Knowing she wouldn’t be able to find the natural wines she’d enjoyed drinking in France’s Loire Valley in the late 1990s back in New York, Jenny Lefcourt did as most travelers do: She brought them back in her suitcase. But for Lefcourt, this was more than just a souvenir, it was the start of her wine importing business, Jenny & François, which officially launched in 2000.
But Lefcourt’s path to natural wine began entirely by accident. While waiting for the bus one evening in Paris, where she was studying abroad as she earned her Ph.D. from Harvard, the owner of the adjacent wine shop invited her inside. “He poured me a glass of a very cloudy chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. It was nothing like I’d ever had,” she remarks.
The following weekend, she returned to the shop for a tasting, where she met winemaker Hervé Souhaut. A month later, she passed by his winery while visiting the Rhône Valley with François Ecot, her then-husband and co-founder of her importing business. “We first started tasting all of his wines,” recalls Lefcourt. “And then he started opening wines from all his friends. And then his wife came in, offering us dinner and a place to stay that night. That was the beginning of everything.”
Back in New York, the bottles of natural wine she had lugged back with her quickly won over drinkers, even as conversations about indigenous yeast, sulfites and biodynamic winemaking were only beginning to enter the common lexicon.
This year, the company will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and Jenny & François’ portfolio has expanded well beyond Lefcourt’s carry-on capacity (pre-TSA days), representing Australia, Mexico and Slovakia among other regions, and is now distributed across 45 states—with no signs of slowing. “They’re delicious and wonderful—real, true wines,” she says.
So what does Lefcourt do when she’s not finding the next natural-wine hotbed? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the worst thing she’s ever drank, the best meal she’s ever had and the one album she’d listen to on loop for the rest of her life. —Tatiana Bautista
Co-founder and CEO of Jenny & Francois Selections, importer of natural wine.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a novelist. I wrote 100 pages of a novel about a young woman living in Paris whose family owns a restaurant. I’d love to sit in cafés and work on that novel or other ones. That would have been one path not taken! But I love my job. I’d like to just continue to get better at what I do, as well as continue to become a better person in general, a great mom, a great partner to my husband, a great friend to my friends, and an active and caring citizen of the world.
Best thing you ever drank:
The first time I tried Hervé Souhaut’s Syrah. It was one of my many awakenings to natural wine, and I remember grinning ear to ear and saying, “What is it that I am feeling/tasting/experiencing? Why am I so happy?!” Another wine memory is hiking down the Pyrenee mountains with rolling rocks under my feet, and having a bottle of Clairette de Die, a local sparkling wine, at a tavern at the bottom. Best wine ever! That just goes to show, there is a wine for every moment in life. That one was the right wine for that moment. Pair wine with life!
Worst thing you ever drank:
Every time my father-in-law tried to pour me a glass of New Zealand sauvignon from a big company that now has ads on television. I won’t name names. I am allergic to the taste of this beverage. Something about the overpowering fruitiness just repels me. He understood my taste after a while and loves plenty of the wines I import.
First time you ever got drunk:
I was at college and very proud to be cooking a recipe of Chicken with Cognac from a cookbook my mom gave me. I was sipping the Cognac while cooking. I remember the floor to my apartment was very crooked as it was, on the second floor of a house on a very steep street in Ithaca, N.Y. And then the floor got even more slanted. I don’t think I ever drank Cognac again.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Probably some Miles Davis. Calm, cool and inspiring. Right now, at home, my daughter wants to listen to pop music all the time. Maybe that’s why I’m craving some jazz. I love listening to a French radio station called FIP, which plays jazz, classical, French pop, “world music,” as they call it over there. Some of everything all mixed together. It makes me feel like I’m still in Paris.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I’m too busy obsessing over work and parenting to dive into hobbies. My daughter’s hobbies are way cooler than mine ever were. She is seven and does mixed martial arts and ice hockey. She is so strong. I’m such a proud mama!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
As a friend of mine said the other day, as you get older you care less and less about what anyone thinks. I’d say that is true, and every five years more and more so. I think I’m a reserved extrovert—so the more I push myself to put myself out there, the happier I am.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I am not a cocktail maker. My husband makes us gin Martinis. But, OK, this is not a cocktail experiment, but my secret drink right now is putting a few ice cubes in Fruktstereo cider. It feels totally taboo, but it’s delicious. Something about the acid and ice is so yummy. That was [my husband] Jimmy’s idea too, however. I can’t take credit!
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I absolutely adore going on hikes in nature. I don’t do it nearly enough. I wish I lived in Northern California and could hike every day in the redwoods. When I lived for 10 years in France, I loved hunting for mushrooms on weekends with friends. Otherwise, I love to read novels.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I’ve never worked behind a bar. Except a little in Paris, but I mostly made espressos and poured glasses of wine.
Your favorite bar, and why:
I like wine bars best, because that’s what I drink mostly. I like bars that have great food, like Wildair and June. These days I usually eat when I drink.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
We used to roast a whole lamb with my group of friends in France at our parties. Sitting outside for hours, sharing wine and talking all day until dinner. Those were pretty incredible meals. More recently, my husband took me to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my birthday. The ultrasimplicity and beauty of the vegetables coming straight from the farm, the magic of walking to have a bread tasting in front of the wood-burning bread oven, the beauty of driving up to the warm lights of that building at night. I love it there.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Gin Martini with lots of olives. Or an IPA. But I am really a wine drinker.
Anything natural, of course. Bubbles, often.
In a dive bar?
IPA. Or a sour beer if they have one.
Your preferred hangover recovery regimen:
Lots of coffee, an egg sandwich with cheese, lots of water, a vigorous walk, and then laying on the couch with a book.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
That New Zealand sauvignon I mentioned earlier.
The last text message you sent:
Hey little bro, lunch this week?