The Classicist: The History of Veuve Clicquot
The history of renowned French champagne house Veuve Clicquot is told in a fascinating new book by Tilar J. Mazzeo, who reveals the young widow who brought it to fame and fortune. The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It is the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who was "a young witness to the dramatic events of the French Revolution and a new widow during the chaotic years of the Napoleonic Wars."
After her husband Francois' death, Barbe-Nicole, 27, defied convention by assuming control of their fledgling family wine business. With much bravery and good fortune, against all odds and through "dizzying political and financial reversals", she became one of the world's first great businesswomen and one of the richest women of her time. Pictured above is her estate the Hotel du Marc in Reims.
A legend in her native France, Barbe-Nicole's story is not well known abroad. Mazzeo has uncovered many fascinating details about the grande dame of champagne, including the following:
• By her late 30s, Barbe-Nicole was one of the richest women in France, with annual sales of more than $30 million per year. She's credited with having taken champagne from marginal to mainstream and making it synonymous with style.
• As the Napoleonic Wars wound down, Barbe-Nicole risked her entire fortune and ran the blockade with 10,000 bottles of her most precious vintage, positioning herself to corner the huge Russian market the moment it re-opened. She was there weeks ahead of her competitors, selling her champagne for $100 a bottle to the celebrating Russians, becoming famous practically overnight.
• Barbe-Nicole invented champagne-making techniques that shaved months off production time and are still used today. Thanks to her employees' loyalty and a shrewd profit-sharing plan, she kept her method secret for almost a decade, solidifying her market dominance.
Gallery: The Widow Clicquot
Veuve is one of the few champagne houses to actively market a lifestyle along with their wines, which only makes sense since champagne is an internationally-recognized symbol of the finer things in life. Aside from the Riva collection, they have collaborated on projects with Porsche and designers Karim Rashid and Andree Putman, among others. We think Barbe-Nicole would be proud of the place her iconic yellow label occupies today.