The House of De Sousa has one of the most exciting stories of Champagne. Manuel de Sousa, a Portuguese, fought alongside his French brothers in WW1, survived Verdun and started a family in Avize after the war. Antoine, the eldest son, began working in the cellars of Champagne Lebrun. He returned after WW2, met his future wife Zoémie Bonville, and founded their own champagne house with her. Their son Erick got into winemaking in the 90s, abandoning pesticides early on and producing biodynamic wine from 2010.
The family runs just over 9 hectares, most of which in Avize but also in the Aÿ Ambonnay, Grauves and Mardeuil.The main characteristics of De Sousa Champagne are old-vine viticulture and 'poignettage' which is effectively lees stirring in the bottle to gain complexity. Today, Erick is succeeded by his three children Charlotte, Julie and Valentin after he sadly passed away early 2023.
De Sousa Family L-R: Erick (dec), Julie, Charlotte, Michelle and Valentin.
In honour of Erick, we spoke with Julie and Charlotte recently on the challenges of continuing a legacy and the future of Champagne.
How did you get into winemaking and when? Tell us a little about your background.
Charlotte: We both attended Avize Champagne Wine School from ages 16-22 to learn the art of winemaking. Our parents loved this job and life, and their passion has been passed down to us. I got my degree in Reims and I have an MBA in OIV (International Organisation of Vine and Wine).
Julie: I got my degree in Beaune and MBA in Dijon (Soil and Terroir Master)
What approach do you take to winemaking and viticulture?
Charlotte: During a time when organic and biodynamic farming was almost unheard of, our father was a pioneer. He passed this passion and knowledge down to us, which we intend to continue as part of his legacy. We can proudly say that we have been certified in organic farming since 2010.
Julie: Our philosophy is nature first always! Grapes are our beginning and our core material, so we must take special care of them. Making wine is easy, but growing grapes is the most difficult job. It is essential we work in the vineyard year round to ensure we have the best ripe and healthy grapes every year.
What challenges do you face as a female winemaker in a historically male dominated industry?
Charlotte: Today it is better, but winemaking is still a man’s world and an old idea. Julie’s job as our Chef de Culture is particularly challenging. Every day she is tending to our vineyards and working with the horses, but critics are still very rude to her, are not trusting and often challenge her decisions. But all that just makes us work harder, we just need to prove that we have the knowledge and we can make it!
Julie De Sousa, Chef de Culture
Who do you look to for inspiration?
Charlotte: From Côte des blancs, we have Madame Carole DUVAL-LEROY, she has a very interesting background as she fought to keep her company. She is a very proud,and a strong minded woman and she succeeded because of this!
What are your predictions for the future of Champagne?
Charlotte: Coteaux Champenois (still wine from Champagne) is trending in the region at the moment.
In terms of the climate and how that impacts our vineyards, we are in for a hard and hot year. Our weather is disturbed by pollution, so the atmosphere becomes more irritable and results in more climate challenges and difficult grape growing conditions.
Finally, what are you currently working on?
Julie: In the vineyard, we are increasing our number of horses and converting more vineyards to horse ploughed.
Charlotte: We are also very proud to share that we are now officially able to accommodate the hearing impaired in some of our cellar tours, with sign language interpreters. We’ve both also learnt sign language to welcome hearing impaired guests to our home. See our interpreters in action here.
Charlotte De Sousa, Business Development
Thank you again to Julie and Charlotte for their time and willingness to share some insight into their lives in Champagne. We hope that you enjoy learning more about the De Sousa Family, just as we have.
Shop De Sousa Champagne here.