I first met fellow shrimp, Jenny Lefcourt, at the Dive Bouteille in 2002. Since then I’ve traveled with her, tasted, drank and danced with her.
Above, Jenny at 2011 Dive Bouteille, trying to get some sustenance.
Jenny Lefcourt, a woman blessed with twinkly eyes, a musical giggle and positive outlook, based her wine importing business on ethic and taste, not by what she could sell, way before it was fashionable.
But back at the turn of this century, in 2000 when she was just starting, Jenny & Francois, it was after having completed her doctorate in French Film. She and Francois were living in Paris, drank and loved the wine, the people, the philosophy, so they thought, why not let other people in the states drink them too? She started to commute back and forth then returned and settled back in New York City. She slowly went from couch to office, growing one step at a time. It was as simple as that.
The wines found a thirsty home with New York City drinkers and then with the rest of the States. Thanks to her work, and Francois (who now has a lesser role in the company) we drink and know Hervé Souhaut, Olivier Cousin, Claude Courtois, Eric Pfifferling, and other wine deities who are inscribed in the firmament of natural wine super-stars.
And what about the woman thing? "When we started," Jenny reflected, "most of the buyers were men. Now, its more than half women I would say. That has been a huge shift. There are certainly more women winemakers in France than there used to be. Certainly more women importers, the first major shift was in retail and restaurants. Its a huge revolution."
When I asked Jenny what were some of stickier things for her about being a woman, she was at first reluctant. She cited certain problems were more because of being short than her sex, but then she warmed up a bit. "There's this macho think about tasting all day until you drop and then following it up with more drinking, and personally, I can't keep up," she said. "Also, some people have a physical capacity to stand in cold cellars, and drink. I don't have that capacity. Whether it's a gender or a size issue, there's this macho thing in wine tasting. There's not a place for a woman to say, "I need to go inside. I need food. I'm cold. I need to pee. (A guy can just go to the nearest tree.) I've had enough to taste. Maybe I just need to speak up more but I never felt comfortable saying I'm done! If I were a man and I was done, would it be seen in the same light? I don't know.
But, what if women dominated the winemaking scene, would the culture be different?
A cogent question from the daughter of Carol Lefcourt, a prominent, celebrated activist and woman's rights lawyer. Jenny's mom died far too young, at 47 years of age, in 1991. Having such a powerful mother, one to be proud of, was one of the strongest influences on Jenny's life. It's no wonder that Jenny grew up equipped with the skills to navigate a man's world based on the foundation of equality. "I'm very much like my mother; soft spoken with strong opinions, and I'll fight for what I believed in."
These days Jenny is juggling being a mother and running a business, more skills from mom. She's having a hard time leaving her blue-eyes Zoe behind as she makes sure we all have enough Binner and Souhaut in our glasses, but she's finding her way. " There is a boys club out there for sure. But I don’t need to be in it. If people think I'm a wimp for getting cold, or being tasted out, that's okay." She adds, even though she is hard pressed to find overt evicence of sexism, she believes wine importing is a field in which it is still important to talk about women importers. There are stillnot a whole lot of us. We have to stick together.”
A very memorable, night in the Loire with two of my favorites--and Jenny proved she can indeed keep up and stay up, when she wants to!