Cynthia Coutu has always loved wine. When her job was unexpectedly cut from her company she chose to see it as a blessing in disguise and the opportunity for her to finally do something she really loved. The Paris-based entrepreneur decided to combine her love of Champagne with her passion for lifting women up and created Delectabulles – a Champagne networking club for women. She teaches masterclasses, hosts networking events and takes women off-the-beaten path for day trips to Champagne. She’s been connecting women and increasing the visibility of female winemakers ever since.
Coutu’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
A few days before my 50th birthday, I was informed that my position managing the website of an international organization in Paris was going to be cut. I soon realized this was a blessing. Not even in disguise. I had been struggling with the values and culture of the organization for several years. Like most working mothers, especially single working mothers, I was also trying to balance work and family obligations.
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. I wanted to do something that related to wine. I didn’t know what, 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. While studying to become a certified wine professional I discovered to what extent the wine industry was male-dominated, and that men and women didn’t behave the same way during tastings.
My motto is: I empower women one bottle of champagne at a time. When a woman leaves one of my classes having opened a bottle herself for the first time, and learned what type of champagne she prefers and why, or how to get the best bang for her buck, I feel like I have done a good job. When a female champagne maker, or a female entrepreneur I have partnered with, increases her visibility and sales because of a story I have told, or a tasting event I hosted, I feel like I have done a good job. If women make new friends or business contacts by attending my events, or feel more confident to go out for a drink or travel on their own, I feel like I have done a good job.
Less than a year after creating my company, Delectabulles was voted Best Wine Tasting in Paris by Expatriates Magazine. I was up against some very big competitors and I received 85% of the votes.
I was asked to lead an icebreaker session at the Globale Female Leaders Summit in Berlin. The Summit is nicknamed the “Davos for Women.” Female CEOs and senior executives attend. My session was entitled “Pairing Women and Champagne: Blending Business and Passion.” The goal was to get the women to know each other a bit better, in a fun way, before the official program kicked off. My session was full and and I received glorious feedback. I was honored to be in the presence of such inspirational women and to share my knowledge of champagne with them. I was also happy to tell the story of the woman behind the champagne we were drinking (Anne Malassagne from AR Lenoble) and to show off the amazing shoes I was wearing. They had interchangeable heels and were invented by a woman (Tanya Heath).
After my first year of operations, I realized that the revenue generated from the Delectabulles club activities would never be sufficient to pay my rent. I decided to offer my services to professional women’s associations, to the corporate world, and of course to English-speaking tourists visiting France. I recommend and order champagnes made by a woman for their cocktail events, especially those promoting women or gender equality. I give talks about the role of women in Champagne – with or without a tasting component. I lead team building events, especially those related to women or gender equality. I guide tourists on day trips to Champagne.
Véronique Rivest, a fellow Canadian wine professional. In March 2013 she was the first woman to make it onto the podium of the World’s Best Sommelier competition. This competition has been in existence since 1969. She is an extremely successful woman in the male-dominated wine industry. I admire her passion and determination and generosity. She loves to share her knowledge with clients and peers. She does so in a very accessible way. She doesn’t use her knowledge as power. She uses it to empower.
I am a single working mother. My 12 year-old daughter needs my presence in the evenings. I decided to only work during the daytime while she was at school, or the two evenings per week she stays at her father’s. This reduces my availability to work, and my revenue.
My goal is to become a leading reference about women in Champagne. I would like to write a book about the contributions of women in the history of champagne. I would also like to increase the number of club members and corporate clients in order to generate enough revenue to pay my rent.