Appropriately as the sponsor of Female Chef of the Year, the Ay¨ based house of Ayala is one of the few that has a female chef de cave -- Caroline Latrive -- at the helm. Born into a Champenois family, her father was a trained oenologist running an independent laboratory in Reims, working with growers and houses spread all over the appellation. By the time she was 16, Caroline, who used to accompany him on many of his trips around Champagne, became fascinated by his work and picked up on his passion for the wine.
Almost inevitably she followed him into the business, studying chemistry and doing internships at various Reims-based houses including Louis Roederer, Palmer and Piper Heidsieck. At Piper she had the good fortune to work with two of Champagne’s great winemakers. “I learned a lot from Daniel Thibau lt and Regis Camus,” she says.
Her first job after obtaining her diploma in oenology, was at Bollinger. Then she worked with her father as a consultant oenologist, advising mainly growers. But at this time around the turn of the Millennium, there were still few female oenologists in Champagne and, she could see that in this male environment it was difficult for clients to take advice from someone who was both younger [than her father] and a woman. “It was not easy for me and I decided my future lay elsewhere.”
In any case she wanted the chance to express herself by working at one house, seeing and refining the result of her efforts, rather than working for many. She went back to study further, doing a Masters’ degree in winemaking in 2004 and this led to a further internship at Bollinger. It was just at this time in 2005 that Bollinger bought Ayala, with Herve´ Augustin being moved over to run it by Bollinger’s President Ghislain Montgolfier and a brief to revitalise the operation.
Latrive was also asked to switch from Bollinger to assist cellar master Nicolas Klym two years later in 2007 and worked with him until his retirement in 2011, re-defining the Ayala range and introducing non-dose´ blends of several of their cuve´es, including the non-vintage Brut Majeure (white and rose´) and prestige line Cuve´e Perle d’Ayala, partly to draw attention to the quality and purity of these wines. Recognising her talents, the enterprising Augustin made her chef de cave on Klym’s departure, at a time when there were only two or three other female head winemakers among the main houses.
Since the arrival of Hadrien Mouflard as managing director of Ayala in 2012, the range has been reduced back to five cuve´es – Brut Majeure white and Rose´, Brut Nature, Perle d’Ayala and Blanc de Blancs vintage. The latter is now a priority line which makes a good point of difference from sister brand Bollinger and plays to Latrine’s strengths as she’s a confessed Chardonnay nut.
The just launched Ayala 2013 Blanc de Blancs, served at the Female Chef of The Year awards party, demonstrates for Latrine what she sees as the essence of the brand: “Elegance, purity, freshness and precision.” Usually a blend of just three grand cru Co^te des Blancs villages – Le Mesnil, Chouilly and Cramant – this vintage has a little Cuis and Vertus in the blend as Latrive wanted a little more fruit expression. With bright, vivid lemon citrus notes leading to a silken textured mid-palate it’s right on theme. And like Latrive, still has a long and promising future ahead.
Stockist Information?: AYALA Le Blanc de Blancs 2013, £55.00
Stockist: Cambridge Wine Merchants, Dulwich Vintners, Tomoka Spirits Boutique
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Words: Giles Fallowfield