is almost a non-starter.

‘As with women, black and other minority wine professionals in Bordeaux have to justify and prove their worth far more than white men in the same situation,’ Livat said.

Is there a black wine professional heading up a classified Bordeaux château? You can look to Château Saint-Pierre in St Julien as having the ‘damning with faint praise’ honour here, with co-owner Orphée Amougou, son-in-law of owner Jean-Louis Triaud.

Owners, CEOs and technical directors from Japan, China, Singapore and other Asian nations are also surprisingly rare in classified estates, despite being well represented in terms of châteaux ownership across Bordeaux.

I can think of Peter Kwok at Bellefont-Belcier in St-Emilion and Toshiyuki Tanaka, president of Château Lagrange in St-Julien. Japanese firm Suntory owns Lagrange and 50% of Château Beychevelle.

Again, I would love to be missing prominent members of technical teams at classified estates in Bordeaux, so please do contact me so I can update this.

To widen the conversation, I would have to step back from the classified châteaux surveyed here, and point you towards a brilliant property in the Haut-Médoc called Domaine Saïkouk in Saint Seurin de Cadourne.

It’s run by Latifa Saïkouk, a self-taught winemaker of Moroccan descent. Saïkouk was born in the Médoc in 1977, five years after her father had moved to the area and found work as a tractor driver at Château Coufran, where he worked for 40 years.

She was mentored by neighbouring winemaker Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who rented her 2.5ha of vines which she first vinified at the local cooperative cellar in 2001. Since 2006 she’s been running her own estate.

Saïkouk was rewarded with an Ordre du Mérite Agricole in 2020 by the French Ministry of Agriculture, but provides one of a frankly shamefully-small handful of stories of diversity in this region.

I hope I can help promote a few more by working with Livat in the years to come.


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