Barbe-Nicole, the visionary behind the famed Veuve Clicquot Champagne label, was born in Reims, a town in France’s northeastern Champagne region, in 1777. Her father, Baron Nicolas Ponsardin, was a successful textile manufacturer with an appetite for politics. Raised among the French bourgeoisie, Barbe-Nicole was highly educated for a woman of her time.
In 1798, Barbe-Nicole was married off to her neighbor’s son, François Clicquot. Like Baron Ponsardin, François’s father, Philippe Clicquot, was a prosperous textile manufacturer. Philippe also dabbled in wine production. When François came of age, he decided to assume control of the wine business rather than the textile company. Barbe-Nicole was his partner in this project.
After François’s sudden death in 1805, Madame Clicquot was determined to continue the venture herself. She convinced Philippe to invest in the Clicquot brand, despite their struggles to turn a profit, and she served as a winemaker’s apprentice in an effort to learn more about the craft.
Even so, the years ahead were difficult. Her business was on the brink of bankruptcy, but Madame Clicquot was not ready to give up yet. In 1810, she “prove[d] her innovative prowess by creating the first recorded vintage champagne in the region,” according to the official Veuve Clicquot website. A year later, she produced the famed 1811 Comet Vintage.
In 1814, the Napoleonic Wars were finally winding down and Russians were particularly interested in obtaining high-quality wine. An article in Town & Country magazine tells us Madame Clicquot smuggled over 10,000 bottles of her product into the country before any rival companies could. Soon, the Russians, including Tsar Alexander I and Anton Chekhov, were hooked. In 1818, she introduced a rosé d’assemblage (blended pink champagne) to the world. Madame Clicquot’s wine became widely sought-after, allowing her to expand her empire internationally. Her sharp marketing and public relations instincts and affinity for written correspondence also helped her business flourish.
In addition to being a clever businesswoman in a time when few businesswomen existed, Madame Clicquot was also an inventor. Her most influential invention was the riddling table, a device that offered a more efficient and user-friendly way of eliminating yeast and making wine clearer. Invented in 1816, winemakers still utilize this invention over 200 years later.
In 1866, La Grande Dame of Champagne, as she was known by then, died at the age of seventy-seven. In 1972, to honor Madame Clicquot and to celebrate their 200th anniversary, Veuve Clicquot created the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award, which they still present every year.
We remember Madame Clicquot to this day for her dauntlessness, her visionary creations, and her role as a pioneering female entrepreneur.
What other pioneering female entrepreneurs should more people know about? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.