"Greet your dreams with a smile"
Clémence Lelarge: Global Sales Manager and Adventurer, Age 26.
Clémence Lelarge is a force of nature with a heart of gold. Her wild mane of ginger blonde hair compliments a warm, electrifying personality. She seems to amplify the glow of those around her, and watching faces light up when she enters a room is one of my favorite past times. Clémence first lit up my doorway in 2012 after she had completed her MBA at St.John’s University in New York. She was looking for a marketing internship out in Northern California’s wine country and, as luck would have it, met a friend of mine in San Francisco that told her to come visit me at the winery. I hired her on the spot. Clémence bubbles with life and, coincidentally, Champagne. She is 8th generation Lelarge-Pugeot, a small premier cru organic grower Champagne house in Vrigny, making some of the most delicious bubbly you’ll ever get your hands on.
Growing up in small town France isn’t that much different than growing up in small town USA. There isn’t much to do other than hang out with your friends and “...get into trouble.” But it’s good clean trouble, the wholesome trouble of youth, of climbing rooftops, exploring ‘off limits’ places, erecting forts and constructing ramps for jumping bicycles over your friends lying prone on the ground. Its the scraped knees kind of trouble, the kind that builds character. But life among the vines and in the winery, like any farm, is an unending series of chores, and all members of the family are expected to participate. “If we wanted something we had to work for it.” This strong work ethic was instilled early, and even when Clémence shares her ‘perfect day’ scenario with me, work is involved.
“I always wanted to help people. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor in Africa, or go there and build houses.” She was able to realize a small portion of this childhood dream on a three week trip in Morocco delivering furniture to families. It may not have been as grandiose as her youthful flights of fancy, but it did fuel her thirst for adventure. However, even the grandest of adventures need to start from earthly beginnings, and Clémence returned with the idea to attend Business School, “In business it’s really important to understand different cultures and how they interact. It was a degree that would open the doors to traveling, speaking other languages and meeting lots of different kinds of people.”
She enrolled in a private business school in Lille and shortly after interviewed for her first internship at Taittinger, one of France’s fine champagne producers. “The head of the marketing department interviewed me. She was a complete badass; very smart, very driven and very charming. She interviewed me like it was my last year in school instead of my first. It was really hard.” The interview lasted nearly two hours and when Clémence left she wanted to cry. She thought she had blown the interview, and that there was no way that they were going to hire her. Imagine her surprise when HR called a couple of weeks later and asked her to come in for a second interview. “Working for this tough woman was really inspiring. She was 40 years old and running the marketing department of a large company.” Clémence worked twelve hours a day during her internship at Taittinger, absorbing all that she could before returning to classes and entering an exchange program to New York.
Her focus now is in helping her family’s business grow and at 26 years old she is fast becoming the face of the brand, traveling the world to meet with distributors, sales staff, customers, and building a love and loyalty for the label that is priceless. “My parents work really hard, they deserve success.” Organic and biodynamic farming in Champagne is a novelty, going against traditional practices, and it requires a lot more attention to the vines and to the land. Clémence is passionate about educating people on the importance of sustainability in the wine business, but her dreams for the future extend beyond this. Detaching yourself from old world family responsibilities is challenging, but Clémence has an entrepreneurial spirit that won’t be shushed. She has a business plan in mind and it is a brilliant one. It means breaking away and forging her own path and the last few years have taught her that you have to, “...follow your instincts, you are never going to be able to make everyone happy, you have to stay true to your dreams.” Clémence is fierce and wherever her passions take her, she will take the world by storm.
“Traveling alone forces you to trust yourself, it makes you strong.” Preparing for a recent trip to Japan, Clémence was a bit nervous that, “...my casual way of doing business wasn’t going to work out”, in a culture with many facets and subtleties, she was afraid she might unwittingly offend. “...it was the first time traveling for work where the cultural differences and protocol in communication were so very different than my own.” Her anxiety was tempered by her excitement to discover the sights and sounds of a new country. “I like to take a day or two to explore when I travel for work.” To gain a better understanding of the place she is in Clémence prefers to visit places that are sacred, or culturally and physically significant. “I took a trip to Mount Fuji with people who didn’t speak French or English. It was quite an experiment when the only way to communicate was with gestures and looks.” In fact most of her trip in Japan was conducted in this way.
“With an appetite for “...the good life”, and adventure, Clémence’s tastes range from quiet evenings camping with friends, to leaping out of airplanes. She balances the adrenaline of rock climbing with the serenity of tickling the ivories. Her natural curiosity for new discoveries keeps her on the go, but she has a strength of character that will see her through even when she is flying by the seat of her pants. “The world is about people. How we treat one another is important. The simple act of smiling can make all the difference.” There is a lot that can be accomplished by offering a smile instead of a frown. Smiles are infectious and an easy key to opening doors.
“I want to keep traveling. It invigorates me.” Her adaptability and empathy enable her to be at home anywhere in the world, but the beaches of the rocky northern California coastline tug at her heart and it won’t be long until she finds a way back to their spray. Where, at the end of her ‘perfect day’, she heads off to bed “...with the sounds of the waves, and my friends laughing, and thinking how amazing life is and how grateful I am to be on Earth.”
Clémence's favorite Les Lunes: The Jaquard Shawl.