The Riddler's Jen Pelka Launches Women-Powered Champagne
Last year, Jen Pelka, founder of the beloved San Francisco Champagne bar The Riddler, expanded to New York City, bringing her unfussy approach to bubbles and food pairings to the West Village. She also announced that she would launch a Champagne brand of her own: “After serving tens of thousands of bottles of Champagne at The Riddler, I’ve found that there’s not a *widely available* Champagne that speaks to our generation,” she wrote in an Instagram post last March. “That’s what we’re up to.”
Enter Une Femme, the new line co-founded by Pelka and her brother, Zach, who she brought on board as CEO. The label is meant to be a celebration of women—named after women, and made by women, too. All along the supply chain, the Pelkas worked with women, from the winemakers, Gonet-Médeville and POE Wines, to the distributor, Martine’s Wines.
“While there is still so much change needed in the wine world to reach gender parity, we believe that voting with your wallet matters,” Jen told Food & Wine. “We do work with many strong men who are supportive of women, which is incredibly important—Zach runs the brand, and we work with many restaurants and retail partners, like Dustin Wilson’s Verve in NYC and SF, that have been supportive of our mission from the very start. We’re all in this together.”
Une Femme says it is powered by women investors, and partners with women wine buyers all around the country, from Victoria James at New York City's Cote to Stevie Stacionis at Bay Grape in Oakland. At the end of every year, "a large donation" is given to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that provides women in need with professional attire and development support to thrive in the workplace.
So far, Une Femme has two wines. The first bottle to hit the market was The Juliette ($65), a Premier Cru Champagne that launched in February. It was named after Julie Gonet-Médeville, half of the duo behind Gonet-Médeville, a Champagne grower-producer out of Bisseuil, France. She and her husband, Xavier, produced a new blend specifically for Une Femme using hand-harvested, organically grown chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Food & Wine's executive wine editor, Ray Isle, identified notes of citrus peel and green apple in the smell; the citrus carried over in the taste too, resulting in a crisp product with nice acidity.
We enjoyed tasting it with popcorn (you could always try Jen's everything-bagel recipe), but the Pelkas would also recommend caviar and potato chips, oysters, lobster rolls, runny cheeses, soft scrambled eggs, and warm fruit tart as a pairing.
Then there's the Callie ($22), a sparkling California rosé that joined the lineup on March 1, for which Une Femme partnered with Samantha Sheehan of POE Wines, based in Napa. (The name is a nod to Sheehan's love of California sparkling wine.) While Gonet-Médeville handled making the The Juliette since Champagne takes longer to produce, Jen and Zach worked with Sheehan and Martine’s Wines directly to develop The Callie.
“We basically got to play mad scientist for several days, pouring wines into test tubes, playing with everything from the acidity to coloring,” Zach said.
The wine is pleasantly dry, with toasty, caramel notes similar to those in Champagne, along with a berry taste as well—even our editors who normally don’t like rosé really enjoyed it.
Down the line, Une Femme plans on releasing more bottles. Zach says early success has encouraged them to develop a larger product line, and they’re working to determine the next skus—within the next year or so, a Crémant de Bourgogne might be on the way, as he and Jen feel “there are some incredible women winemakers in Burgundy.”
Those interested can order The Juliette for $65; The Callie will be available to order on the website soon.