A Woman Who Changed the History of Champagne

Her name was Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot and, if not for her, we would hardly have the kind of champagne we are used to drink today: a clear, bubble-enriched sparkling wine. Barbe Clicquot was a prominent French businesswoman in the 19th-century who was able to revolutionize the history of champagne and create the champagne empire that still exists after her name Veuve Clicquot. Translated from French, the name even means ‘the Clicquot Widow’.

Breaker of Standards

She became the first woman who got a bank account and one of the first women who build her own business empire at that time. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot became interested in winemaking together with her husband Philippe Clicquot, who decided to precisely develop this part of business inherited from his father. When Philippe died unexpectedly after six years of marriage, Barbe-Nicole, at the age of 27, began running their own wine-making company. In 1806, France was at war, and the decision to produce champagne seemed not the smartest one. However, Barbe Clicquot believed in what she was doing and persistently pursued her goal of creating champagne that would be known not only in France but also abroad. Throughout her life, she has been guided by the motto “Only quality and the highest” and has achieved what she wanted: the bottle, decorated with a yellow label is the distinctive brand of the Veuve Clicquot champagne house and it quickly became a symbol of impeccable quality.

Barbe Clicquot was famous not only for her inventions including pink champagne. She was a brave, charismatic woman, not afraid to take risks, pursue goals, and take every opportunity to expand her business. During the French-Russian war, she used the temporary lifting of the naval blockade to send the Russian tsar several thousand bottles of one of her best champagnes, the 1811 Vin de Bouzy 1811 de la Comete. Alexander I was so fascinated by clear and sweet sparkling wine that Russia became one of the largest exporters in the next few years.

Revolutionary Idea of Production

It is hard to imagine it now, but in the 19th century, champagne was not a drink that is known today. Due to the yeast remaining in the wine after the second fermentation, the champagne was muddy and did not look very attractive. Widow Clicquot went down in history as a woman who was able to make clear sparkling wine. It was then a real revolution in the champagne industry that allowed Veuve Clicquot to take a dominant position in the market.

Revolutionary Idea of Production
Revolutionary Idea of Production

The solution that Barbe came up with was simple and elegant: while the fermentation process was going on, the bottle was inverted, placed vertically on a special table – a pepper table, and then carefully rotated so that all the yeast would be accumulated in the neck of the bottle. At the end of the fermentation, the neck was frozen and the stopper, together with the sediment accumulated on it, was easily removed. The result was a clear sparkling wine with no impurities.