It was by no means written in the stars that Christelle Rinville, born in Longwy to a steelworker father and stay-at-home mother, would one day become Taittinger’s vineyard director – a position she has filled since 1 May 2020. Even her countryside upbringing wasn’t necessarily a precursor to her entering the world of agriculture; that of winemaking even less so. This former Lorraine inhabitant, however, says she has always harboured a keen interest in nature in its broadest sense. This is exactly what led her on the path to the University of Nancy, followed by a postgraduate degree in plant technology at the Ecole nationale d’horticulture d’Angers, one of France’s leading institutions for horticulture.
So while this trajectory does not suffice in explaining how she arrived here, there is no denying that it plays a significant role. The rest has been down to circumstances…. and passion.
After completing my studies, I found a job as part of a collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture (Regional Service for the Protection of Plants at the time) and the Champagne Committee (CIVC). This involved demonstrating that sustainable viticulture had a rightful place in the Champagne region. It was back in 1991, and two years later the Magister economic interest group was founded. This is now presided over by Simon Blin, who I work with in the capacity of vice-president. I then joined the Champagne Committee’s technical department, where I worked in Dominique Moncomble’s team for 10 years. In 2000 I joined Laurent-Perrier under Bernard de Nonancourt’s chairmanship and Alain Terrier’s management. I was their vineyard director (overseeing a vineyard of around 100 hectares) until 2015, when I started working for Taittinger. I have experienced a real family feel at the company, giving me the opportunity to be 100% involved in its operations. Over the course of five years, Vincent Collard taught me everything he knew about the vineyard. The Taittinger vineyard has been his labour of love and it was for his father before him: something that is both important and invaluable for our House. You can’t “get to know” all 288 hectares overnight: it’s a gradual process that involves acquiring knowledge every day, almost every minute.
My role involves making sure that everything related to the vines runs smoothly, from the planting to the grubbing up, so to speak; with the harvest representing the main event each year. But another important aspect is overseeing the men and women who work with me in this area, i.e. 70 full-time employees, up to 100 staff including the seasonal workers, and between 700 and 800 people at harvest time.
When I started working in the technical domain and wine consulting, there was just a handful of other women . Today there is an increasing number of women blazing the trail in family-run businesses. Personally, I have always felt at home in the vineyard. I’m not staking any claims, but I must admit that I do feel a sense of pride from occupying this post.
In terms of management, I don’t believe that it’s a matter of being male or female: you should be judged on your competencies, ability to listen and awareness.
Within the House, there are two things I am obsessed about: quality and our teams. We work hard all year round to preserve and improve the vines’ potential, and the role of the harvest is to enhance this work.
The entire vineyard is High Environmental Value certified with a view to being environmentally responsible – rather than being the result of a fad, this is part of a coherent approach initiated a long time ago by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. Furthermore the entire “Taittinger philosophy” is shaped by this respect for the quality of the product, the environment, the brand’s heritage, the consumer, and the teams who play a role in this.
I have an exciting job that demands a great deal of humility towards nature, given that no two years are the same. The ability to constantly adapt is crucial in order to allow the vines to reach their full potential.
While the current impact of global warming is relatively positive as it yields high-quality grapes that enable us to release vintages, what will happen if the temperature increases by another one or two degrees? We will then need to review everything: planting, systems… We might need to change the grape varieties, the choice of rootstock… The Champagne Committee has been grappling with these issues for a long time now.
And then you also need to know how to keep up with the legislation, and that’s not always the easiest to get your head around!
Viticulture is a form of craftsmanship. Biodiversity is a successful balance. Fine grapes produce fine champagnes. The aesthetics are essential. When it’s aesthetically pleasing, you know you’re on the right path. From the vines to the bottle, champagne should be enchanting.