Champagne women

Champagne today is what it is because of women.

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin’s husband died in 1805 when she was 27 years old. That made her Veuve (widow) Clicquot. Weeks after her husband’s death, Veuve Clicquot organized shipments of the family wine to Russia—no mean feat during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1814, Russian soldiers stormed Reims and invaded her cellars. “Let them drink,” legend says she said. “They will pay for it later.” Undaunted, she ran the winery for more than 60 years.

Veuve Clicquot developed the riddling technique to remove sediment. She drilled holes in her kitchen table, put bottles upside down in the holes, gently shook bottles during second fermentation. Bottles were disgorged while upside down, righted, re-corked. Every second-fermentation wine made in the world today employs her technique.

Louise Pommery was widowed in 1858, a year after her husband invested in a Champagne business. She built the business as a widow. In travels to England she noticed Brits preferred dry Bordeaux. In 1874, she produced the first “brut” Champagne, a sharp contrast to sweet bubbly then in vogue.

Brut was a hit. Today it is the world’s most common sparkling. Madame Pommery made millions. Over the next 30 years she built the gaudy, ostentatious Pommery building in Reims. She also carved out 11 miles of underground cellars with 120 caves that today hold more than 20 million bottles of Champagne.

Camille Olry-Roederer and her husband Leon inherited a Champagne house in 1930. He died two years later. Times were Depression-tough, but Camille saw opportunity and bought local vineyards at bargain prices. She ran the company for the next 42 years before handing it off to her grandson in 1975 with 500 acres under Roederer control, a huge amount in Champagne. The company is a major international player today.

Elisabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers married Jacques Bollinger in 1923. They vigorously promoted their Champagne house until his death in 1941. She saw the house through World War II. In 1969, to mark her 70th birthday, she introduced Vieilles Vignes Françaises, the first Champagne made with 100% pinot noir. She also created Bollinger Rosé, another breakthrough. Oh, and she so charmed Ian Fleming that his character James Bond would only drink Bollinger Champagne. A masterstroke of product placement.

Champagne is what it is today because of the vision and talent of women.

Last round: Duck walks into a wine bar and orders very expensive Champagne. “Put it on my bill,” he quacked.