Séverin Frerson may be the first female cellar master in the 200-year history of Maison Perrier-Jouët but, she says, she has always felt an affinity with the brand. “I knew the intricate, floral style of its wines and the quality of its vineyards,” she explains, and says that from the very first time she visited the prestige champagne house in the Épernay region of France, “I said to myself, ‘I’m home.’”
In October 2020 she was given the key to Eden, the cellar that contains the maison’s rarest vintage cuvées, and the historic cellar books containing the notes and observations of all her predecessors. Here she tells us her about her groundbreaking appointment and the career that led her to it.
Has wine always been important in your life?
I do not come from a family of wine growers or winemakers. My parents actually both worked in the medical world, but I got to discover wine thanks to family friends who owned a vineyard. I remember going out, playing between the rows of vines, going into the cellars—so, from a very early age, I had this strong sensorial drive to wine.
A great champagne takes you through strong emotions and gives you a feeling of well-being
Growing up, I naturally decided to pursue a career in the wine world, so I studied oenology in Reims. For me, wine is the essence of who I am, not only is it a passion, but it is a drive. A day without tasting is unimaginable for me. I need the sensorial explosion; I need to discuss with my team—I need to be out in the vineyard.
Tell us a bit about your career…
After studying oenology, I worked for different champagne houses including Piper-Heidsieck, where I ended up as cellar master. In October 2018, some 20 years into my career, I joined Maison Perrier-Jouët to become the house’s eighth cellar master since 1811. After a two-year handover period with my predecessor Hervé Deschamps, I took on the role.
Perrier-Jouët has always been a house that I had my eye on. I knew the style of its wines and the emblematic cuvées Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque. Succeeding seven generations of cellar masters is a great honor for me.
For me, wine is the essence of who I am; not only is it a passion, but it is a drive
What did you learn in the run-up to being given the keys to Eden?
Over the last two years, I worked side by side with Deschamps. He spent 37 years working for the house, so who better than him to transmit his knowledge of the house, its history, and his mastering of Chardonnay—the house’s signature grape variety?
We spent hours tasting together and sampled some of the cellar’s oldest wines to understand the style and where it comes from. He and I use the same “wine vocabulary,” the same words to describe the same things. It made things so easy and natural, and helped me gain the level of understanding I needed before blending my first cuvées.
A day without tasting is unimaginable for me. I need the sensorial explosion
How does it feel to be the first female cellar master at such a prestigious house?
It is of course a great honor! But I would say I am the second woman of the house. Rose-Adélaïde Jouët, who cofounded the house in 1811 with her husband Pierre-Nicolas Perrier, was the first woman.
Jouët was not cellar master, her husband was, but our archives show that she was really involved in the house’s management. She was in charge of what today we call hospitality and P.R. And when Perrier was abroad, she took over, including in tastings. She was an inspiring woman.
What do you hope to bring to your role at Maison Perrier-Jouët?
I will be in charge of maintaining the house’s unique style, inspired by nature, with Chardonnay as our signature grape variety. And I have a lot of projects I want to pursue, including going further in our sustainable practices.
Perrier was a botanist. So, from its origins, the house has always had a strong relationship with nature and an attention to the vines and its ecosystems. Today, we know that these ecosystems need to be preserved and developed, so I want to continue the great work my predecessors have led and go even further.
What is the secret of a great champagne?
The secret of a good champagne is creating one that takes you through strong emotions, that gives you a feeling of well-being and that creates a communion between you and the wine. A great moment of symbiosis with yourself!
Christie’s will offer champagnes direct from the cellars of Perrier-Jouët in the Finest & Rarest Wines and Spirits sale, to be held in London in June. Highlights include an exceptionally rare bottle of 1874 Perrier-Jouët Brut Millésime, which holds the record for the most valuable bottle sold at Christie’s between 1888 and 1967. Also featured in the lot is a VIP Perrier-Jouët Experience that includes an overnight stay at Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay, France, with a guided visit of the cellar and maison and a full-range tasting of all six current cuvées with Frerson herself, including the 1874 cuvée. The sale will also include exclusive magnums of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut from 1979, 1982, 1988, 1989, and 1990.
Banner image: Maison Belle Epoque, the residence of the champagne house’s founding family and home to one of the largest private collections of French Art Nouveau in Europe