Sharing a drink with the Champagne Dame

From regional Victoria to the châteaus of France... How one BCom alumna turned her passion for the bubbly beverage into a successful global business.

After graduating in 2000 with a BCom and a BA from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Economics and Mandarin, Kyla Kirkpatrick followed what she calls the "traditional path" of working for a major consulting firm. However she felt "stifled" by upper management making all the decisions, and decided to forge a more unique career.

In this interview, Kyla explains how she gave up life in Australia as she knew it, bought a one-way ticket to Paris and founded her own business, specialising in champagne education. Meet the 'Champagne Dame'...

Tell us about your life as the Champagne Dame?

My job didn’t exist so I had to create it! I have the rather unusual but very pleasurable job of being a presenter and educator specialising in champagne.

Kyla Kirkpatrick 'the Champagne Dame'

I host champagne master classes where I take people on a full, immersive and emotive journey into the world of champagne – its history, nuances, etiquette and different styles of the drink.  It’s a sermon for me – I’m quite passionate about my topic.

I host events for the general public, privately for companies, conferences and high-net worth individuals. I also take this experience to the next level with indulgent tours, taking guests into the Champagne region.

I hold tours and events globally - there is huge global demand to learn more about this intriguing wine with such an illustrious history.

It started as a small business driven by passion but I have now managed to make a big business out of this love. It’s a niche sector but a profitable one, and I now work across many parts of this industry.

How did you become the Champagne Dame?

I pinch myself each day of this journey! Most people assume my interest in champagne started from an interest in food and wine, but that’s not the case. My interest in champagne came from the region’s fascinating history.

This wine was created by a monk; it was the wine used to anoint the Kings of France into power; it was the juice that fuelled Napoleon’s men on in battle; and it filled the glass of Marie Antoinette and many other great women in time.

After reading every book on champagne I could get my hands on I wrote a pen and paper letter to a gentleman who had written quite an obscure book on the Art and Business of Champagne. This married my two loves and I looked him up, wrote him the letter with a tonne of questions, and to my surprise he wrote back inviting me to Champagne to study with him.

I ended my life as I knew it, bought a one way ticket to Paris and never looked back. Kyla Kirkpatrick

After completing some time in Champagne, conducting extensive ‘research’, I was recruited with Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy - the largest luxury goods company in the world with the largest stable of champagne brands, including Moet et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon and more.

After a few years I wanted to explore my passion for smaller growers and producers, and diversify my work with other brands, so I left and founded my business - The Champagne Dame.

What advice would you give to other people looking to pursue their passion?

Women (and some men) often tell me that I have the dream job, travelling the world hosting champagne tours, events and drinking champagne.

I know people watch from afar with envy but I can assure you for every hour of glamorous travel and entertaining I do, there are at least five hours of hard yakka going into the back-end to run my business.

I am very hands on and run multiple businesses with the champagne sector. Hectic is an understatement!

I work seven days a week and long hours each day – but this is my dream job that I created from a vision so I don’t mind.

I meet people all the time at my shows who tell me they are ‘thinking’ about following their passions and turning their hobby into a career. My advice is pull out the safety net and go for it - without a safety net you have to succeed.

To be an entrepreneur and a trail blazer you need a level of guts, determination, and a slight touch of insanity helps.

This does mean making sacrifices - missing birthdays, not stopping for dinner, putting the kids to bed and going back to your office and working on Sundays. This isn’t forever, but it is until the coast is clear and you are sailing on course. The bounty is at the end of trial and tribulation.

What are the main things you learnt at the University of Melbourne?

Kyla (far right) hosting an 'Insider’s Champagne Tour' at Taittinger’s Château de la Marquetterie
I did one of the first double degrees at The University of Melbourne with a Commerce Degree and an Arts Degree, majoring in Chinese. I become obsessed with my Chinese studies and later shortened my arts degree to focus on a Diploma of Modern Languages.

I loved University - every minute of it - including the long hours of study and the exams.

When I am not so busy building my businesses I will come back and complete my MBA - I can’t wait to be back on campus soaking up the academic energy and surrounding myself with like-minded people who are striving for success.

I had to really work for my grades and my opportunity to be at the University of Melbourne, so I took enormous pride in my achievement.

Although the specific content of my degrees doesn’t apply every day, the structure of the way we learnt and the ability to apply solutions is used daily.

University degrees of this quality set the platform for success forever and I will continue to draw on my learnings.

What does the future hold for the Champagne Dame?

At present, I am raising capital for expansion and launching a much bigger business with a group of companies that are looking at international expansion in importing, sales and distribution, and I am finding references of my commerce degree coming to mind far more regularly.

I am also looking to develop China as a new export market for my business in champagne within a seven year trajectory, so hopefully I will be able put my Mandarin to use.

The future is exciting and I am not resting of my laurels of having a dream job for a moment – I am creating, pushing, striving and building a small empire in my sector.