Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 combination of file photos, the portraits of Mrs. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, left, and Mrs. Louise Veuve Pommery displayed at the entrance of their companies' headquarters in Reims, eastern France. Without the widows of Champagne, mankind’s most seductive fizz might well not be what it is now. One of the world’s most famous Champagnes - Veuve (“Widow”) Clicquot - explicitly evokes the rather grim tradition. But other legendary houses - Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier and Pommery - also got their starts from tragedy-tinged widows. Then there are the many lesser-known names that still carry the widow tag, such as Veuve Fourny and Veuve Doussot. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)
Champagne widows stamped grand legacy on wine
First Published Dec 24 2013 09:04 am • Last Updated Dec 24 2013 09:04 am

Reims, France • For Champagne to become the tipple it is today — popped at weddings, quaffed in casinos, sprayed by racing drivers and smashed against ships — a few men had to die.

Not just any old men. Young ones married to clever young women.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Without the widows of Champagne, mankind’s most seductive fizz might well not be what it is now. One of the world’s most famous Champagnes — Veuve ("Widow") Clicquot — explicitly evokes the rather grim tradition. But other legendary houses — Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier and Pommery — also got their starts from tragedy-tinged widows. Then there are the many lesser-known names that still carry the widow tag, such as Veuve Fourny and Veuve Doussot.

From its bottle shape to its taste, color, labeling and even marketing, Champagne owes its uniqueness to a series of widows from the early 19th century who used the sometimes mysterious deaths of their husbands to enter the male-dominated business world. The widows became so successful that dozens of Champagnes added "Veuve" to their names even though no widow ran the house — just for its mystique and marketing value.

"Champagne is the story of widows," said Francois Godard, scion of Veuve Godard et Fils Champagne house. "Women who lost their husbands, and then outshone the men."

Widowhood gave these figures an independent social status in France. Unlike other women — who were the property of a father or a husband — only a widow could become a CEO.

"In the 19th century ... if you’re not married you’re dependent on your father, you can’t have a bank account and you can’t pay staff. If you are married you are reliant on your husbands," explained Fabienne Moreau, Veuve Clicquot’s archivist. "Only a widow can take this position as head of a company."

Experts say that Champagne was one of the first industries in the modern world that women shaped and in which they enjoyed a prominent role.

The stern expressions of these women stare out from portraits that hang in their sprawling Reims-based mansions in the French region of Champagne, the only place in the world where bubbly can legally be called Champagne.

The story of the Champagne widows begins with Barbe-Nicole Clicquot.


story continues below
story continues below

Once upon a cold October’s day in 1805, Francois Clicquot, the young heir to a Champagne dynasty, suddenly died after a grape harvest, a few years after marrying the fresh-faced Barbe-Nicole.

It was a thunderbolt in the conservative Champagne landscape when the 27-year-old widow defied male opposition to take over the house.

Opportunistic and tough as nails, the young widow transformed the small house into a global empire. Madame Clicquot exploited the chaos created by Napoleonic wars to tap the European market, before taking in tipple-loving Russia and then the United States.

"Champagne owes a lot to her. Madame Clicquot was the first businesswoman in France, and maybe the whole of Europe," says Moreau, who says that the house created the annual Business Woman Award in 1972 to evoke her legacy and champion the success of female entrepreneurs around the world.

Working until she dropped dead at 89, Veuve Clicquot left behind a formidable legacy: She invented rose Champagne, the world’s first Champagne label and — according to Moreau — was behind the distinctive modern Champagne bottle: slender and elegant in contrast to its clunky, heavy-set predecessor.

With the glass bottle, Veuve Clicquot smashed the glass ceiling.

Added to this was the invention of Veuve Clicquot’s revolutionary technique of "rilling." It was a method of turning the bottle to get rid of nasty, cloudy sediment that stagnated in the drink, a process that made the beverage clear and pleasant. It’s still used today.

Widow Pommery was next.

Her husband died in unexplained circumstances in 1860.

"We don’t know if Monsieur Pommery drank too much Champagne, or perhaps not enough, but he dies and leaves his business to the young widow," said Christine Prudhomme, head of visits at Pommery.

"When he died, it was perhaps the opportunity she was looking for," said Prudhomme. "She didn’t just want to be a wife. Her (widowhood) really gave her wings."

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.