Caroline Frey is a representative of cutting-edge French winemakers. She grew up in the Champagne region. When she brewed her first vintage of Chateau La Lagune in 2004, the industry was shocked by her talent. In 2006, her family acquired Jaboulet winery in the Rhone Valley. She began to make wine in this well-known Rhone Valley winery in 2007 and became the family winemaker.
Caroline Frey studied at the Universite OEnologie Bordeaux in Bordeaux and officially started winemaking in Bordeaux in 2004. Her teacher Denis Dubourdieu was a new winemaker and consultant and was still Caroline’s mentor and consultant till his disappearance. Main consultant of two wineries in the Frey family.
In 2014, the two wineries of the Frey family were brought to new heights. Chateau La Lagune in Bordeaux is a tertiary estate, and today it is considered to have the level of a second-level estate; the 2009 Jaboulet winery’s chapel (La Chapelle) brewed by Caroline was given a 96-98 high score by Robert Parker, which is generally considered Jaboulet Winery has returned to the ranks of the top wineries in the North Rhone Valley.
Caroline Frey is the winemaker and owner of three Chateau La Lagune, Paul Jaboulet Aine and Chateau de Cordon-Andre, as well as running a private wine project in Switzerland.
Obtaining organic certification across the 3 Domaines, she initiatied biodynamic practices, creating biodiversity refuge in the Rhone and in Bordeaux. She also established a club with members from France which share the same vision to protect the nature. She was ranked as THE DRINK BUSINESS 30 Winemakers Under 40.
Caroline Frey, through her recent interview with WINWSA, tells us what she thinks about the wine industry and her advice for women.
Q: How many years have you been in the wine & spirits business?
C: I did my first vintage in 2002 in Denis Dubourdieu Winery.
Q: What makes you devoted yourself in the wine and spirits sector?
CF: It is my desire to work with nature and plants that has led me to wine. Today this passion guides me on a daily basis to grow our vines, produce the best grapes and best wines.
Q: What are the main transformation & changes in the industry you have experienced so far?
C: In 20 years many things have evolved, the shift towards environmental—friendly agriculture has been accelerated in recent years. Many initiatives are being implemented for sustainable viticulture. This is a good thing and the taste of wine has everything to gain if things are done right.
Q: How did you manage to overlook 3 estates in different regions at the same time?
C: I supervise 4 vineyards including Chateau La Lagune, Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Chateau de Corton Andre and my small estate in Switzerland in the Valais. It is a great chance to be able to work on the vines and produce great wines in these 4 regions. It is very enriching and it creates a beautiful dynamic of progression in understanding of the terroirs, the vine and the wines.
As far as the organization is concerned, I travel every week to go to each vineyard. I have no offices. My office is in the car. During the trips, my assistant calls me to process the files, reply to emails etc… when I arrive in the winery. I can focus my time on the wines and the vineyard. I do not travel to promote wines. I delegate this part to people I trust and have confidence in. I made this choice to concentrate on the vine and the wine because I believe that it is by doing what we are passionate about that I accomplish the most beautiful things.
Q: When you took over the winemaker job at Chateau La Lagune and Paul Jaboulet, what were you trying to achieve? Do you achieve your preset goals today?
C: We have already achieved many objectives. The quality of our wines has undoubtedly progressed towards having more identity, the textures are more complete and harmonious, the wines are brighter. All of our vineyards are certified organic farming and are currently certified Biodynamic. We have included our companies in sustainable development with the creation of our refuges for biodiversity, work on resources, waste management, etc…
So a lot has been accomplished, but I still have a lot of projects. I think we can always do better.
Q: Who influenced you most when you first entered into wine business?
C: The person who influenced me the most is without any hesitation Denis Dubourdieu. I was lucky to have him as a professor at the University of Oenology of Bordeaux and then to make two vintages in his properties, In 2002 Floridene and Reynon white and in 2003 the red. Then he accompanied me on all my vintages until his disappearance in 2017. Today I always have his little voice that guides me when I ask myself questions.
Q: What do you think about the tradition and new technology deployed in viticulture or winemaking aspects?
C: Whatever choices are made I believe it is important to always ensure that the methods used improve the taste of the wine and are environmentally friendly. Those are my two criteria for each of my decisions, and we always do comparative testing to verify our ideas. I believe that in doing so, one always goes in the right direction.
I am not for wine trends. I like things that lasts in time and not fashionable.
Q: You were growing up in Champagne, does Champagne always have a special place in your heart? Will you look into the possibility of making Champagne one day?
C: I was born in champagne and I grew up in Rilly la Montagne to the rhythm of the grape harvest. My first sips of wine were champagne so yes it is a region that is always in my heart and there is always a bottle of champagne in my fridge ready to be uncorked!
Q: We noticed that your passion into nature protection and sustainability, the latter is also our annual theme. What are the progress / initiatives you have achieved in your family’s wineries?
C: It is necessary to know that I arrived in the world of wine and I wanted to work with nature and plants. Since I was very little I have been passionate about these two aspects. I have this desire to work the vineyard in harmony with nature. Viticulture must not be a fight against diseases and weeds but a harmonious accompaniment and what’s fantastic is that by respecting our soils, our vines and biodiversity, our wines become better and more expressive. It is this virtuous circle that guides our approach.
Q: If just if, you didn’t choose wine as your career, what else you would love to do?
C: I would have made a profession related to nature and plants. Herbalist, forest ranger, I don’t know but there would have been plants anyway!
Q: What you enjoyed most in your career? The biggest challenge you have encountered as a woman in the industry? What drives you keep going?
C: Every day spent on cultivating the vineyard is always a delight. Our values are there, in the cultivation of the land. For each vintage, we have new projects to always improve ourselves. This is what motivates me every day, trying to understand our vines and our terroirs a little bit more and to do better. As a woman, it seems to me that we need to do more to gain legitimacy, but that suits me well because I am rather a perfectionist.
Q: What are the main distinguishing merits/qualities in women attributing to career success?
C: I believe that to produce great wines the maternal instinct of a woman is an exceptionally high quality.
Q: Any Advice to your peers?
C: It takes passion to make wines. It is a job that brings a lot of happiness but also difficult times. And above all, you have to learn from the best. Passion is not enough. You have to learn. Once you master the technique perfectly then you can give emotion. It is a bit like for the piano, you have to do solfeggio. Once the technique of the piece is mastered then you can put feelings into emotion. Learn, learn from the best every day and be patient with your vines and wines.
Q: Who will you recommend us to interview as the next WWS figure?
C: Marie Thérèse Chappaz, who is owner of Le domaine de Marie Thérèse Chappaz in Switzerland