Séverine Frerson

Séverine Frerson

Maison Perrier-Jouët (chef de cave)

Séverine Frerson was named chef de cave at Maison Perrier-Jouët in October 2018. This prestigious champagne producer based in the Épernay region was founded in 1811. Séverine will work for two years with Hervé Deschamps, Perrier-Jouet’s current and 7th cellar master, and then will take over take as its chef de cave.

We met with Séverine in April 2018, at which time she was the chef de cave at Piper-Heidsieck. Founded in 1785, Piper-Heidsieck is among the 10 best-selling champagne brands in the world. Séverine joined Piper-Heidsieck in 2000 and held a number of different positions before being appointed chef de cave in early 2018.

For Séverine, who is energetic, gracious, and inspiring, “a job is from one’s passion.” Born in the famous cru village of Sillery, her parents, both doctors, always believed in Séverine and what she could accomplish. Her father urged her “to study a ‘masculine’ field,” get a “’masculine’ job, and be independent.”

Growing up, she became fascinated with picking grapes and worked in the cellar of family friends. “I was forever interested in the smell process.” This led her to attend the University of Reims to study enology, ultimately completing the MST, master of enology, there. In 1997, Séverine joined the Comité Champagne, a region-wide program formed to educate winegrowers about sustainable viticulture.

There were very few women in winemaking at that time, and it was difficult for her to find a position at a champagne house. She had a friend at Veuve Clicquot who was also a friend of Régis Camus, the chef de cave at Piper-Heidsieck. The friends talked and that led to her being hired there!

In addition to her duties as enologist at Piper-Heidsieck, Séverine was put in charge of meeting the standards for quality control. When she finished this assignment in 2011, she was made manager of the winery and bottling process, and in 2015, the deputy chef de cave.

Asked if there was any resistance to her being put in charge, Séverine noted with a warm smile that, “The course was full of pitfalls. There were so few women. One has to resist with a smile and be strong, and confident.” Her advice for those entering the field is “perseverance, passion, intuition, and personality.” When hiring for her team, she looks for confidence, social skills, ability to work on a team, and an optimistic “glass half-full personality.”

Séverine has also managed family responsibilities while at Piper-Heidsieck. She and her husband have two children; Séverine leaves her challenging job at the door when she gets home and focuses on her family.

When asked what it takes to be a successful chef de cave, her response was “passion, intuition, and memory.” One needs to imagine how the vins clair will taste in two to three years, how the blend will taste, and a memory of aromas and flavors. Referring to the challenge of keeping track of the wines, she says, “My head is filled with drawers of my memory, all arranged, all in its place in the drawers.”

The Wines. An informative tasting of vins clairs and champagnes was the setting for our lively conversation. We tasted vins clairs from different villages to get a sense of how each brought a different element to the blend and then sampled the champagnes themselves. We loved the elegant and well-balanced Cuvée Brut, Piper-Heidsieck’s signature cuvée, This cuvée contrasted beautifully with the 2008 Piper-Heidsieck Vintage Brut, comprising fruit from 20 Grand and Premier Cru villages; it was absolutely smooth and delicious with aromas of white peach and almond.

The move to Maison Perrier-Jouët. The factors that led Séverine to accept the chef de cave position at Perrier-Jouët, shortly after having accepted the chef de cave position at Piper-Heidsieck, likely centered around the near-perfect match between her passion, determination and daring, the Perrier-Jouët style of extreme delicacy and precision, and the challenge and opportunity to lead a major champagne house that was new to her — she joined Piper-Heidsieck soon after completing her enology degree. She was the first female chef de cave at both champagne houses.