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Perrier-Jouët, one of France’s most celebrated Champagne houses, has never favored conformity. The esteemed maison dates to 1811 when newlyweds Pierre Nicolas Perrier, an Épernay-based cork supplier, and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, the nature-loving daughter of a Calvados producer, harnessed their respective backgrounds in business and viticulture and commandeered a handful of family-owned vineyards in neighboring Dizy, Chouilly, and Aӱ. From the start the pair were equals, with Perrier handling sales and office affairs while Jouët cultivated the wine from vine to bottle. They were also fearless risk-takers, the first Champagne house to showcase chardonnay as their signature varietal at a time when the floral, delicate, and richly aromatic grape was largely dismissed by leading area winemakers. The innovative decision was met with near-instant success, evoking an elegant complexity, enticing freshness, and soft, velvety effervescence that resounded with consumers from continental Europe to the UK and, by 1837, as far away as the United States.
Even today, in a world so drastically changed, the company continues to find ways to push against convention. Just this fall marked yet another first for the forward-thinking trendsetter, when Cellar Master Herve Deschamps handed over the reins he’s held for nearly four decades to accomplished chef de cave Severine Frerson, the first female to assume the honored position throughout Perrier-Jouët’s storied history.
“The world of wine is rather masculine, but it is above all a profession of passion,” Frerson notes in an interview several weeks after her promotion became official. “Women might be more visible today, but they have been very invested in Champagne for a long time. 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.”
The incoming Cellar Master knows a thing or two about that driving passion. Unlike many of her colleagues, including her predecessor Deschamps, Frerson didn’t grow up in a winemaking family with strong generational ties to the industry. Instead, the small town daughter of doctors came upon her love for wine entirely on her own.
“I remember visiting my parents’ friends who owned a vineyard and playing between the rows of vines,” Frerson recalls, describing the moment that planted the seeds of what would become a decorated career. “Some of my best memories were during the harvest, seeing the hectic movement in the vineyard, the smell of the musts in the pressing centers—some strong sensorial memories for me.”
Frerson went on to study oenology at the University of Reims, eventually earning her Master of Enology degree. She then dove headfirst into Champagne’s bubbly waters, landing a job at lauded Reims Champagne House Piper-Heidsieck where she honed her skills over the next two decades and ultimately rose to deputy chef de cave in 2015. When Frerson joined Perrier-Jouët in October 2018, Deschamps felt confident they had chosen the ideal person to fill his ample shoes.
“Maison Perrier-Jouët is renowned for intricate champagnes which reveal the true essence of the chardonnay grape, an unparalleled expertise of only seven Cellar Masters since its foundation,” explains the outgoing Cellar Master. “Creativity is key. Every year, we start over, with a steady destination, the style of the cuvée, but with different ingredients, the grapes of the year. Appointing Séverine as successor was a natural choice—crafting champagne is a work of passion and I think it's a quality we both share and appreciate.”
Another quality the two Cellar Masters share is the unfaltering desire to strike a balance between remaining true to age old traditions while simultaneously implementing eco-minded technological advances.
“From harvest to production, blending, and fermentation, I plan to preserve the style and techniques of the House, working with teams in the vineyards and winery to produce the highest quality wines,” says Frerson. “I love the relationship we hold with nature, the emotions during a tasting, the challenges of blending, but a responsibility essential to my role is maintaining the Maison's commitment to sustainability—it’s of the utmost importance that we preserve our land, adopting new practices and maintaining those we already have in place.”
Sustainability might sound like a modern movement to 21st-century ears, but according to Deschamps, it’s been at the core of Perrier-Jouët’s ethos since the House’s inception.
“During the last 37 years, the world of Champagne has changed and I’ve seen the rise of concern about sustainability,” Deschamps adds. “We have been working on this for quite some time now at Maison Perrier-Jouët, a House founded by a botanist with a strong symbiotic relationship to nature, and I’m very enthusiastic about the future with Séverine as Cellar Master.”
There’s no doubt that Perrier-Jouët will keep breaking new ground in the decades and centuries to come if each successive Cellar Master looks to the past to inform their own visions of the future. Luckily for Frerson, that ever-inspiring history lies quite literally at her fingertips.
“The cellars are a true treasure trove,” she says. “The House has very carefully conserved bottles, some of which date all the way back to 1825. It’s so fortunate for me as the incoming Cellar Master but it’s also an entirely emotional experience—these bottles, the oldest in Champagne, were in the presence of the House’s founding couple. It’s a great privilege that I will dedicate myself to preserving, just as my predecessors did, always considering those who will come next.”
As for Deschamps, stepping down as Cellar Master doesn’t mean fully turning his back on Perrier-Jouët or the industry his beloved Maison continues to shape with each tempting new vintage. “I plan to do some personal travel and explore the world,” he says of his post-retirement agenda. “But, my life belongs in Champagne.”