Jeanne-Marie Deschamps, 1.4.19
Jeanne-Marie Deschamps is an anomaly. Born and raised in the France’s Loire Valley, she started her own brokerage in the 1980s, Domaine et Saveurs Collection, representing fine wine estates primarily from Burgundy. Her reputation reflects her stature, a strong, confident, and overarching presence in the wine world.
How many years have you been in wine the business?
If I follow my white hair, I started in 1983-84. I grew up in Loire and mostly around farming which was classical farming, corn, wheat.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine? And why wine?
I married Henri in 1978, and he was in wine. I started to learn in Paris and with different growers and meetings and in books. Then in 1980, I was still in marketing between Paris and Burgundy. We created a company and my partner left with the money. I helped him between 1983 and 1994. He was more on the volume side. Me, I wanted all the artisanal growers, good ones, tough ones, working organically.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I think everything. You start to work with the growers, you believe in them. Because my job is selling promoting, discovering domains, it's a lot of details and time so, they trust me to speak about them and I trust them. There's no way we can be everywhere on the same day. Growers are conscious about this plant, this vine. It’s moving everyday, which means you need to believe in the man or woman that runs the domaine to do the best job as much as they can. And whey they do that, they'll have the best grapes every year and make the best wine.
Can you describe any prejudices or setbacks you experienced in this industry in regards to being a woman?
I am not sure if it’s because I am a woman, but it’s like every business. You make bad decisions or bad choices and it can happen. You believe in someone who doesn’t reveal the talents you were expecting, so that can be a little sad. My chance has been to grow up in a grower’s culture. I understood exactly what they were facing, and I had the same sense of risk, danger, mildew, odium, etc. I was totally aware the risks for the grower, and we spoke the same language.
In those days, a daughter could not become the farmer or the grower. It was just like that, so the son was becoming the grower and paying rent to his sisters just because of heritage sake. Now, there are more and more estates run by women, because they are good or the oldest, including in France, the association of Les Femmes Vins. They do the job like their brother. The challenge may be that you have to be good and work hard. A mistake with some consequences by a man, would have less power than if it's done by a woman. I think women are more sensitive and work harder on details, on everything. They meet together, they have trainings to learn, to change their experiences in farming or winemaking, discussing what has been working or not working, and they feel comfortable to be between women.
How can women become aware of our own prejudices and change our behavior?
I think it’s a human thing. You have jealousy, success, it’s everywhere. You have women in wine, men in wine.
It's really an evolution, but now in Burgundy there are 36 or 38 women running their own domain. They opened the gate for women in a certain way.
Laurence Ferie, Clos Jobard, Anne Parent, Bridgett Bartholomew. I don’t think of a man or a woman when I visit.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I think everything will continue and they’ll be more recognized. They give something to the wine. They also are, maybe because they want to prove who they are, a bit more creative with the association or research about biodynamics and evolution. They are very inventive.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
I think there are two things. Sometimes they are afraid of wine and alcohol. We don’t drink all day long. We are working, it’s a job. Don’t be afraid by this part. The other thing is babies. We don’t drink when we are pregnant, but don’t be afraid to taste. You have to be good. You have many opportunities in vinification, farming, restaurants. It’s step by step. Don’t be afraid of a new personality.
You have some people that are open and others that are not. But we find great sommeliers, great farmers, and great winemakers. For example, Grivot from Hospice de Beaune. It’s a woman who got the job and not a man. It’s more open. Everybody opens the door and you take it. Don’t be afraid to open the door.
I remember when I started to travel around the world alone, people were worried. What could happen?
What ways would you say you are contributing to the overall empowerment of current and future women in wine?
I think you need to have integrity with everything. On the grower side, on my team, in my office, and with people I work with, and with the people I meet through my importer and distributors, and restaurants and retail. It’s very important. And integrity, like equality, has to be recognized by men and women. Then to get fidelity on what you choose and to continue on, and not lose your worth. Keep clear. People like you or don’t like you but don’t change anything. Keep your eyes and brain open!
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
They just go. Be you and get the competence which you will need to be you. Find your way to be recognized and be proficient in details on all aspects of your work, whether that’s importing, distributing, or being a sommelier, which is good in wine, since we are learning all the time.
Wine changes all the time because of farming, weather, grapes, the evolution of the practice, because of new countries that are making wine. Today is not firm. Tomorrow will be another tomorrow. Sometimes I think back to 2003 with the hot weather, and everyone was calling all their friends in other countries and asking what do you do? A few growers would say, i’ll do what the monks did in 792, but you have to evolve. It’s part of the job.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I admire Laurent Jobard because she succeeded as a woman in a man’s environment 30 years before us and opened the door.
Becky Wasserman. She succeeded as an American in Burgundy.
Anne Parent, because she not only converted her domaine to organics and biodynamics, but she succeeded to get all the women together [Les Femmes des Vins] and she believes in herself.
And not wine, but Sister Theresa. She did a lot for poor people.
Nicole Lamarche and Nathalie because taking over a domaine like Lamarche, 40% grand cru and premier cru, was challenging. She started with her father and then he died suddenly.
It’s important for women as daughters to deal with their parents. For me it was easy because I didn’t interfere with my brothers, and my father believed in me, and gave me all the chances in school and in business. I was lucky to have a supportive father.