Séverine Frerson On How She Thrives In The Workplace
Maison Perrier-Jouët’s first female Cellar Master talks memories, spontaneity and having the audacity to try.
Cellar Master Séverine Frerson
For hundreds of years, the wine-making industry has been dominated by men. In the 18th century, “honourable women” weren’t allowed to drink wine, or even uncork a bottle, let alone serve it – a synonym of absolute impropriety. And, up until the 1970s, women weren’t allowed to step inside a wine cellar because it was thought if they were menstruating, they would ruin the wine and turn it into vinegar. The 1970s, people.


Not so for Maison Perrier-Jouët – one of France’s most distinctive and historic champagne houses. Founded in Epernay in 1811 by Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and his wife Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, it has never favoured conformity, not least because Jouët took a very active role in cultivating the wine from vine to bottle. And, more recently, chef de cave Séverine Frerson became the first female to assume the honoured position of Cellar Master throughout Perrier-Jouët’s storied history.


“The world of wine is rather masculine, but it is above all a profession of passion,” Frerson said in an interview. “The history of Perrier-Jouët is actually profoundly marked by the influence of Rose-Adélaïde Jouët – she was a woman of character and determination and a great source of inspiration for me.”


We asked Frerson to finish our sentences on everything from her top productivity tip to her favourite business advice. Here’s what she had to say…


My career began… Very early on actually! I was born and raised in Champagne, but I don’t come from a family of winemakers or winegrowers. However, I remember visiting my parents’ friends who owned a vineyard. I used to spend days playing outside in the vineyard, and I have strong sensorial memories: the touch of the leaves and the soil, the taste of the freshly pressed grapes, the smell of the cellars and the must during the alcoholic fermentations…  When I graduated high school and had to choose a career path, I decided to study oenology. I graduated with a National Diploma in Oenology from the University of Reims in 2001. Today, I am very proud to be the eighth Cellar Master at Perrier-Jouët since 1811.


I start each workday by… having breakfast with my two daughters. This family moment is a great way to start the day.


I finish each day by… giving myself a quiet, almost meditative moment with a good book.


At work, I couldn’t function without… a tasting. For me, not a day goes by without one. I always need to work my senses.


My top productivity tip is… to be spontaneous. When you work in a House that is so historic in the wine world, it’s a challenge to follow the values, while bringing my personal history, touch and expertise. Managing to remain creative while respecting the brand’s very strong and deep-rooted values is like daily gymnastics that makes my job even more exciting.


My greatest strength is… my sense of smell. For as long as I can remember, I have always been very sensitive to smells. I pay a lot of intention to them, and have so many memories linked to them.


I would describe my leadership style as… Convivial and collaborative. I like to see us as a team of passionate experts. Each has a crucial role to play to create great Champagne.


I manage my stress by… always finding time to connect with nature – it’s where I find great serenity. Nature is, for me, a strong element – a need, a necessary connection, and a commitment that I carry. Therefore, walks in the forest are essential for me.


A good day is… easy to find but hard to choose – I love everything about my job. However, making the blends gives me the most satisfaction. It involves all my senses, tasting the different wines, and then relying on my memory and intuition to create a synthesis of all the work that has preceded. I find intuition is essential when choosing the wines: to feel which one will contribute a certain character or originality. It transcends technical tasting.


Success is… the culmination of a long-term team effort. It is always a good opportunity to celebrate all the steps that were made to actually achieve our mission of making great wines.


Failure is… having the audacity to try and to always learn the best lessons even when it doesn’t work out the way you want; to have the opportunity to grow within your role.


My favourite piece of business advice is… keep your authenticity and creativity, and stay true to your work and your values.


Cellar Master Séverine Frerson 2


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