A Woman to Know: Madame Clicquot Ponsardin

The world is in perpetual motion and we must invent the things of tomorrow. — Madame Clicquot Ponsardin

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Many wine lovers know champagne's origin story: a 17th century monk, Dom Perignon, cooked up the first batch and pronounced he could "taste the stars" in a single glass.

But despite Perignon's (amazingly delicious) discovery, people wouldn't be drinking champagne at weddings, parties and celebrations of all kinds without the work of one industrious widow: Madame Clicquot.

When her husband died suddenly in 1805, Madame was just 27 years old, left alone with a three-year-old daughter and the crumbling Clicquot business empire. She focused her sights on the one arm of the business she knew best: the wine. With the help of her father-in-law and some wine cellar specialists, she perfected champagne production. Perignon's fermentation process resulted in a cloudy, yeasty drink; with Madame's experimentation, the Clicquot winery shipped sparklingly clear variations, with a slight hint of sweetness to brighten the final pour.

And most importantly, Madame knew the power of branding: she added a distinctive yellow label to each bottle, complete with an ink star stamped on the champagne cork.

Within a few years, Clicquot champagne traveled the world. Even as Napoleon rose to power and rocked the European economy, Madame's business thrived. By 1812, she was selling more than 700,000 bottles a year. After her death, the Clicquot house added a "Veuve" to its name, in honor of the French word for "widow." Today, with its star cork and yellow label, Veuve Clicquot is one of the most recognized champagnes in the world.

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