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Cecile Bonnefond: Woman CEO is running the “New” Piper-Heidsieck

Richard Elia

Cécile Bonnefond

Cecile Bonnefond, CEO of Piper-Heidsieck

For nine years Cecile Bonnefond was the president of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, one of the largest Champagne houses in Reims. Those were happy years, she says, but happier ones were to come when she recently became the CEO of Piper-Heidsieck, one of the few Champagnes houses run by a woman, and one that has made a quantum leap in quality. Cellarmaster Regis Camus has seen to this by adding more reserve wines to his cuvee. For the first time, Piper-Heidsieck was selected for our 30th annual Non-Vintage Best of The Best Champagnes, and co-starred with Billecart Salmon for “Best of Show.”

Life hasn’t always been easy for Piper-Heidsieck, especially since it also owns Charles Heidsieck, generally seen as a more recognized and visible Champagne, at least in the U.S.  Bonnefond, however, is unfazed by this. She explains: “The two houses not only have a different story but a different style.” Charles has more gusto and has always had more than its share of reserve wines. Piper, on the other hand, was always more stylish, lighter, and elegant. Bonnefond continues her narrative: “Piper dates back to 1785, a few years before the Revolution. Piper developed a reputation as a grand, aristocratic house, and today Piper is the number three Champagne house internationally throughout 150 countries.  Charles Heidsieck, however, started in 1851. Charles Heidseick travelled to America with the intent of making his Champagne known by his first name, which was quite unusual at the time. He became a legend there and a gentleman-dandy. His Champagne became known as ‘Charlie.’ Nonetheless, focus is the real issue with the two:  with Piper-Heidsieck, we have a larger distribution; with Charles Heidsieck, we have a more targeted one.”

Piper-Heidsieck vineyards

The vineyards of Piper-Heidsieck

While some have seen Bonnefond’s rise to CEO as a victory for women in a male dominated Champenois world, Bonnefond sees it differently. “Women,” she says, “have always been a part of the Champagne world. Piper-Heidsieck has already had two successful women: Madame Widow Heidsieck, who married Henri-Guillaume Piper--hence the name of the Champagne house; and Madame Yolande de Suarez d’Aulan, who ran the company in the middle of the 20th century. Champagne houses, big and small, have more female winemakers than ever. I hope this continues as half of the Champagne consumers are, in fact, women.”

All of which trails another question: Are women better tasters of Champagne than men? “Let me just say this,” Bonnefond says diplomatically, “women are at least as good at tasting as men. At Piper-Heidsieck, two out of our five tasters are women.” Thus another question: How much of her personal taste is involved in the creation of Piper-Heidsieck. “I always offer my personal expression about the Champagne, but my philosophy is to leave the winemaking to our cellarmaster, Regis Camus. He has been with Piper for more than 20 years; he has won awards and accolades from around the world, and I never tamper with success.”

For us, Piper-Heidsieck is the “New” Piper-Heidsieck. We doubt Bonnefond would agree with the moniker, but nonetheless  the “New” Piper-Heidsieck is better than ever, and is the most improved Champagne in the market place, with Moet & Chandon following close behind. The new Piper has improved flavor, greater richness, and deeper texture than ever, which is due primarily to the addition of more reserve wines in the blend. Camus has also garnered more fruit and finesse in the wine. We asked Bonnefond about this. “In order to give you a sense of the evolution,” she explains, “let me offer a dozen key points that showcase why the wine is now a  grand and bold Champagne. This timeline, moreover, also highlights Regis Camus’ success during his 20 years with us.


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