Last year, French “affordable luxury” bubbles sensation, Le Grand Courtâge, formed a national partnership with our national partner in wine, Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits. “Le Grand Courtâge”, which loosely translates to “The Great Courtship” in English, certainly feels that way for us ~ we welcomed the brand into our portfolio with open arms, we have been enjoying phenomenal success with the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé and want to share more of their story.
We sat down for an exclusive interview with founder Tawnya Falkner on our recent trip to L.A. to learn more.
We are dying to know how it all began for Tawnya Falkner?
Okay, here goes. I grew up in upstate New York, in a 3 street farming village at 12 Main Street across from the general store and I fondly remember back yard BBQs and Sunday dinners.
My parents still live in that house and both they, and that experience, definitely helped inform my view that it’s the simple pleasures that bring the greatest joy.
That small town also inspired my wanderlust and evoked a passion for traveling the world and I’ve subsequently lived in Asia and Europe.
How fabulous. Is that how you were introduced to wine?
Absolutely. In visiting different parts of the world, it enhanced my interest in food & wine and it also showed me that they are the great common denominator in all countries.
I love that! Of course, I am utterly curious about how you got from being an architect and real estate developer to making wine in France?
While on the surface the two careers in development and wine may seem vastly differently, the truth is that with physical spaces, you are trying to evoke a feeling whereby it leaves people with an impression and appeals to various senses (like with wine).
A development is very multi-faceted and is years in the making, much like winemaking. In reality, with both you are thinking about the end product and what your goal and objective is on day one. To me the common thread of each is bringing people together and ultimately it is about human connection.
I couldn’t agree more. Such a beautiful way to look at it. And that immediately makes me think of the phrase, “In vino veritas.” In wine there is truth. Did you ever have an “aha” wine moment?
It was more of an awakening. Friends and I participated in a champagne tasting at Arlequin in San Francisco and even with all the expensive champagnes, most of us liked the lighter, less doughy styles.
Also, monthly at home we did tastings of a particular varietal with friends that love wine, and when we did sparkling, the one which ‘won’ out over the champagnes was a light styled French sparkling that was very affordable.
These two events piqued my interest and started me down the path.
Please tell us more about this. About how you got from rural New York to San Francisco to France.
Having grown up in a rural area, people worked in farming, factories or the service industry. My father worked hard as a machinist and my mom was in the insurance industry. I’m actually the first person in my family to graduate from college.
Growing up I wanted to be an architect and pursued that path and ultimately became a real estate developer. That led me to San Francisco.
And the next leg?
As a female consumer I was surprised by the lack of innovation and level of traditionalism in most French wines, and I saw a gap in the category. I also saw the huge growth in the category both domestically and globally.
As most French wine is traditionally branded, packaged and styled, I saw an opportunity to create an affordable French sparkling wine that appeals to the consumer: a memorable name, an elegant bottle, and a balanced, fruit forward wine that delights the palate.
As champagne is expensive, I wanted to create an affordable luxury to celebrate and elevate the “every” day.
And that it does. Where did you go from there? Once you saw the opportunity?
I did my homework. I put together a business plan, took the leap, and convinced a Frenchman named Marcel to work with me on developing my vision.
With 40+ years of sparkling experience, he was able to help me craft my vision and stylistic flavor profile and handles the technical aspects of the wine making.
How can you go wrong with a French guy named Marcel. And the name? How did you come up with Le Grand Courtâge?
In French, Le Grand Courtâge means ‘the great courtship’ and it is a little my story as an American working with the French, blending grapes from different terroir, and the old and new world coming together.
For me, Le Grand Courtâge it is about reminding people to take a few moments to re-charge and find the joy in life’s simple pleasures, like a meal shared with friends, a relaxing bubble bath or a picnic in the park…. all while enjoying a glass of bubbles of course.
Of course. We especially love that your company is female owned and run.
The reality is that females control 85% of all consumer purchases since they do the majority of the household shopping. And they also purchase a similar percentage of bubbles annually.
Early on I felt there was an opportunity to offer a fresh female perspective to brand building and the category. I felt that we could win with a female team since we are the consumer base.
I believe our palate and overall approach to marketing and positioning, along with our what and why, helps the brand and story to resonate in the hearts and minds.
We innately understand what women think and I believe our positive and aspirational messaging is a point of differentiation.
What has it been like in this male dominated industry?
Building a business and a brand is hard, but the issues of raising capital and trying to break into a massive industry dominated by men and big brands, has been challenging to say the least.
So breaking barriers is kind of your thing then. We love that!
We broke convention with our blend too, yes. It’s a veritable Tour de France which showcases unique varietals from across France.
This vin mousseux is truly a French appelated wine given the unique varietals from various regions. Americans talk dry but drink sweet, and therefore I wanted to offer the traditional attributes of dryness, yeast and acidity, but with hints of fruit on the finish to soften the profile.
We produce in Nuits St Georges in Burgundy but source from a few regions. Our Blanc de Blancs is Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Chenin Blanc. The Brut Rose is Chardonnay, Ugni Blanc and Gamay.
The packaging is pretty fabulous too.
I saw a gap which centered around price, palate and packaging. I set out to re-envision the bottle design, soften the profile and make an affordable everyday luxury which is approachable and versatile.
Tres cool. Now, let’s talk food and wine. Do you have a favorite cuisine?
Country French cuisine and Japanese are my two favorite styles.
Do you have a favorite food & wine pairing?
Fried Chicken and bubbles are my favorite! Popcorn, potato chips, spicy Asian, sushi, BBQ… really anything rich, savory, fatty, fried or spicy are terrific pairings. Sparkling truly is the ‘scrubbing bubbles’ for the palate and the effervescence and acidity make for a very versatile wine for cuisines and cocktails.
Ooh yeah. White Truffle Potato Chips with Le Grand Courtâge are pretty fabulous. And finally…what’s the one thing you want everyone to take away from this interview and your brand?
On the back of every bottle is says “Embrace life. Dream Big. Accept all invitations.” Our overarching philosophy is about living joyously.
This is just the beginning of the journey, we’ve already hit 50,000 cases with 70% on-premise placements, so our raison d’être and reason for being seems to be working.
Our also philosophy seems to strike a chord with consumers and trade.
It’s definitely struck a chord with us. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for being our partner!