It was 1805 and a young woman by the name of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin was only 27 but had already become a widow. Speculation surrounded how her husband François Clicquot had died, whether from illness or from his own hand, but whatever the truth, the more pressing matter remained that she had a large vineyard (6-7,000 bottles a year) that needed tending.
To her aid came a talented winemaker by the name of Jérôme Fourneaux who helped her in the first few years of her business which she grew with great ambition and talent of her own. Soon she was creating new processes such as "riddling" (turning a bottle upside down and twisting it every so often to cause the yeast to gather in the neck of the bottle, a process still used today), improving quality and shortening time to market.
Five years later, 1810, Barbe-Nicole renamed her business "Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Company" indicating proudly that she was the "Veuve" (Widow) of François Clicquot. With the help of her well connected family (they knew Napoleon Bonaparte), her account book showed orders for 60,000 bottles of wine in stocks, six dozen additional casks, 10,000 empty bottles, and nearly 125,000 corks. Her looping signature that we know so well today adorned, and of course, authorised the transactions.
So yes, Veuve Clicquot, that very "Grande Dame of Champagne" was an amazing woman ahead of her time, not only making inroads into what was then a male dominated industry, but also pioneered vast improvements in wine making, retail marketing, and even broke open new markets for French Champagne (Russia) such that she is credited for creating France's Champagne industry.
“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.” - The Widow (Veuve) Cliquot to her great-grandchild, 1860
Today, many strong women continue to break new ground such as Corinne Mentzelopoulos who restored Château Margaux to its former heights when bottles were insured up to S$308,000 (1787 vintage). Another famous name is Lalou Bize-Leroy, the undisputed queen of biodynamic winemaking in Burgundy who owns Domaine d'Auvenay and Domaine Leroy. Her Richebourg (whose main grape is a Pinot Noir) typically sells for more than S$3,600 a bottle.
Here, we celebrate in much more modest sums, the wonders of the wine grape blended by some of France's great women winemakers in this three (3) bottle series called "La Différence: Women Winemakers".
1. Marie-Pauline Bich together with husband Philippe Chandon-Moët (of the legendary Champagne house) took over the management of Château de Ferrand, Grand Cru Classé de Saint-Emilion and made sure the vineyard met the highest standards of environmental sustainability.
2. Coralie de Boüard, owner and vintner of La Dame de Boüard is the daughter of the famous Hubert de Boüard de Laforest and trained under him for 10 years (in addition to absorbing everything as a child living at Château Angélus).
3. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild has since passed away, but not before she established Domaine de Baronarques as one of the Rothschild family’s renowned estates.