French Viticulture

It took a woman from the French Antilles to shake up champagne making in France

Marie-Inès Rommelle, from the French West Indies, is a newcomer in France's traditionally 'white' world of champagne producers. (26/02/2021)
Marie-Inès Rommelle, from the French West Indies, is a newcomer in France's traditionally 'white' world of champagne producers. (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger / RFI

Since Marie-Inès Romelle entered France's traditionally 'white' world of champagne producers, her champagne with a tropical twist has been attracting new clients, much to the dismay of many conservatives. 

Advertising

Champagne, as we know it, was invented in the 18th century when a special method for making sparkling white wine was perfected in France's Champagne-Ardennes region. 

Since then, the close-knit industry has been proudly protecting their unique 'champagne' label and business is usually passed on from one generation to the other.

Sugarcane champagne

When Marie-Inès Romelle from the French West Indies settled in mainland Champagne-Ardennes to make a new champagne, it caused a stir across the region. 

Marie-Inès met wine-grower Anselme Levebre in 2015, and told him about her idea.

Independent wine-grower Anselme Lefebre produces 30,000 bottles of champagne a year. (26/02/2021)
Independent wine-grower Anselme Lefebre produces 30,000 bottles of champagne a year. (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger

"The sugar used in making champagne is beetroot sugar", Marie-Inès told RFI. "I asked Mr Lefevre to use cane sugar instead."

Apart from resonating with Marie-Inès' own tropical origins, the use of sugarcane hails back to the traditional method of making champagne.

A graduate in Communications, Marie-Inès thus notched up two marketing points for her 'tropical' Marie-Césaire champagne brand.

Marie-Inès Rommelle uses cane sugar instead of beetroot sugar, giving her champagne a tropical twist. (26/02/2021)
Marie-Inès Rommelle uses cane sugar instead of beetroot sugar, giving her champagne a tropical twist. (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger / RFI

The woman 'from the islands' 

Six years have passed since Marie-Inès and Anselme first met. Today, their wine-cellar in the sleepy village of Écueil produces around 30,000 bottles a year.  

But Marie-Inès' path was fraught with obstacles, notably due to her ethnic origin. 

"She's from the islands, so we all thought, well, we'll see how it goes," Anselme recalls. 

"They all thought she was destined to fail", he says. 

"But we're showing them that we're on the right track." 

 

Rosé and white champagne bottles at Anselme Lefebre's champagne cellar in the village of Écueil (26/02/2021)
Rosé and white champagne bottles at Anselme Lefebre's champagne cellar in the village of Écueil (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger / RFI

 

Fighting prejudice with determination

Marie-Inès says it was her determination that enabled her to make her mark amid the traditionally 'white' milieu of France's champagne producers. 

"I'm of 'culturally diverse origin' as they say, but well, I'm French from the Antilles." Marie Inès said.

"I cannot accept that someone can't enter this domain because of where one comes from or what one does." 

"I love champagne. I love wine-growing. It was important for me to do something that came from within".  

The Pinot d'Écueil grapevine is used in the production of Marie Césaire champagne. (26/02/2021)
The Pinot d'Écueil grapevine is used in the production of Marie Césaire champagne. (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger / RFI

From disdain to jealousy

Today, the tiny village of Écueil is the destination of journalists and visitors from all over the world. 

"They're jealous of us now," smiles Anselme. 

Bursting with energy, Marie-Inès manages every aspect of her business, and even finds time to run a real-estate business on the side. 

"Of course, many people will not like what I do, but I assure you, I don't want to play the victim", she says. 

"I just want to show that France is a beautiful place, with excellent products" she beams, while wheeling a trolley of champagne cases to her delivery van.  

Wine merchant Marie-Inès Romelle and winegrower Anselme Lefevre take an RFI selfie. (26/02/2021)
Wine merchant Marie-Inès Romelle and winegrower Anselme Lefevre take an RFI selfie. (26/02/2021) © Arnab Béranger / RFI

(Thanks to Vanessa Frye for helping with the video shoot) 

 

 

 

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning