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Veuve Clicquot

Veuve Clicquot (‘Widow Clicquot’), the first woman at the helm of a champagne house, left her mark on the history of champagne and made her company world famous. With her motto ‘Only one quality, the finest’, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin devoted her life to developing excellent champagne. Innovative by nature, she developed the riddling rack for clarifying wines and created the first known vintage champagne.
Léon Cogniet, Portrait of Madame Clicquot Ponsardin and her great-granddaughter with the Château de Boursault in the background, circa 1860-1862, Château de Brissac, Domaine public / Wikimedia​ 

A life devoted to high-quality champagne and its reputation across the world

Born in 1777, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was the daughter of Nicolas Ponsardin, town mayor and owner of the largest textile factory in Reims. In 1798, she married François Clicquot, owner of a champagne house. However, in 1805, he died suddenly from a fever. At the age of 27, she decided to take over from her husband at the head of the company and named it Maison Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin.

Reconstruction of a Veuve Clicquot riddling rack © Archives Veuve Clicquot

A real visionary, she acquired over 40 hectares of superior quality vines for the company’s winegrowing estate. In 1810, she created the first vintage in Champagne. Then, after a comet passed close to earth in 1811, she produced a high quality wine named ‘Le vin de la comète’ (The comet wine). This established her name on the international market and cemented the brand’s reputation. She remained loyal to the comet, featuring it on the corks.

Despite the wars in Europe, Veuve Clicquot’s fighting spirit enabled her to develop markets abroad. When she learned of the coalition victory over Napoleon in 1814, she shipped 10 550 bottles to St. Petersburg. It was such a success that she was unable to fulfil all the orders. The quantity shipped continued to grow reaching some 280 000 bottles in 1821.

Veuve Clicquot yellow label (1877-1880) © Veuve Clicquot / Xavier Lavictoire

Always seeking to improve the quality of the champagne, in 1816, Madame Clicquot and the Swabian Anton von Müller designed the first riddling rack to make perfectly clear wine. Riddling is still part of the process of winemaking today. It involves inclining bottles of wine neck down in the holes bored in the rack and rotating them a quarter or an eighth of a turn daily. This allows the sediment of yeasts to collect in the neck of the bottle for easier expulsion when the wine is disgorged. In 1818, she created the first blended rosé champagne by adding red wine from her Bouzy vineyards to white wine from Champagne. Other producers simply added a mixture made from elderberries. Such audacity and creativity gave Madame Clicquot the nickname the ‘great lady of Champagne’.

In 1841, at the age of 64, she stepped down as head of the company and retired to the Château de Boursault where she passed away in 1866. The company continued its expansion while seeking to perfect the quality of the wines. In 1987, the house became part of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Group, a world leader in luxury goods.

Box made from leftover grape skins © Veuve Clicquot / Frédéric Maurel

Anecdote : “Nothing is lost, everything can be transformed!”

Clicquot has been driving innovation to package its bottles. In 2013, it created the first biodegradable packaging from potato starch. Two years later, in 2015, it started using the leftover skins of pressed grapes to make contemporary eco-friendly boxes for its famous yellow label bottles.