Photo: © by Krystal Kenney
A few days before my 50th birthday, I was informed that my position managing the website of an international organisation in Paris was going to be cut. It took me a few weeks to recover from the shock of the news, but I soon realised it was a blessing. Not even in disguise. I had been struggling with the values and culture of the organisation for several years. Like most working mothers, especially single working mothers, I was also trying to balance work and family obligations. I wasn’t in a good place. I suffered from so many stress-related illnesses. Being let go forced me to think about what I wanted to do next. I wanted to do something that made my heart sing for the next 10 years.
Cynthia is a 50-something Canadian and has been living in Paris for more than 25 years. Before setting up Delectabulles, she worked at the OECD for 16 years, managing their corporate website.
She has 3 passions: people, wine and travel. She tries to combine all 3 whenever possible.
She writes: “Learning about wine has opened so many doors and windows for me – onto new people, different cultures and fascinating places. […] I have sipped red, white, still, sparkling, and fortified wine from so many countries, with so many interesting people, from so many different walks of life.”
“Everybody had an interesting story to share.”
Time for a new passion
I wanted to do something related to wine. I didn’t know what exactly, but I knew that wine was a constant in my life and that it had opened so many doors and windows for me – to new people, different cultures and fascinating places. I decided to register with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) to become a certified wine expert. In parallel, I was asked to teach an international MBA course at a university in Paris. Since I had a little bit more free time, I was also able to socialise again. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I had time to listen, and more importantly to hear what they needed.
My MBA class was composed of 19 young women and 1 young man. I learnt a lot from teaching the class. I realised how much I loved sharing my knowledge. I also realised that these young women wanted more than just my course material. They asked me so many questions about the good, the bad and the ugly in life. They wanted to be coached and mentored.
The older women I socialised with were sitting on mountains of experience and knowledge they wanted to share. They felt a strong need to give back. Their social activities often involved learning something new, something that had been on their bucket list for a long time. They were also often divorced or single and struggling with the idea of travelling or going out for an after-work drink alone.
The challenge of becoming a female wine professional
My WSET classes were composed of mostly young wine professionals. About 40% were women. The instructors were men. We were taught how to analyse the quality of wines in a very technical, almost scientific manner. The only subjective “concession” related to the colour of the wine. I remember trying to convince one instructor that, in my humble opinion, the balance of acidity and alcohol and complexity of aromas and flavours were not the only factors to take into consideration when evaluating the quality of a wine. I strongly believe that wines can, of course, have technical merits, but that who we drink them with and where we drink them also greatly influence the quality. The instructor shrugged me off and left me feeling a bit silly.
Last summer I had the same discussion with Véronique Rivest, the first woman to make it onto the podium of the Best Sommelier of the World contest. She agreed 100% with me, and we had a fascinating conversation about the memorable wines we have drunk. We also chatted about the many differences between being a female wine professional in Canada versus France, where she started her career in wine.
Differences between men and women during tastings
In the last two years I have spoken to so many female wine professionals: at stands at professional or public wine fairs, at tables judging wine contests, in vineyards, in wine shops, over a glass of wine. It is safe to say they pretty much all agree that men and women don’t behave the same way during tastings. Men tend to be comforted by technical information such as the percentage of grape varieties in a blend or the vinification methods used to make the wine. They also like to show off their knowledge. Women like to understand what they like and why so they can make better purchases. About 70% of wine is purchased by women in France, 86% in the United States. Women are also more interested in who is behind the bottle, the stories of the winemakers. Since I had a scientific background, and 16 years’ experience working at the OECD where countries were compared on everything except the kitchen sink, I wanted to take a closer look at the differences between men and women during tastings. I wanted to see what would happen if I organised women-only tastings.
In December 2017, I founded Delectabulles, a Champagne Networking Club for Women. I connected all the dots from what I had learned and observed. I teach masterclasses about sparkling wines from around the world and organise a variety of tasting/networking events for women. I only use sparkling wines made by women and visit wineries where women play or have played, an important role. I chose to specialise in Champagne for a long list of reasons. I also teamed up with other fabulous female entrepreneurs to offer more diverse events (e.g. yoga and Champagne weekend retreats, chocolate and Champagne workshops, etc.). I can’t wait to further share my experience at the Global Female Leaders Summit during an icebreaker tasting event I was asked to lead – and to learn more about the women there and what makes their hearts sing.
Written by Cynthia Coutu