Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot is known as la grande dame de la Champagne
The pop of a Champagne bottle signifies a party has begun. Though Champagne has been sloshed by the elite in everything from Casablanca to the James Bond series to Downton Abbey, there once was a time where Champagne wasn’t anything special. We owe Champagne's prestige to the founder of Veuve Clicquot, a woman named Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot.
Madame Clicquot’s father-in-law Philippe Clicquot officially started the Cliquot House in 1772, and handed off the business to his son François soon after. When François passed away in 1805, Madame Clicquot, just 27 years old, began to run the company. She is the first woman credited with being in charge of a Champagne house. Also known as Widow Clicquot (or Veuve Clicquot in French), she grew the business into an empire that today is still widely admired.
“She is credited with transforming Veuve Clicquot into one of the greatest Champagne Houses in the world through her audacious and innovative spirit,” Aygline Pechdo, Vice President of Veuve Clicquot, told me in an email. Madame Clicquot essentially revolutionized multiple aspects of the Champagne industry, Pechdo said, explaining that one of Madame Clicquot’s most impressive initiatives happened in 1818, when she created the first ever blended Rosé Champagne.
“Before this, Rosé Champagnes were created with a mixture made from elderberries, which did not satisfy Madame Clicquot,” Pechdo said. Demanding that “our wines must be flattering both on the palate and on the eye”, Pechdo said that Madame Clicquot “had a new vision where color, taste, and aroma were crucial to the quality of her Champagnes, so she re-created the process.” Made using the assemblage process, the Rosé Champagne involves mixing red wine made from the Bouzy region with their Champagne. This method yields a Rosé Champagne that is not only pink in color, but carries over some of the strong characteristics present in a red wine. Veuve Clicquot is currently celebrating the 200th anniversary of Madame Clicquot’s creation.
The world’s first blended Rosé Champagne is just one of Madame Clicquot’s many innovations. She also created the Riddling Rack, now a necessity to creating good Champagne. After a sparkling wine has properly aged, sediment that forms in the bottle must be carefully removed. Madame Clicquot’s Riddling Rack allowed bottles to be positioned upside down, so sentiment would concentrate at the mouth of the bottle. After the sediment is removed, Champagne achieves its classic crystal-clear appearance.
Madame Clicquot’s tireless work won her the moniker “la grande dame de la Champagne,” or the most prominent woman in Champagne. Now, Veuve Clicquot and its bright yellow label are a mark of the elite, from the Polo Classic to the bottles’ appearance on social media.