“You do not notice changes in what is always before you.” – Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
I first reported on Burgundy’s Women and Wine organization in 2016 for Palate Press, and this year marks the twentieth anniversary of Femmes et vins de Bourgogne or FEVB.
Back in 2000, Burgundy [Bourgogne in French] enjoyed the fruits of a generation of hard labor. The roots of this exceptional vintage can be traced back to the 1980s, with a group of young winemakers such as Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, Dominique Lefon of Domaine des Comtes Lefon, and the late Patrick Bize of Domaine Simon Bize. Unlike their forebears, this new generation enrolled in wine school and chose winemaking as a career, rather than renting out their land for others to grow grapes.
They traveled abroad to learn other farming and production methods, employing what they learned when they returned to Burgundy. They eschewed chemicals, introducing organic and biodynamic farming. They upgraded equipment, and implemented marketing plans. Most importantly, this ‘band of brothers’ collaborated, something foreign in tight-lipped Burgundy. As a result, Burgundy’s reputation and visibility burgeoned.
Yet despite all these strides, many still considered winemaking a man’s domain. Against this background, a few brave women sought to emulate the collaboration they witnessed all around them, ushering in FEVB with the new millennium. Here’s a look back at its remarkable twenty-year journey.
It started small. Six women winemakers from a few family-owned estates in Bourgogne just wanted a way to connect and talk about work challenges with other vigneronnes [women winemakers].
So they did. In 2000, Anne Parent, Chantal Michel-Tortochot, Mireille Desmonet-Billard, Anne Schussler-Naudin, Véronique Desfontaine and Virginie Taupenot founded Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne (FEVB).
“This Association still exists 20 years later, with great members,” says Taupenot of Domaine Taupenot-Merme in Morey-Saint-Denis. “And with this goal: “partage, solidarité, échange” [sharing, solidarity and exchange].”
Levels of expertise vary, from established winemakers to ‘returnees’ with varying professional experiences. “We all have different professional backgrounds,” says FEVB president Nathalie Fevre of Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fevre in Fontenay-Près-Chablis. “We try to bring different and complementary ideas and responses from men to our sector of activity.”
Meetings take place four or five times a year, hosted by rotating member estates. The format remains fixed year-round. Each gathering focuses on a theme – usually technical, like corks, barrels, or an upcoming trade show. Following the lecture, members participate in a casual tasting and dinner.
Today, FEVB boasts over forty members in thirty domaines. The group portfolio comprises both red and white burgundy wines from fourteen regional appellations, 38 Villages, 47 Premiers Crus and thirteen Grands Crus. Funded entirely by annual individual subscriptions of €100 per domaine, the volunteer association has proven to be a scrappy contender against well-financed appellation unions and New World producers.
For starters, most members hail from small domaines. Typically, suppliers shy away from such tiny, less lucrative accounts. But banded together as a large group, FEVB enjoys increased purchasing power from these same suppliers.
This approach also applies at influential trade fairs such as Vinexpo, Grands Jours de Bourgogne, and Prowein. Registering as one organization rather than individual producers cuts down on fees, booth rental, and promotional material outlays. Consumers also benefit, as they gain exposure to FEVB’s broad range of wines, from Chablis to Mâcon.
Such events also present FEVB with new client and business acquisition opportunities.
“We have to be attached (all together) to promote our wines, our region, our terroir,” says Fevre. “We are no longer in an individualistic era…even if our region is unique, we have to continue to promote it. Solidarity – Sharing – Respect – Friendliness and good humor. We are never alone! And it’s very, very important.”
Twenty years on, FEVB remains true to these tenets, with one key addition: educating the next generation of wine consumers. To that end, FEVB teaches wine appreciation, and food and wine pairing courses through the Burgundy School of Wine and Spirits (SWSB) in Dijon and its Burgundy School of Business (BSB) which offers wine economics and wine management teaching and research programs.
Virginie Taupenot and Rosemarie Ponsot of FEVB teach within the SWSB programs as grands témoins,” or invited speakers. “Burgundy has an image of very expensive wines,” says former FEVB president Taupenot, “talking always about the Premier Crus and Grand Crus, [but] 55% of the production is regional appellation wines, so it’s important to give this message, too.”
During the presentations, the speakers also stress moderation in wine consumption for the students. “As women, we have an important educational role to play with young people,” says Fevre. “It’s very important to educate them because these young people represent our customers for tomorrow.”
“My goal when I was president of FEVB was to be more oriented to education,” says Taupenot. “If no one explains, especially us, who will do it?” She even invited primary school students from her village to the domaine during harvesting. “I remember those kids at 6 years old…they loved to drink grape juice from the tank!”
“The wine world is very traditional and masculine,“ says Dr. Jerome Gallo, Director of Burgundy School of Wine and Spirits. “Our cooperation with the FEVB allows us to open students to other dimensions of the wine world, both on the production and consumption sides.”
Dr. Gallo also believes in the power of collaborative education. “Experience shows that women in wine are, on average, more sensitive to environmental issues or corporate social responsibility in the wine industry,” says Gallo. “From this point of view, I believe that our collaboration allows us to better prepare our students for the evolutions in progress in the industry. I think it is a great added value for all the students.”
For today’s students, the world also looks very different from that of 2000. Challenges now include pandemics, global warming, and social movements. “The winemaking world is a sphere filled with people who are passionate about their job,” concludes FEVB president Nathalie Fevre. “And with each passing year, they strive to succeed as best as possible with each new vintage.” Expect FEVB to face current and future obstacles as they do each harvest – with pragmatism, solidarity, and hope.