BestChampagne had the pleasure of interviewing on of the few female heads of a Champagne House, Duval-Leroy President Carol Duval-Leroy.
She graces us with knowledge of her House’s history, ambitions and shows us why Duval-Leroy Champagnes are so special and will maintain their prestigious place in Champagne world.
Carol took over the leadership of Duval-Leroy in 1991
BESTCHAMPAGNE: The history of your House can be split in two periods: from the origins in 1859 to 1991 when you took leadership, and from that moment to date. How has Duval-Leroy Champagne evolved through its history?
Carol DUVAL-LEROY: The history of Champagne Duval-Leroy is deeply linked to the history of the family.
When Mr Duval and Mr Leroy created Champagne Duval-Leroy in 1859, one was a grower, the other one a champagne merchant. This double identity has always been part of us. A Duval finally married a Leroy later on.
A century and a half after the creation, Duval-Leroy is still 100% owned by the family. This is rare in Champagne, especially for our size. We have also never moved from Vertus, in the Cote des Blancs, were the Duval family came from.
Each generation brought its touch to the house. Jean-Charles, my husband, invested in the production line. His father, Roger, developed the sales of the house on the off trade market, and his father Raymond grew the vineyard that still belongs to the family.
I took over the firm when my husband died in 1991. I put the emphasis on trade and export markets.
My three sons are now working with me. Julien is secretary general, Charles is in charge of marketing and communication and Louis is doing public relations.
BC: Duval-Leroy is one of the very few Houses, if not the only House in Champagne to have a woman CEO and a woman Cellar Master. How does such strong feminine presence influence your cuvées?
CDL: I believe that women have a much more delicate nose and palate. They are more subtle and pay more attention to details.
I am glad to have a woman Cellar Master. Yet it is difficult to assess whether our cuvées are “feminine”.
Our cuvées are for the most part chardonnay based. The chardonnay is much more delicate. It brings purity and finesse.
It might be this touch that you like and consider “feminine” or it might be the delicate bubble.
BC: Unusual in Champagne, your House owns about 200 hectares of vineyards. Why that and what are the benefits?
CDL: We do not own but we exploit 200 hectares of vineyard. We have bought little by little, hectares in Champagne, especially in premier and grand cru villages.
The main benefit is the control of quality. We do everything in the vineyard all year long.
We reduce the number of treatment and pesticides. We harvest and pick only the good grapes.
BC: Chardonnay, the rarest and most expensive grape in Champagne is predominant in the elaboration of your cuvées. Why this choice?
CDL: We are located in Vertus in the Cote des Blancs, the place of the best chardonnay grapes. Historically, we have bought vineyards and grapes to growers in our area.
Chardonnay has always been our DNA. We love its taste, its delicate floral aromas, its citrus fruit note and its sharpness. With the chardonnay, we can grasp the mineral of our soil.
When ageing, chardonnay reveals another personality; the freshness is evolving toward brioche crust and butter aromas.
BC: You are among the selected Champagne Houses to use oak barrels for certain wines. How does the wine in oak enrich your cuvées?
CDL: We have tried several manufacturers, new and old barrels, barrels with acacia and oak, more or less burnt. And believe me; change only one aspect of the barrel and the wine will be very different.
After years of tastings, we made our mind on certain type of barrels in order to bring some roundness to some of our cuvée. The barrel also brings some aromas, such as vanilla.
BC: You are among the few Houses to produce rosé de saignée as opposite to rosé d’assemblage. Is there a real difference at the moment in tasting rosé champagnes produced by using this more complex method?
CDL: Our rosé is made with the two methods in champagne, de saignée (skin contact) and assemblage (blend).
Yes, it is technically much more difficult to produce rosé champagne with the saignée method and this is why this is disappearing.
We have decided to use some chardonnay for its lightness since we wanted to avoid the heaviness of a 100% pinot.
BC: Thanks to your work, Duval-Leroy has expanded its sales to 6.1 million bottles per year and your House is now ranked in the top 15 champagne Houses. What are your ambitions in terms of further development and what are the challenges ahead?
CDL: That was a peak, but our rhythm is around 5 million bottles per year. The challenge ahead is to sell more prestige cuvées and to follow our path on export market.
Duval-Leroy is now recognized as high quality champagne. Our cuvées are found in more than 250 Michelin starred restaurants.
We work closely with sommeliers and we are partners of the French Sommelier Association through the French Best young Sommelier competition and the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) Sommelier contest since its creation.
Our recognition is established in the professional sector. Our target is brand recognition for the general public. We would like champagne consumer to try Duval-Leroy and ask for it.
Our main impediment is the fact that we are small and monoproduct contrary to several other major players with several brands, wines, and spirits. This has a deep impact on the distribution network and our marketing capabilities.
BC: The main champagne markets, namely France and UK are currently been affected by the economic crisis. Which are in your opinion the champagne markets of tomorrow?
CDL: Export markets will grow and Europe will slowly decrease in regard to other continents. Actually, more than 70% are sold in Europe with about 50% in France.
The US and Japan are by far the most important markets out of Europe, and the road is long before Brazil, Russia, India or China could play a similar role.
BC: There are 3 recurrent key components in the champagne business: quality, brand and distribution. Which is in your opinion the order of importance of these and why?
CDL: It depends which champagne house you are and on which market. For us, quality establishes the brand and helps finally, our distribution.
So you put them in the right order for me. But it is not the case for all the players in the champagne business.
We take particular care of the bottles we are selling because our name is on the bottle.
Quality comes first with the grapes. A great part of our supply is coming from premier and grand cru villages.
Then our cuvées spend much more time than the mandatory time in our cellar. Patience is rewarding on a quality point of view in Champagne.
We sell only a cuvée we like. If consumers are not receptive, we stop it. We do not have orders from shareholders!
Besides, we do not have the financial power of big groups for marketing tools. Our best asset is to constantly improve the quality of our wines.
BC: Mrs Duval-Leroy, you are among the very few women to run a Champagne House. You are not from Champagne, in fact you are Belgian. Your House is now among the very best in the world. How do you feel when you look back to all that happened since your beginnings in 1991?
CDL: Looking back, I am glad of what I have accomplished. I made the promise to my husband that I will keep the Champagne House independent and this has been the case.
Sandrine Logette-Jardin is among the rare female cellarmasters in Champagne
Our sons joined me recently and this is also a great success.
I have also pushed the Duval-Leroy brand by increasing the quality of our supply. The rules were not the same and we did not have access to quality grapes in the past except our own.
Now everyone can buy the best grapes. We have done so and improved the quality of our champagne.
I have always been fascinated by chefs. I always wanted to be a cook. When I look back at what I have done since 1991, I did not achieve to be a chef…but I have been able to furnish the best chefs all over the world.
BC: What defines champagne for you, Mrs Duval-Leroy?
CDL: Champagne defines pleasure. We are part of the best moments of everyone’s life: birthdays, parties, weddings, romance, new job, new contract… Champagne is a magical wine.
BC: Some of our readers are champagne amateurs but not yet connoisseurs. What would be your personal piece of advice of how to choose and taste champagne?
CDL: Be curious. Try different brands, different vintages, and different grape varieties.
Open your mind to champagne and food pairing. Do not only drink champagne for the aperitif.
Champagne is a wine and is easily paired with food.
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