Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to the most inspiring women whose strength has shaped the world around them. That means on this Friday’s Featured Winery, we’re sharing the fascinating history of none other than the courageous woman of La Maison Veuve Clicquot (translated to english as the House of the Widow Clicquot). In a time when a woman running a business was totally unheard of, Madame Clicquot took her Champagne House to the very top, making the name Clicquot itself synonymous with luxury. Here is the inspiring story of Barb-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot and her amazing determination.
Barb-Nicole Ponsardin grew up in Reims, France as the daughter of a shrewd businessman who started a textile company in the late 1700s, with the hopes of elevating his family’s status from the middle class. These dreams were drastically changed with the start of the French Revolution in 1789, when he joined the resistance. At age 20, Barb-Nicole married Francois Clicquot, a member of another wealthy textile merchant family. His family also happened to run a side business of wine making. Francois took over the family’s small winery, choosing to focus on Champagne that had made the region famous, but had recently fallen out of favor. He worked to gain sales and shipping routes out of France, while Barb-Nicole had her hand in the wine business as well, carefully learning her husband’s techniques in winemaking and business. However, the French Revolution took its toll and the business didn’t attain the success they’d hoped for. Francois became depressed and ill, eventually succumbing to typhoid fever, although many suspected it was suicide. Following her husband’s passing, Barb-Nicole took up the family business as a widow at the young age of 27, with a young daughter to care for, as well.
Garnering her strength and choosing to continue running the Champagne house, Barb-Nicole convinced her father to invest in the business. He agreed, with one stipulation: she complete a four-year internship with an experienced vintner. When the Russian army invaded Riems, Barb-Nicole was savvy enough to serve her Champagne to Russian officers, building a strong market among the Russian soldiers who favored her product. She then changed the bottle’s label to the iconic, unmistakable bright orange-yellow one that still graces the bottles today.
In addition to her branding, Barb-Nicole was a pioneer in new methods to improve Champagne. She was one of the first to use the riddling rack – you may have seen them – large boards with holes where Champagne bottles are stored tipped so that gravity forces sediment toward the cork to be removed, making for a clearer Champagne with a finer bead. Her improvements and techniques led to increasing sales over 175,000 bottles per year by the 1820s. At the age of 89, Barb-Nicole ended her leadership as the owner of Veuve Clicquot, was dubbed the “Grand Dame of Champagne”, the namesake for the famous bottle, going down in history as an iconic female trailblazer throughout the wine-making world.
For a bit of a splurge and a celebration of this great story, Veuve Clicquot can be found in many fine champagne gifts on GiftTree.com!