“I wanted to create both a community of women winemakers and serve as an inspiration to young women wanting to enter the field.” – Pascale Rivière
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is France’s largest wine producing region and vineyard area, with roughly one-third of all French wines produced here. It is home to more than 2,000 wine producers, 80 co-ops and 450 private winemakers. Seventy-six percent of the wines produced in the Languedoc are red blends, mostly consisting of varying percentages of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. Rosé and white wines as well as sweet and sparkling wines round out the diversity of styles found here. In fact, the region produces the highest volume of rosé wines in France.
The Languedoc is most easily understood as a three-tier pyramid with the Crus appellations at the peak, Grand Vins in the middle (the majority of Languedoc AOC will be found here) and Regional AOP wines at the base. The six geographical regions of appellations can generally be broken down as the Black Mountains, the Cevennes, the Coast, the South and the West, and the IGP Sud de France. The appellations include 23 AOP with one regional appellation, 10 sub-regional appellations, five communale (village) appellations, four sweet wine appellations, and three sparkling wine appellations. The IGP includes 19 denominations from heritage sites to departmental IGP denominations.
But what you won’t learn about the Languedoc by reading a wine atlas or regional guide, is that it is also the home of one of the more unique wine routes in the world – La Route des Vinifilles. This wine route featuring all female winemakers encompasses 25 appellations and includes 20 vigneronnes. It was founded in 2009 by Pascale Rivière, the owner and vigneronne at La Jasse Castel, to “develop a supportive network amongst women winegrowers” and to “preserve, conserve and defend the lands, countryside and environment.”
Founder Madame Rivière is a former teacher and wine journalist whose passion for wine led to a third career in viticulture and winemaking. She is a one-woman show, growing her own grapes and making her own wines. She enlists the help of locals – volunteers, of any age, with a passion to learn. And her passion, it’s contagious. Her style is adventurous and experimental. She listens to the vines and the grapes, more than rules and convention, and her wines reflect her domain and personality – vibrant and exciting.
Also, producing terroir driven wines from the sparkling end of the spectrum, and one of the first members of the Vinifilles, is Françoise Antech Gazeau of Maison Antech. She is a sixth-generation winemaker in the Limoux region of Languedoc producing Crémant de Limoux, Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale and Blanquette de Limoux. After meeting and tasting with these two dynamic and successful winemakers, their passion, commitment and joy for the work was at once inspiring and refreshing. They embody the group’s motto, “a feminine force of joyously, irreverent women winegrowers.”
As we close on women’s history month, and at a time everyone could use a little inspiration, the two dynamic and gregarious Vinifilles shared their thoughts and stories with The Vintner Project.
Kristy Wenz (KW): How would you define a Vinifilles?
Pascale Rivière: A Vinifilles is a woman who lives in gratitude for her job, which for her is a real passion. Vinifilles create great wines, with real research and expertise, and want to share her knowledge with anyone interested in the same. She wants to safeguard French culture around gastronomy, wine, hospitality, celebration and Languedoc Roussillon. And a Vinifilles is also a daughter, a wife, a mother, a lover, a business girl and a peasant. She comes in many forms, but at her heart is passion.
KW: What inspired you to create the Vinifilles organization in 2009?
Pascale: I was inspired by this strength you can have as a group. You are much more efficient. The job of a vigneronne is quiet and solitary, and sometimes you need to have friends willing to share the same knowledge but from a different point of view. This opens you to many new possibilities.
Ten years ago, it was always the men who spoke about wines. When a girl was going to the vineyard or took to a tractor, the men made fun of her; and for business during international exhibitions, buyers wanted to deal with a man. On a domaine, it was often a man who decided about the investments. These factors, along with the hearing about the Vigne Rhone and the Femmes de Vin who already existed in other regions, inspired me to create something for Languedoc. I wanted to create both a community of women winemakers and serve as an inspiration to young women wanting to enter the field.
KW: Was it always designed to be a tourism wine route? Or has that developed as the organization grew?
Pascale: The Vinifilles began as a solidarity group with the idea of tourism developing naturally. The wine route permits us to recommend a complete route in Languedoc with great wines, wonderful and diversified landscape, and of course, the opportunity to meet original, lovely, and clever women winemakers – 20 living dreams!
KW: What do you enjoy most about being a part of the organization?
Françoise Antech Gazeau: They eat a lot, they drink a lot, they laugh a lot: what else? More seriously, the Vinifilles have become a second family for me, you know, the family you choose. They are like a bucolic bunch of flowers, all different, but altogether the view is beautiful. They are very good winemakers, but above all are incredible women – reliable, straight-forward, creative and fun. Time spent with them always leaves me feeling lighter.
KW: How has it helped you as a winemaker and business professional?
Françoise: We have very straightforward and constructive discussions about our jobs, our philosophy, our agricultural skills. We try to share as much as we can about our experiences and whenever possible we also try to help each other in the vineyard, with winemaking and sales.
KW: How often do you meet? And how does the organization help its members?
Pascale: We meet about eight or 10 times a year to make decisions, but we also meet much more often to have fun. We help each other by giving advice, sharing our networks, as well as sharing grapes or wines if one of us has problems during her harvest or vinification.
KW: Yes, Françoise recently recounted a story to me about a member of the Vinifilles that lost many of her vines as a result of weather. Françoise, can you tell me more about this and how the group came together to help?
Françoise: Fabienne from Mas Bruguière in Pic Saint Loup had her vineyard devastated by a hailstorm three years ago. She had no grapes at all and could not open her cellar. All the Vinifilles offered some hectoliters of their production to Fabienne who was then able to create the best assemblage from chardonnay from Limoux, grenache from Nîmes, syrah from Roussillon, and carignan from Saint Chinian.
KW: What is one of your favorite experiences as a member of the Vinifilles?
Françoise: Drinking gin tonic. Ha! Truly though, every moment we spend together is nice. We do things together we couldn’t do on our own. For example, we published an incredible book with 18 Michelin star chefs, “Les Vinifilles dans les Étoiles,” which features 18 Chefs and 18 Vinifilles that have chosen a Cuvée to pair with a special recipe from our region.
KW: Pascale, same question for you, what has been the most impactful experience you have had as a member of the Vinifilles?
Pascale: I would say what inspires me most, is receiving young women, and men, who dare to embark on this exciting job, and after meeting or working with me, they feel that if I can do it, they can do it too.
KW: Have there been things or experiences you never expected as a result of forming the organization?
Pascale: On the one hand, being insulted on Facebook about the organization for women, but on the other hand, receiving the “Légion d’honneur” for her work in wine from the Delegate for Women’s Rights & Equality from the French government in the Languedoc region.
KW: And any unexpected challenges?
Pascale: Each day of my life, but this is the only career I have had that I have no desire to change.
KW: And finally, what advice do you have for women winemakers around the world?
Françoise: The wine world is just the best world ever because most of the time spent working, you don’t feel like it’s work; rather it’s more an opportunity to enjoy life by eating, drinking and having fun. My advice would be to make as many contacts as possible with other winemaker’s, male or female, and to share with them. I would also recommend traveling and tasting a vast amount of different wines – it will open your horizons and make you a better winemaker.
KW: Pascale, same question for you, any advice for women winemakers around the world?
Pascale: Live your life as you really want to do it and dare to do so according to your feelings. And a piece of advice once shared with me, “We both have two lives and the second starts when we realize we only have one.”