While you’re probably aware of Veuve Clicquot as a high-end Champagne brand, do you know the story of the woman behind its success?
Champagne brands. With its distinct font and simple but elegant yellow label styling, it is an instantly recognizable marker of a capital-O occasion. Not to mention its flawless execution of everything a Champagne should be: powerful yet elegant; equally fresh in taste and aromatic in bouquet; bound by an exquisite mousse that is at once silky and vivacious. It is doubtlessly la grande dame of the Champagne world, if not the world of wine itself. And this grande dame Champagne in fact has a grande dame in the root of its own story. Those who crave history lessons in empowering women, take note.You know it as one of the most, if not the most, iconic
Veuve Is Widow’s Wine
The very sound of the name Veuve Clicquot invokes a certain air: the mysterious sexiness of the “Veuve”—a lazy vowel bookmarked by those va-va-voom Vs—followed by the precise metronome of the “Clicquot.” But the very name of Veuve Clicquot also tells another story; the history in fact. Or, since International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are having a moment, should we say the her-story? I studied French for about six years of my life, but “veuve” is not a term one necessarily comes by in routine vocabulary lessons. It’s a word, in fact, one would hope to not to have reason to know.
In French, “veuve” is simply, “widow.”
But the inherent sadness of the Widow Clicquot begins and ends there. Though a widow, she was no crone, and hers is a success story of female empowerment, entrepreneurial spirit, and the good things that come with women in business.
Meet Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin
The story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the one-and-only Veuve Clicquot, is one that can be summarized in the very tasting notes of the Champagne brand she rose to prominence: powerful but elegant; strength and silk. She was a young widow of only 27 years of age at the untimely death of her husband, the then-owner of Maison Clicquot, in 1805. The Clicquot brand had been operating for 30 years at this point, and was already internationally quite successful by late 1700s standards.
However, two matters of providence lined up for the brand when François Clicquot passed away: First, that the business and inheritance laws of the time, while prohibiting most women from owning businesses, made no such restrictions on widows specifically. (One imagines that these laws were forged with older women, who would likely just hand over to their sons, in mind, and not feisty twenty-somethings.) Second, that Madame Clicquot was precisely the kind of revolutionary who would retain her right to be involved in the business, and refuse to remove herself from the picture, even in an industry dominated entirely by men at the time. An icon for female entrepreneurs to follow centuries beyond her time.
Also a good thing for the Clicquot name was that the brand’s founder, her father-in-law, was open to her ambition. She audaciously re-named the brand for herself, and by maintaining exacting standards and demonstrating her savviness as a businesswoman, in a few years’ time catapulted it from being merely successful to an international symbol of luxury, where it remains to this day.
A fearless and intelligent business woman, you have Madame Clicquot to thank for innovations that lead to clarified Champagne—the secondary fermentation process in sparkling wine production naturally leaves the wine cloudy with yeast sediment—as well as rosé Champagne. (Hell yeah pink bubbles were figured out by a lady.) The processes she invented to achieve both of these qualities are exactly what continue to be in use today.
The Legacy of Madame Clicquot
The legacy of Madame Clicquot continues with the Champagne brand awarding The Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award and New Generation Award every year since 1972, to recognize the achievements of female leaders among all fields who demonstrate similar leadership and entrepreneurial ambition.
Women continue to make strides in every aspect of winemaking today, though it is still largely a man’s vineyard out there. But this month let us not forget that the top-of-the-line bar was set some 200+ years ago by a woman, with the very beverage that has its use worldwide for congratulatory purposes. This Women’s History Month, Madame Clicquot, a toast to you.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label (price varies), on Drizly
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Related Video: Learn the Right Way to Open a Bottle of Champagne
Header image courtesy of Veuve Clicquot/Facebook.