Born and raised in Champagne, at just 32 years old, Alice Tétienne has already worked at some of the top Champagne houses. Her resume includes names like Krug, Nicolas Feuillatte, and Champagne Henriot, where she is currently the cellar master — a title obtained in 2020.
The wine business doesn’t always showcase women in leadership, but Champagne Henriot defies this trope. The brand’s strong female focus dates back to 1808, when Apolline Henriot founded the Champagne house. Today, Henriot is one of the very few independent and family-owned Champagne houses left in France.
Tétienne’s link to Champagne Henriot goes deeper than her current role there; her grandmother having once owned a vineyard in the Champagne region close to Apolline Henriot’s vineyards, it seems as though Tétienne’s destiny was to land here.
Tétienne spoke to VinePair about growing up in Champagne, her love for winemaking, and why we need to shine a brighter light on the women in this industry.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
I am very young, and young in the industry, too. I was born in the Champagne area and grew up there, so I knew I would work in this region. It is part of me. I studied intrapreneurship in Burgundy, then worked in various regions in the French vineyards, and officially joined the industry in 2015. I worked in the house of Nicolas Feuillatte and then the house of Krug, where I stayed for five years before joining Champagne Henriot.
2. What is it about Champagne that really stood out to you?
It is part of my region, so it is natural to be part of this industry. You always know somebody will work in the houses of Champagne, whether it be in marketing or finance, or the technical areas. This industry is a big part of the business in our region. I was curious about it and decided to focus on this industry. When I was very young, I had my feet on the ground in the vineyard, so it was normal for me. I was also passionate about viticulture. Before winemaking, my passion was viticulture. But when you work the vine and think [about] grapes, the only way to understand why you do something in terms of quality and what the impact on the quality is, is through winemaking itself. That is because when you obtain wine, you’re really in the capacity to know if what you do is good or not in the vineyard. That’s why I decided to become a winemaker.
It was evident for me to be a winemaker in the Champagne area and work on the products of Champagne because it’s fascinating. It’s a very interesting region because you have a lot of people who work together to obtain the same product with the same quality. The Champagne area is a very ambitious industry and region. We have a lot of objectives in terms of image and in terms of quality. The collective mindset is unique in France in terms of vineyards. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to work in this part of the French vineyards. I really enjoy the other vineyards, they are fantastic, but for me personally, I wanted to work for a collective. When you know people here, when you understand the way we work and the way we function, you want to be part of it.
3. What has it been like for you as a woman working in a business that is still predominantly run by men? Are there certain challenges you had to face while advancing in your career?
In the Champagne region, it is different because you have a history where women are very important. Some houses of Champagne were founded by women. During the period of war, men were fighting and not available for the houses of Champagne, but women were and gave continuity to the houses. There is respect for women because it is part of our story more than in other regions. We have a lot of women who work in the industry, but they are not in the lights. We don’t talk about women historically because women don’t always need to be in the light. I think we are more humble. But we always had women in our industry. In the tasting committee, for example, we had one man who was the boss, but a woman was always the second person on the team.
It is not that we don’t have women in the industry, it is just that we don’t talk enough about them. But they are here.
4. Champagne Henriot has a strong female background. What’s that been like for you working with them?
There are a lot of women, but it depends on the type of work. In a house of Champagne, there are women, but when you are in the vineyards and in the vines, there are more men. It depends on what you do. For example, in my job, I’m in charge of the vineyards, the winemaking, and the relationship with the growers. If we talk about winemaking, yes, there are women, but when we talk about the vineyard, there are usually no women. It is more manual work, so historically, men have been working there. But in winemaking, you have other jobs that are less manual and deal with analyzing and tasting, and more women tend to work in those areas. However, in my role, I’m in the vineyards more than anywhere else, so I’m working with more men than women every day.
5. As you said, we don’t always talk about the women in the industry. What are your thoughts on how we can help women shine?
Women are at the top of a team — and not only within the wine industry. We have to accept the place of women in the workplace.
We also have to accept the choices of women. I had a baby five months ago. My boss at Champagne Henriot had a lot of respect for me and my choice to have a child. I decided to work up until I had my baby, and it was respected. That’s not the case for everybody. The industry needs to respect the choices and desires of every woman. Every day is easy for me because everyone is kind. In our houses of Champagne, we have respect and try to have parity. We don’t want to have parity just for the number, but because we think it is important to have a diversity of people. Diversity helps permit new ideas every day.
6. What inspires you when it comes to working with Champagne?
Champagne is a symbol, and we continue to make it shine around the world. It allows people to share something together when we have a glass of Champagne. It is generally enjoyed for a moment of pleasure, and that is part of my everyday. I work to give pleasure to people and to shine a light on our region. We know the Champagne area, the small villages, and the people. I really enjoy that, and I think it’s very inspiring.
7. Are there any female winemakers that you looked up to while working toward your career?
I’m very close to the other women who hold the same job title as me. We are a small team. Five women are cellar masters here, and I am in contact with each. We have a collective way to do things in the Champagne area, so we meet every cellar master and naturally meet other women. One woman I really admire is Caroline Latrive, who was the cellar master of Champagne Ayala. At one point, she was working two jobs and at the top of two really wonderful houses of Champagne. That is something beautiful and inspiring for all women.