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From Sustainable Champagne to an Unprecedented 100-Pointer: The Best Wines Right Now

Women take the lead at top wineries, and the most noteworthy Champagne, Pinot Noir and Burgundy that we tasted this year.

BOTB, Wine Shout

The Big Idea: Women at the Helm

A fresh generation of brilliant women are steering the wine industry, from small houses to the world’s most respected estates. This past year especially has seen exciting young, new executives and wine-makers taking the lead.

In Bordeaux, Saskia de Rothschild has become the first female chair of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), with eight industry-leading properties on three continents. At 34, she’s the youngest person now heading up a Grand Cru Bordeaux estate (you might have heard of it: Château Lafite Rothschild). She’s already making changes, such as farming completely organically this year for the first time. She’s also dusting off age-old practices for the Bordeaux region, shifting the 2019 en primeur tasting to a virtual one for select critics and buyers, but also using her background as a journalist to bring the region to life via social media and broaden the audience for the region’s wines.

When she first arrived at DBR, no women sat on the board or led any of the domaines. Now two do: the winemaker at Château l’Évangile and a head of R&D. Rothschild says, “This hasn’t been done consciously as positive discrimination. It happened because these women had the best profiles for these positions. It’s a sign of general change in the industry that we now have equal talent in both genders.”

Also in France, Vitalie Taittinger has taken over as president of the venerable Champagne Taittinger. Like Rothschild, she has been pushing for greater sustainability and organic farming, to great success. In California, Remi Cohen has been named CEO of Domaine Carneros, Taittinger’s West Coast sparkling-wine powerhouse.

That over half of the Domaine Carneros management team are women might make it seem like an incubator for a unique “female management style.” But Cohen pushes back on that question. “Some believe that women may be more empathetic. But that isn’t something I think about. Plenty of men have those characteristics, and many women don’t. What’s most important is a diverse leadership and team. Studies have shown that companies with people of diverse backgrounds tend to perform better and attract a broader customer base.”

In Sonoma, Hélène Seillan is now the leading hand on the ground for Vérité, having worked with her father, Pierre Seillan, who oversees Vérité as well as Château Lassègue in Saint-Émilion and Arcanum in Tuscany. At smaller estates around Napa and Sonoma, assistant winemakers are filling the pipelines for the future, and others are coming into their own, such as Laura Díaz Muñoz, at Ehlers Estate, who has forged a beautiful bottle of a varietal rarely experienced on its own, Petit Verdot. A certain willingness toward adaptation characterizes this new generation, and already the wines are better for it.

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