Wine History: Widow Clicquot

The Widow Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot (Veuve is “Widow” in French), built a Champagne empire and transformed the industry. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (née Ponsardin) was born on December 16, 1777. She married François Clicquot and together they started a Champagne house. François soon died, but instead of transferring the business to others, Barbe-Nicole started running it and continued to do so for the next 36 years, during which time, she transformed the world (of Champagne at least). 

Among her many accomplishments, not least of which should be being a woman running a business in 18th-century France, there are three ideas that had the greatest effect – internationalizing Champagne, creating brand identity, and inventing the process by which Champagne is made.

Internationalizing Champagne – Through ingenuity and daring, she transformed Champagne from a product drunk within France, to something shared around the world. Barbe-Nicole capitalized on France’s political struggles of revolution and empire-building to share her wine in Russia and other countries, creating new markets and internationalizing Champagne.

Creating brand identity – Until Barbe-Nicole, most champagne was unlabeled and buyers did not distinguished between different champagne houses. Barbe-Nicole started branding her wine with the name Veuve Clicquot (labels would come later) and soon people starting asking for a glass of Veuve (the Widow) when referring to wanting Champagne, a practice that continues today.

Inventing the process by which Champagne is made – The third, and most memorable, was that she invented the process of remuage, also called riddling. In order for Champagne to be created, a second fermentation must take place within the bottle to create the carbonation; however, the process to remove the yeast sediments from this second fermentation out of the bottle was risky, time consuming, and ultimately not that effective I producing clear wine. Conscious of the time and profit loss caused by the removal of this sediment, Barbie-Nicole experimented with a kitchen table drilled with holes and discovered a processes of slowly turning the bottles so that after only six weeks the sediment inside would settle in the bottle neck and could be easily disgorged. While she kept this invention a secret from her competitors for several years, propelling her Champagne further, the process of remuage transformed the industry and is still used today as the best method for clearing Champagne.

Today, Veuve Clicquot honors the widow with her portrait on each of the muselets (wire cages), along with her signature on the bottles. If you want to know more about the Widow Clicquot, I highly recommend “The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It” by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It’s a fascinating peak into the world of Barbe-Nicole and history of this incredible and inspiring woman.

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