Bubbly personality

Weekend Glitz | Jourdan Ma 4 May 2018

Gaelle Goossens, a woman winemaker at champagne house Veuve Clicquot, is making waves in a sparkling career that's worth toasting.

Born in France's Champagne region, Goossens became a globetrotter at a young age when her parents, both doctors, took her along with them on medical missions.

"I didn't have any dream job as a child, but I knew I didn't want to be a doctor," said Goossens.

Her grandmother, now retired, used to assign her tasks when she was in the countryside, and her days were spent between the kitchen and cutting grapes in the vineyard.

"As I grew up, I took on more responsibilities. I drove the tractor to bring the grapes to the pressing center," she said.

Keen to become a diplomat, she studied politics and international relations at the University of Queensland, but ended up in a desk-bound job with "too much administration, lots of reports and long office hours".

She shrugged off the setback and went back to school for a degree in biochemistry, followed by a diploma in oenology.

"Life is too short for jobs that you don't like," she said.

Since then, she has never looked back.

After working for small winegrower families, she then became the deputy head of production at Bollinger. Her five-year stint with the well-known champagne maison enabled her to experiment with the wine-making processes, both in stainless steel tanks and wood vats.

Wine-making involves science, art and nature, said Goossens. "You can study the acidity or the alcohol degree but once you have started making a wine, there's no mathematics to tell you what works best. It's all about creativity."

The master blender believes that nature is always the best training ground for one's nose and taste buds.

But being a winemaker is not just a test of one's palate.

"A lot of people think that a winemaker should be an old man with white hair, a long beard and pot belly. They don't expect a young lady," she said. "I have to push myself and prove that I am knowledgeable."

Women winemakers are less scientific but more artistic and as strong-willed as their male counterparts, she said.

Goossens, who joined Veuve Clicquot in 2016, wants to stand out for her ingenuity. "I'm afraid I'll get bored with my job. I need challenges."

Now at the helm of the Chardonnay region, along with research and development of the wines, she also coordinates events and makes frequent business trips from March to June.

She was recently in Hong Kong to attend the Women of Wine Festival, where she announced the launch of the renowned Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award. The award was instituted in 1972 in tribute to Madame Clicquot, born Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, who took over the champagne house after her husband Francois Clicquot died in 1805.

"She became a widow at the age of 27. That was why the name of the company changed. Veuve, in French, means a widow," Goossens explained.

The maison still follows Madame Clicquot's prestige cuvees, and a case in point is its Rose Champagne.

With the iconic Yellow Label Brut Champagne as the base, the coppery-orange beverage brings touches of red grapes and aromas of strawberries and Viennese pastries.

Goossens said the bottle is deeply tied to finesse, complexity and balance and that it shines with its versatility, during a meal.

The harvest period, from September to January, is her most stressful time of the year.

"You never know what you're going to have, in terms of quality and quantity. You always cross your fingers and pray."

At the peak of the season she commits herself to tasting 35 wines a day and the perfect time to start is 11am.

"I never get drunk because I don't swallow. But if I have to taste some really old vintages, I don't spit," she joked.

Her schedule changes according to the pace of wine-making, but she never gets bored with her job, which involves checking the blends, tasting trials and keeping a close watch on the fermentation process.

A firm believer in work-life balance, Goossens takes her two-year-old son Anatole to the day-care center, and makes time for swimming and a half-hour walk every day.

Currently living in Reims, Goossens plans to move to the countryside.

"I want my son to have the same joys of playing outside, smelling flowers and eating fruits as I did," she said.

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