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Celebrating the Women of Wine with Pauline Lhote of Chandon

Posted by ABC Fine Wine & Spirits on March 6, 2019

In Sparkling Wines, Wine, California Wines

2018 was deemed by many to be the "Year of the Woman." Women spoke up. Women took office. Women excelled. So, today (and really every day) we raise a glass in celebration of women.

In the male-dominated wine industry, it is vital to highlight the achievements of women. From head winemakers to harvesters, women hold positions in all facets of winemaking with some of the biggest wine labels around the world - run by women (Campo Viejo, Ferrari-Carano and Emmolo, just to name a few). In honor of International Women's Day, we are bringing back our interview with Pauline Lhote, head winemaker at Chandon, one year later.

Pauline Lhote Chandon

Pauline Lhote was born and raised in Champagne, France. She always knew she wanted to go into the Champagne industry from a young age. She got her start with Moet & Chandon 12 years ago with a three-month internship in Napa, California. Twelve years later, Lhote is now head winemaker at Chandon.

ABC: What does it mean to be a woman in your industry?

Pauline Lhote: For me, it is creating a path for other women after me to get the same chance I had. At Chandon, we have an Early Career Winemaker Program. We selected three people from around the world. Two of the three were women. They were trained in all aspects of winemaking. My role was mentoring them to show how to gain respect as a woman in the industry and how to deal with a tough situation.

Do you find that women are eager to expand into a male-dominated industry?

Women are bringing something different to winemaking. Most women are the main buyers of wine. Women are shaping the wine industry in a good way. The industry is more open, there is more room for discussion, more room for the style you want to make. It is important to have this representation in the wine industry.

If you had one thing to say to women interested in winemaking, what advice would you give to them?

I’m a very passionate person. I knew I wanted to be a winemaker since I was 14. One thing you need for this industry is passion. It is about getting your hands dirty, learning from the bottom up, knowing the basics of the job and being with the guys in the cellars. Learn how to do things. Have that technical credibility. For this industry, go abroad, travel and get internships. Learn as much as you can with passion.

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Which women inspire you?

Madam Clicquot of Veuve Clicquot. Even though it was centuries ago, her story is beyond empowering. Most Champagne houses were run by women during the war since the men were at war. The way these women developed and ran the business is quite compelling and incredible. History has greatly inspired me in winemaking.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I have only been with Chandon for 12 years. I am now finally able to make the wine I want to see. My boss gave me the chance to explore what type of wine I wanted to make with Chandon and now I am finally seeing my initial work released. I want to continue this movement. Eventually, I would like to move back to France, but California is home for now.

How has winemaking at Chandon changed since you became head winemaker?

Winemaking is a huge collaboration with all the departments in the company. Tradition is very important. We are already making sparkling wine in the traditional Champagne method. It is not about making wine that is like Champagne. It is about creating a wine that is different from Champagne. Winemaking is about creating a wine that represents California: fresh, vibrant and easy to drink. Chandon is an affordable sparkling wine and meant for you to drink on a regular basis.

Tradition is very important to you coming from Champagne. What do you think is the most difficult or most rewarding part of marrying  tradition with modernity?

Tradition is in making the wine. But since we are in California, it is about making the best quality, modern wine that we can. Chandon is proud to be taking the lead of mixing tradition and modernity in winemaking. We are using new technology and innovation, and we have a lot more creativity in California as compared to Champagne. Chandon likes to stay current in the world of bubbles.

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What is your favorite wine to drink?

Champagne is my favorite. I love to drink a lot of bubbles and I also love a Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoy drinking French and California wine that pairs well with simple food.

Finally, what do you want people to know about Chandon?

It is a top three winery in California. They embrace the California lifestyle. It isn’t just to drink on a special occasion, it’s great for a Monday or Tuesday night. It is a fun winery to visit, with California casualness. We make wine for people to have a great time, which is the cool thing about my job.

Celebrate International Women's Day with a glass of Chandon Brut