Jeanne Marie is the Madame de Champs who created the exporting house, Domaine et Saveurs Collection, consisting of a slew of very fine estates, mostly but not exclusively in Burgundy. Through the years she has been a constant presence at tastings and stays off the radar as far as print. So, I thought it was time to change that a little.
Years ago when I wanted to visit two terrific domaines in Burgundy, Domaine Bart in Marsannay and Domaine Lafouge in Auxey, I asked David Lillie of Chambers Street Wines, who to contact. He smiled a strange smile, and said, “Ah, Jeanne Marie!” (I am still trying to get out of him what David meant.--but this just in from him. " I don't know if this is a male/female difference, but I would say that she has less "ego" involved with her selections that most. If you don't like one of her producers, OK that's not your style. How do old, skinny, balding retailers differ from young, skinny jean, beany-wearing retailers?")
Jeanne Marie de Champs, grew up with her three brothers in the farmlands of the Loire, not far from the vines of Sancerre. She studied business in Paris. She knew wine was in her future and planned for it, tasting along with Stephen Spurrier. After marrying, as it happens a Burgundian négoce, she headed down to Burgundy where she started her exporting company, Domaines et Saveurs Collection in 1994.
She never sought vigneron through a dogma but through instinct. Examples of those she worked and works with? Bernard Michelot, André Cournut, Monsieur L Gouroux, Mr Porcheret at Hospices de Beaune, Paul Pernot, Francois Lamarche, Guy Amiot, S. Pitiot, Jean Meo, R.Rapet, more recently P. Frick in Alsace. P.Savoye in Beaujolais, Piat in Bordeaux as well as the organic and biodynamic Chateau Couronneau. She learned from them all, especially having had the experience of magical tastings with J. Lardière. For Jeanne Marie, gravitates towards those who eye wine more naturally. Indicative of what she looks for is having rejected wines made according to the Accad -mania.*
Being a woman never posed any difficulties for her. From my standpoint, she has height going for her, with about a foot or more over me. Height does make a difference in the way the world perceives you. She also believes that being brought up in a male environment--three brothers, many male cousins and male colleagues--she had to be a tom boy, learn how to fight and to play with men. “If some winemakers spent time with me because I was a woman, it might be so,” she wrote to me. She also added that she was not afraid to pull on boots and go into the vines during rain. Nothing like not being afraid of the mud to demonstrate one's seriousness.
Still, she says there are international differences. “In France being a woman might be more challenging than America. China, and some countries which have not yet fully accepted women having an opinion and expressing it because of their know-how it's still an issue. But it will be changing soon. But," she added, "no matter where we are, women have to be better than good.
She admits she might have benefitted from those who came befor her. “Not too long ago a woman in a wine cellar in Burgundy was a woman on a boat. It brought bad luck. But women like Martine Saunier and Becky Wasserman have opened the doors for that change.You have now a women wine maker association on each region of France (Anne Parent, was the starting point in Burgundy). You have father who gave their responsabilities to their daughters sometimes not because they had no son, but because they believe in them ;Veronique Drouhin, Claire Naudin, Nathalie Lamarche, Elodie Michelot, CL. Jobard, B. Dubois.
Jeanne Marie leaves us with this advice: "Always taste through every wine no matter how tired you are! ” She learned this after a while back, organizing a newspaper tasting. She was so tired she didn’t taste 108. Of course that one was corked. It still bugs her. Finally, she says, "Be happy, be passionate, listen and respect the experiences of growers. This is not industrial work. Wine as a final product is like like a Lego between terroir, vineyard work, weather, decision at harvest, risk of wine-making, risk during the élevage. It’s all connected by timing.”
“Sorry Alice,” she wrote to me, “I am sure I am conventional, (no Jeanne Marie, you are not!) but we have to find a equilibrium between our work which could be day (selling/ tasting) and night,( dinner, receptions… and family) and our children. 2 jobs? That’s nothing, multi-tasking is also our woman’s nature!
** Guy Accad was a controversial consultant who worked in the late eighties and nineties and was quite the fashion at the time. As Jeanne Marie said, his system pushed ripeness, and long-cold soaks for extraction and color. "The system worked fine in warm and dry years like 1989 and 1990 but in years like 1991, it was a disaster."