#NewtoNext, Une Femme Champagne, Jen Pelka
Jen Pelka just popped the cork on your new favorite Champagne and sparkling wine brand, Une Femme. Jen and her co-founder and brother, Zach, are committed to working with women producers and have a focus on sustainability and transparency not currently represented in the category. We talk to her about her effervescent new venture.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and Une Femme Champagne
I am the founder and CEO of The Riddler, the popular Champagne bar fully funded by females, with two locations: in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley (the original) and New York City’s West Village, and Magnum PR, a San Francisco-based restaurant public relations agency. I also am the co-founder of Une Femme, a Champagne and sparkling wine brand that launches today.
Une Femme is a Champagne and sparkling wine brand that I founded with my brother Zach Pelka. The brand is powered and inspired by fierce females and introduces a unique take on Champagne and sparkling wine. It’s a simple, refined and elegant wine, and we pride ourselves in our transparency in method and sustainability. Une Femme features two wines: a Premier Cru, titled The Juliette, in partnership with Julie Médeville of Gonet-Médeville, the highly acclaimed grower-producer in the heart of the Sauternes region of France, and a sparkling rosé, called The Callie, in partnership with Samantha Sheehan and POE Wines in Napa Valley.
Header image, image left, image right credit // Jordan Wise
Why does the Champagne market need a shakeup?
The Champagne market is a $55 million business and 95% of the business is from negociantes and only 5% is from small grower-producers. That means most people experience Champagne from really big houses who aren’t transparent about their sourcing, such as what grapes they’re using, what they’re using for the dosage, or their farming processes. Often, they’ll assert that it’s because it’s their house style, but that’s just because they’re producing so much of it (tens of millions of cases).
On the opposite side of the spectrum are tiny productions that are hard to find. With Une Femme, we wanted to create a brand that is transparent. We are working primarily with women and care about sustainability.
We also don’t think that there is a Champagne brand that is very current. Of the top 10 Champagne brands in the world, they are almost all 200+ years old and none of them are woman-first. When I think about the brands that I really love, I increasingly want to know more about the brand – sustainability, the founders, what they support, etc. It’s something I care a lot about and something I wanted Une Femme to embody.
Is there anything that surprised you about bringing a new wine brand to market?
It took a lot longer than I expected – about three years. There is a high barrier to entry around things like packaging, which we’re still making tweaks to. Things like that didn’t seem like they would be that difficult but proved to be much more challenging than we expected.
You were one of five founders chosen to pitch at our Enthuse Foundation pitch competition and won a cash prize. Do you have any tips for women who are exploring pitching and pulling together a fundraising deck?
Number 1: Watch Shark Tank. If you can confidently answer all of the questions they’re asking on Shark Tank, you’ll be in a really good spot.
Number 2: Become an expert on your product, your competitive set and what differentiates you from what else is out there.
Number 3: Believe in your idea. You have to live and breathe it and become the number one advocate for your brand.
“Believe in your idea. You have to live and breathe it and become the number one advocate for your brand.”
What, if anything, did you learn from the experience?
I learned that four minutes is a very short period of time and you really have to learn how to consolidate your differentiating factors into a short pitch. I also think energy is extremely important. You have to bring a lot of enthusiasm.
What do you know about entrepreneurship now that you wish you knew when you started?
In the beginning, you’re so scrappy and you take on (inevitably) every or nearly every responsibility, which is an incredible and valuable learning experience. Over time, I’ve learned what my strengths are and I’ve hired people who are passionate about things that are not necessarily my strengths, and I’ve been able to give away those responsibilities. You can take everything on or give away responsibilities to people who are passionate about them. Investing in the company to invest in my team and provide opportunities for them to grow is important to me.
I feel like I learn something every day, but one big lesson is don’t be too hard on yourself and just have the conviction to keep going. Try not to take on too much – even a small or simple business or project will have a tremendous amount of complexity and it’s better to do one thing really well than multiple things poorly. That is something I’m always working on.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter