The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
Tilar J. Mazzeo
Veuve Clicquot champagne epitomizes glamour, style, and luxury. But who was this young widow-the Veuve Clicquot-whose champagne sparkled at the courts of France, Britain, and Russia, and how did she rise to celebrity and fortune? In The Widow Clicquot, Tilar J. Mazzeo brings to life for the first time the fascinating woman behind the iconic yellow label: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. A young witness to the dramatic events of the French Revolution and a new widow during the chaotic years of the Napoleonic Wars, Barbe-Nicole defied convention by assuming-after her husband's death-the reins of the fledgling wine business they had nurtured. Steering the company 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. Although the Widow Clicquot is still a legend in her native France, her story has never been told in all its richness-until now. Painstakingly researched and elegantly written, The Widow Clicquot provides a glimpse into the life of a woman who arranged clandestine and perilous champagne deliveries to Russia one day and entertained Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte on another. She was a daring and determined entrepreneur, a bold risk taker, and an audacious and intelligent woman who took control of her own destiny when fate left her on the brink of financial ruin. Her legacy lives on today, not simply through the famous product that still bears her name, but now through Mazzeo's finely crafted book. As much a fascinating journey through the process of making this temperamental wine as a biography of a uniquely tempered woman, The Widow Clicquot is utterly intoxicating.
just the beginning of another long haul. Suddenly, everything turned more ugly than anyone could have imagined, as economies across the continent unraveled. Trade came to a virtual standstill, and in letter after letter word came back from her travelers with the same report: “Everywhere . . . business is absolutely dead.” In July, even Louis admitted defeat. There was no point in staying in Russia. Europe was on the verge of ﬁnancial collapse, and the French were largely to blame. In the midst of
could watch the vendange and visit the little pressing room where, years before, Barbe-Nicole ﬁrst had learned some of the secrets of winemaking. Here, at last, Barbe-Nicole drew the line. Louis imagined that he would take a hand in the champagne business, and he began touring her vineyards and quizzing her growers. However much Barbe-Nicole adored her son-in-law, however willing she was to indulge all his whims, even the expensive ones, she wasn’t about to let him take over her company. In the
was still coming to grips with the sudden news of his death that winter as well. After all those years crossing a war-torn continent, after the dangers he had faced as a suspected spy in Russia at the height of the conﬂict, he had ended up dying in the most mundane fashion: He slipped off an icy bridge. So she turned instead to another of her employees, a fast-talking dreamer named George Christian von Kessler. He had been one of her salesmen during those lean years before the Russian triumph,
age, champagne was (and remains) a manufacturing contradiction—a handcrafted luxury wine, supplied to the world in mass-market quantities. One of the Clicquot-Werlé crushing rooms now had eight presses, capable of processing a thousand barrels of wine at a harvest. In the sprawling cellars beneath the rue du Temple in Reims, where the cuvée was blended, new mechanical cranes lifted up dozens of barrels from the caves, and the wine was perfected in vats large enough to supply the international
to run the business or to liquidate. And run it she did. Louise took control of the Pommery and Greno wine company with enthusiasm. Approaching retirement, Narcisse stepped happily to the sidelines, and with her new voyageur and sales director, Henri Vasnier, the brother of an old school chum, Louise turned her attention to mass-market production of the ﬁnest champagne. It was a large investment, and becoming a major player in a market then dominated by a handful of companies was a dicey