Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was the daughter of a wealthy, well-connected farther who was involved in textiles and politics. At 21 years old, she married Francois Clicquot. Six years later, in 1805, her young husband died leaving his widow a company involved in banking, wool, and Champagne. At the time, it was unthinkable for a woman to work outside the home, let alone a young widow (veuve in French) from an affluent family. But, that didn’t stop the Veuve Cliquot.
Never mind that the Napoleonic wars were in full swing. Never mind that she was not a business person. Never mind that she knew little about Champagne, or wool, or banking for that matter. With the deck stacked completely against her on every front, she persevered. Her first decision was to focus solely on the Champagne part of the company and let her father-in-law deal with the other components. A very wise first move, indeed.
With laser-beam attention, she immersed herself in the process of making Champagne. At the time, Champagne was cloudy (due to sediments from dead yeasts that had created the bubbles). With an eye on aesthetic details, Madame Cliquot invented a process that would change Champagne to a clear wine. Known as “riddling,” this remains a critical technique and is used today by every producer of Champagne. The widow Cliquot, however, was only getting started.
Against all odds, she was the first Champagne company to sell its wine outside of France. Considering Napoleon was wreaking havoc on most of Europe at the time, this is even more laudable. But, she didn’t stop there. She pioneered the making of rosé Champagne. Moreover, she used her visual senses once again---this time she was the first to use a colored label on a Champagne bottle (all of her competitors used white labels). Today, the bright yellow label of Veuve Clicquot Champagne has become a symbol of their brand.
While Veuve Cliquot championed the entire industry of Champagne, she did so much more. She was the first business woman in France. To pay homage to her contributions, the entire company was renamed in her honor. The Widow’s story is beautifully chronicled in the intoxicating book, “The Widow Clicquot” by Tilar Mazzeo. You’ll recognize the cover immediately as it’s the same color as the company’s neon-yellow colored Champagne labels.
Those of you here in France with us will tomorrow enjoy a private tasting led by the winemaker at Veuve Clicquot. And, you’ll be able to view the widow’s desk set much as it was the day she died in 1866 as they have now made a museum of her office from where she made magic.
Vive le Veuve!