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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

In The World Of Bubbles, Séverine Frerson Dares To Be An Anemone – Unique & Enchanting


Séverine Frerson

Of all the wine regions, Champagne is, by far, the one whose historical narrative has been the most significantly shaped by the remarkable accomplishments of extraordinary women breaking the proverbial glass ceiling and defying expectations.

Successful women are thankfully not missing from Champagne’s history textbooks and are still written about and remembered today. But the stories of these pioneering female daredevils are not just something of the past. More fascinating tales are being authored today by an invigorating new wave of women, all breaking new grounds and crafting their own unique sparkling identities.

There’s never been a more exciting time in Champagne then now, and most of the excitement is coming from a handful of inspiring female movers and shakers who are keeping things hopping and popping!

Among these bold and unstoppable personalities adding new dimensions and dynamics to the Champagne scene, is Séverine Frerson.

Séverine Frerson

Inveterately Champenoise, the Sillery native began her affair with champagne, early on, during her childhood, in the vineyards. Fifteen is the exact age Frerson remembers she decided she wanted to become an oenologist - a rendez vous with destiny that would set off a fascinating chain of events that culminated with her arrival at Perrier-Jouët in 2018.

There, she spent two years working alongside renowned chef de cave Hervé Deschamps, collaborating notably on the 2013 Perrier-Jouët vintage. 2020 marked the year her career zoomed into orbit when she became the first woman to be named cellar master at Perrier-Jouët, a history making appointment by the champagne house. Yet if this was a historic first for the Epernay based Champagne House, for Frerson it cemented the accomplishment of a second milestone having previously earned the title of first female Chef de Cave at Piper-Heidsieck.

Stepping into her new role as the 8th cellar master, in October of 2020, Frerson was officially presented as the successor to Deschamps who, as protocol dictates, handed over the coveted keys to Perrier Jouët’s crown jewel, Eden, the historic cellar boasting the house’s limited vintage cuvées as well as the precious notebooks comporting old commentaries and observations of all predecessors.

Belle Epoque - Perrier-Jouët

Frerson’s ascent to Chef de Cave at Perrier-Jouët was fitting for this Champagne House co-founded by a woman 213 years ago. If Deschamps successfully passed the torch, the flame Frerson continues to carry is the one initially ignited by Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, one half of the Perrier-Jouët pair.

In 1811, the Year of the Comet, the nonconformist avant-garde, Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, together with her husband Pierre-Nicolas Perrier, launched Champagne Perrier-Jouët into orbit.

Combining their shared passion for nature, art and champagne, the young duo quickly aligned themselves with the transformative and innovative artistic movement known as Art Nouveaux that pervaded the late 19th Century. Drawn to the aesthetics of Art Nouveau harmonizing intricate designs with nature inspired motifs, the desire to “reinvent nature to re-enchant everyday” intuitively became their credo.

Today, Frerson continues to perpetuate the distinctive signature floral style that has become synonymous with the name Perrier-Jouët and to honor the core values embedded in the emblematic anemone motif adorning every bottle of the house’s world renown Belle Epoque and the (newly released) Anemone Collection vintage cuvée.

The symbolic Japanese flower – evoking the perfect symbiosis between art and nature – is to Perrier-Jouët what the Prancing Horse is Ferrari, a seal of quality, incomparable finesse and elegance.

Perrier-Jouët Vines

The allure and ethos of the founders has permeated the culture of the house one generation after the next leading to Frerson’s arrival onto the scene who embodies and reinforces the paradigm.

If the looming threat of climate change is slowly but surely bringing about seismic changes to the Champagne region, for Frerson it is inspiring remarkable resilience. Engaged with the environment, Frerson has already initiated the gradual transition toward environmental sustainability reducing the house’s carbon footprint and moving Champagne forward.

And just like the women who came before her, Frerson continues to inculcate the spirit of female leadership, and is now, also, in her own right, paving the way for future generations.

I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Séverine Frerson - a unique chance to go behind the scenes and see how the impassioned Chef de Cave is executing her vision for Maison Perrier-Jouët and the Champagne region.

You’re a native Champenoise (born in Sillery) but do not come from a family of winegrowers. What was the impetus that inspired your Champagne journey?

Even if I do not come from a family of winegrowers or winemakers, I was born and raised in Champagne and my passion for wine was formed at an early age. My parents’ close friends had a vineyard and use to watch over me on Wednesdays. Every time they were going to the vineyards, I would try to accompany them. I remember playing between the rows of vines when visiting my parents’ friend who owned a vineyard and produced their own champagne.

There was something about this place, the unique sensations and feelings provoked by the natural environment; the touch of the leaves, the smell of the must during alcoholic fermentation, that became my Madeleine de Proust. So when I had to make a career choice at the end of high school, I instinctively went into oenology in Reims.

In October of 2020 you became Perrier-Jouët’s eighth cellar master and first woman to ever hold that role in the house’s 200+ year-old history. Was it at all a challenging responsibility for you? Did you feel any pressure?

When one becomes the Cellar Master of a House like Perrier-Jouët, one’s mission is to stay faithful to the style of the House while also bring something new, a personal touch.

It was, for me, an honor to join the house. I believe that I was chosen for my skills and not because of my gender.

It is of course always a challenge to transmit the values of a House with such an history in the wine world but at the same time also bring my creative input and my own history in it. But in the end, it is exactly what makes this job so fascinating.

What is it about the history and/or raison d’être of Perrier-Jouët that made you want to join the Maison?

When I joined the House in 2018, I spent two years with my predecessor Hervé Deschamps who transmitted to me all the knowledge about Perrier-Jouët. The desire for new challenges and new encounters, as well as the pride of being part of a winegrowing house with that much history were what motivated me.

I also found myself aligned with the admiration of nature of our founders and their aspiration to reenchant the everyday through this special combination of Art and Nature. This creative freedom through an observation of nature is what inspired me and still inspires me every day.

Chardonnay is the House’s badge of honor. What are your favorite qualities of chardonnay?

Chardonnay is indeed our signature grape variety. In 1911, Chardonnay was identified by Perrier-Jouët founders, especially from Côte des Blancs. Even if it was the most difficult variety to grow in Champagne, meaning it was little used at the time, they decided to opt for boldness in favor of the floral notes and intricacy that this variety brings to our champagnes. Chardonnay is also the strongest grape variety to resist climate change and heat waves during summer. Our cuvées are characterized by this finesse and elegance, and this is thanks to this wonderful Chardonnay.

How important is the notion of terroir and how does it affect the champagnes you elaborate?

We only take what nature gives us and the terroir is our purest raw material. Understanding the terroir and its needs, its weaknesses and vulnerabilities facing opposite weather conditions is necessary. It was instilled by our founders and notably their son Charles Perrier, who studied the illness of vines (De la maladie de la vigne) at an early stage.

It is fundamental to acknowledge that winegrowers have a symbiotic relationship with nature and that without this delicate exchange taking place, we cannot make wine. Depending on the nature of the grapes chosen, the village from which they come from, the blending that is created: one champagne will be entirely different from one other. Letting this conversation take place is what allows us to preserve this consistency in the Perrier-Jouët style and select the crus that will best express the intricate floral style of the House.

How would you describe your winemaking philosophy?

My winemaking philosophy is to work with the purest wines as possible so that those will respect and align with the terroir expression and remain in symbiosis with nature. To do so, I don’t want any oenological intrant for Perrier-Jouët wines, nature being the master of it all.

Of all the Cuvées you craft, which one would you say has most significantly shape your understanding of the house and why?

The cuvée that has more shaped my understanding of the Perrier-Jouët House is all the work done around cuvée Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blanc. This latter is created using only Chardonnay, the signature grape variety of the House. Working with this grape variety allow me to respect and project all the work done by my predecessors.

Belle Époque is Perrier-Jouët emblematic prestige cuvée. How would you characterize it? Is it, in your opinion, the one champagne that expresses the house’s essence to the fullest?

The Belle Epoque creations are symbols of the harmony I am looking for in my creations. It is a prestigious cuvée, rare and elegant, anchored into the history of the House since 1964. For Belle Epoque, Pinot Noir grapes are selected on the Montagne de Reims characterized by chalky soils and bring a finesse perfectly enhancing the floral structure of this wine given by the Chardonnay signature.

It is indeed an incarnation of the savoir-faire and the art of blending of the House, that will reveal nuances of white flowers and white-fleshed fruits. Belle Epoque brut is an icon maintaining its style as it ages and the silky texture characterizing it makes it a unique wine.

Emile Gallé, one of the pioneers of the Art Nouveau movement, created the iconic design for Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque. What has made the emblematic Japanese anemone flower such a symbolic element of the Maison?

The Japanese anemone flower was born in the 20th century, through an encounter between Octave Gallice and the Art Nouveau artist Emile Gallé. Both reunited under a passion for the creations of nature, Emile Gallé created the anemone to embellish magnums. It was one of the first demonstrations of the House’s relationship with art.

For almost half a century, those special magnums were cellared. Those were resurfaced in the 1960’s and the anemone was then used to decorate the Belle Epoque Cuvée, paying homage to this iconic flower symbol of our ancestors’ passion for Art & Nature. This anemone flower has remained in the House’s DNA and we really want to sustain this artistic heritage for the 21st century and convey its perception of nature.

As climate changes, how is Perrier-Jouët producing wine in a more sustainable manner? What is the greatest challenge facing Perrier-Jouët today in this “green Champagne” movement?

The founders of Maison Perrier-Jouët were known for their progressive ideas on viticulture and vineyard management. It is thus in our DNA to respect nature and sublimate it, with the utmost respect.

My biggest goal as the 8th Perrier-Jouët Cellar Master is to foster major initiatives in sustainable viticulture and the biggest challenge is to always adapt to ensure the style of the House: it means adaptation of our viticultural practices, of our harvest practices...

That is why we have implemented this program on regenerative viticulture with the objective to preserve the fragile ecosystem of our vineyards and enhance the biodiversity contributing to its smooth running. Our vineyards are 100% certified Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne and HEV, but with this project we aim to go further into preserving biodiversity. Other initiatives, for instance on transportation, on packaging (with the new Ecobox) or CO2 capturing during fermentations have been put in place.

Perrier-Jouët has not only a connection with nature but also with art. Can you elaborate on that unique bond and the role Maison Belle Epoque plays?

Since the House was founded, a clear relationship between Perrier-Jouët and the artistic circles of Paris has existed, notably with Art Nouveau, as we discussed earlier through the relationship with Emile Gallé.

This bond can indeed also be witnessed through our Maison Belle Epoque, symbolizing a testament of how art has brought a fresh perspective to the world, during a time of profound transformation. It was built during the 19th century, and it holds the most important French Art Nouveau private collection in Europe. This House embodies the Perrier-Jouët spirit: nature, art and wines in one harmonic place and the artistic collaborations continue today to preserve this spirit, as illustrated by the collaboration made with Design Miami & Art Basel since 2012.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind for Perrier-Jouët and Champagne?

I want to leave to Perrier-Jouët a legacy of respect for terroir and nature. To be able to prove to future generations the positive impact of regenerative viticulture, the establishment of biodiversity, net zero carbon and packaging via our exemplary ecobox for waste recyclability. I also want to leave Perrier-Jouët with exemplary wines, enchanting since the creation of the house in 1811 to the very end of my blends. The power of time is so majestic!

For Champagne region, I would like to leave a strong Champagne, ready to meet any climatic or social challenge, and to preserve the unique know-how that goes into making champagnes!

What is your most memorable champagne moment?

One of my most memorable memories is probably the transmission night with Hervé Deschamps, the 7th Cellar Master. It was a deeply emotional moment, marking the end of the transmission passing period.

Another of my best tasting memory is when I tasted a Perrier-Jouët flask from 1874, it was at the House Belle Epoque together with the purchaser at a Christies sale in 2021. It is a fragrance and some flavors that will remain forever etched in my memory.

What is the one question you wish I had asked you and did not, and why?

The interview was very complete, and I wanted to thank you for that. I would love to also mention our latest Belle Epoque release, Belle Epoque 2015. This new cuvée is emblematic of the continuity we are looking for at Perrier-Jouët, with a floral and elegant Belle Epoque Cuvée. It is a majestic creation with a first nose full of aromas of white flowers, as linden and hawthorn, and fruity notes that expand then on the palate with a delicate texture and even more note of flowers, fruits and spices.

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Photos courtesy of Champagne Perrier-Jouët.


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