Almost two years ago now, I named this blog “One quality, the finest” after having been inspired by the story of la Veuve Clicquot. I read about her in Mireille Guiliano’s book Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility. Une seule qualité, la toute première (oon suhl kal-e-tay lah toot prem-e-air) was the motto of Madame Clicquot when she took over her husband’s wine business when she was left a widow at 27 years old.
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was born on December 16, 1777. She married businessman François Clicquot when she was 21. The exact reason for her husband’s death isn’t known for sure; it might have been a suicide, but it was listed as typhoid on his death certificate. Madame Clicquot was now Veuve, or widow, Clicquot, responsible for a company with interests as varied as banking, wool trading, and wine making. She streamlined the company to focus exclusively on champagne. The company developed a technique known as riddling to deal with the cloudiness of traditional champagne production. After the second fermentation, the wine was stored upside down to allow the sediment to settle near the cork. Then the wine near the mouth of the bottle was frozen. The cork and frozen wine were removed before more wine was added and the bottle re-corked.
Not only was did the company make technical strides under Madame Cliquot’s leadership, she also helped them open new markets across Europe. Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin champagne became the standard of quality by which all other sparkling wines were judged, as well as the preferred brand for celebrations, particularly among royalty. She accomplished this by insisting that they would produce just one quality, the finest. Veuve Cliquot was also a mother and grandmother while running this firm. She was definitely an unusual woman for her times. Unfortunately, her portraits make her look like a termagant, so perhaps she should have sampled a little more of her product on a regular basis!
She died on July 29, 1866. The company established an award for businesswomen in Clicquot’s honor in 1972. Today, the brand is part of LMVH, the luxury good conglomerate.
Read more about her: The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire, and the Woman who Ruled It