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The Champagne Widow

December 31, 2014

veuve

Who would put the word widow as a brand name, let alone while selling Champagne? One of the world’s first international businesswomen did it and became the mastermind behind the bubbly indulgence of every New Year’s Eve.

An heiress of a French textile magnate, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married into Clicquot family and became a young widow (veuve) at the early age of 27. Contrary to Napoleonic traditions of her time, she decided to keep her late husband’s wine business. But the inherited house of Champagne was on the brink of collapse and something had to be done quickly. So, Barbe-Nicole took a gamble, ordered all the bottles of an extremely sweet vintage to be named as Veuve Clicquot Ponsard and sent to the Russian court. The Russian aristocracy loved it and soon the distinctive bright yellow labels were exported all over the world, from Lapland to the United States. Veuve Cliquot successfully turned the upper class beverage into something available to almost everyone. Yet in spite of her international business, Barbe-Nicole never left France as it would have been completely inappropriate for a woman to travel alone during her time.

Maybe that is the reason why Barbe-Nicole was not only a clever marketer of her wine, but also a great inventor. As she needed ever more supplies for her flourishing business, she went back to the cellars and found a way to get rid of yeast sediment that was preventing mass production. Riddling or gently shaking and twisting the bottles while they were turned upside down was her secret. Jean-Rémy Moët, her biggest competitor was ever so annoyed for not knowing how to replicate Veuve Clicquot’s method. For decades he was doing everything to unravel the mystery, but all he could do was to helplessly observe hundreds of workers entering her cellars every day. No matter how hard he tried, no one from Barbe-Nicole’s staff was willing to tell the secret which is still the crucial part of the traditional Champagne method.

Toasting to the New Year, let us remember the words widow Cliquot wrote to one of her grandchildren The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.

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  1. New darling of the wine world | feminet

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