Anne Malassagne, the « women empowerment » in the Champagne region

Nov 2, 2020 • 4 mins

You’d expect her to be quite reserved, but she is not at all. We have only just exchanged a few words and the energy is already apparent… luminous and radiant!

When you ask Anne Malassagne (at the helm of A.R Lenoble Champagne House for over 25 years) who she is, she describes herself first and foremost as a woman, a mother and a wine producer.

This week, she agreed to talk exclusively to Grappers about the nobility of her profession and the challenges she has faced. An intelligent conversation, refreshingly free of waffle, full of insights and philosophy. 

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing

She had never imagined that one day she would step down from her executive position at L'Oréal and the profession she had chosen for herself. Yet when her father fell ill and toyed with the idea of selling the Domaine, this senior manager followed her heart. The choice was not a completely rational one, it was more driven by a gut instinct to keep the ancestral lands in the family.

Originally, my father was a winegrower. Then, he became a doctor out of necessity because of the severe frosts that wiped out all the crops in the 1950s. My fondest memories of him are our walks together in the vineyards. During these special moments, he would describe each of the plots, have me taste the grapes and examine the leaves in order to pass on his knowledge and his passion through experience and communication. This is by far the most effective form of learning for someone starting out in the profession
Anne Malassagne
A.R Lenoble Champagne House

Overcoming challenges

In 1993, at barely 28 years of age, she took over the management of the Domaine on her own, before her brother Benoît joined her a few years later. Anne rolled up her sleeves, observed, analysed and built a strategic vision to put the Champagne House back on track.

My father didn't really promote the outstanding qualities of our vineyards. Nor did he put the "Grand Cru" statement on his labels, thinking that "Blanc de Blancs" was enough on its own. As soon as I joined the Champagne House, I set about working our land, plot by plot, to create champagnes made exclusively from these great terroirs. At the time, this very Burgundian approach came to me spontaneously because it was directly inspired by the conversations I’d had with him. As time went on, I realised that it was still very avant-garde for the Champagne region!
Anne Malassagne
CEO at A.R Lenoble Champagne House

Women empowerment

Thrust overnight into the world of wine, a conservative milieu, she found herself having to prove herself and show what she was made of in order to be taken seriously. "I have to admit that it hasn't been an easy ride. A young woman, with no university-level wine training, had no credibility. For years I had to fight to gain legitimacy while learning my craft. It took humility, listening, patience, resilience, and an awful lot of hard work to learn on the job in a somewhat unsupportive environment". Her experience at L'Oréal proved to be invaluable. Her former career had taught her about rigour, work discipline and the power of teamwork. This formidable school enabled her to gradually turn the Domaine around at a time when it was facing major financial difficulties.

Mentoring other women

Five years ago, when she realised that she had already covered a large part of her roadmap, Anne felt the need to take her leadership career in a new direction. She therefore decided to co-create the Transmission group with Margareth Henriquez (President of the Krug Champagne House and Estates & Wines). This is an association of 9 female directors, owners or cellar masters in the Champagne region who are keen to share their experience, their values and above all their vision for champagne with other women. Their philosophy can be summed up in a few words: a simpler, more spontaneous and casual consumption of champagne, a terroir wine.

Le Champagne, a wine for indulgence

"Champagne has been a wine for celebrations ever seen it was used at the baptism of Clovis in Reims in the 5th century. But the world is changing and we must evolve the way we consume Champagne to take it out of a purely festive symbolism and to position it as experiential. This will first be achieved by replacing the narrow champagne flute with a wide, tulip-shaped type glass, such as a white wine glass. Served in this glass, the aromas come through and the champagne reveals its qualities to the full. It is no longer confined to being just a party fizz, it becomes a fine champagne wine to be enjoyed whenever you feel like treating yourself. It can be enjoyed quite simply after a long day at work or as an aperitif with some lovely artisanal bread and a platter of matured cheeses. Whenever you feel like relaxing, kicking back and creating a moment of simple pleasure, I think you should no longer think twice about cracking open a bottle of Champagne!” 

Stay focused on your priorities

Taking time, a central value, a question of balance in the life of the senior manager who spends her time between Reims and Paris, where she lives with her two children.

Champagne is a wine that offers us a timeless moment of enjoyment. I'm not very comfortable in this society of zapping, instantaneity and superficiality. I like the silence of the cellar and the impression of time standing still. I feel the power of the present moment and make sure I capture it so that life doesn't slip by me too quickly. I like to take time doing things as this encourages reflection or even meditation. I like the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of our wines’ ageing process. Observing the land, the flowers, the grapes, the wine and, many years later, appreciating the Champagne derived from them. It is a privilege that this profession affords me because it allows you to take a break from your hectic life
Anne Malassagne
A.R Lenoble Champagne House

I don't know about you, but we are completely under the charm of Anne Malassagne, this "game-changer" with an extraordinary career who is today shaping the face of the Champagne landscape. Here’s to her!

Article written as part of an educational project of the Wine Journalism University Diploma of the Georges Chappaz Institute - University of Reims