Few wineries have labels which are as iconic as Veuve Clicquot… and few have such fascinating histories.
What started as a champagne house in the 1700s that was part of a small banking fortune has turned into a multi-million dollar Champagne industry… and years later, still remains one of the top producers of quality French champagne.
The history of Veuve Clicquot (“Veuve” is French for “widow”) is so fascinating and so in depth, I could write a book about… oh wait, someone else already did! Check out The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. But a brief history, for those of you who can’t get around to reading the book:
The Makings of an Empire
Veuve Clicquot is actually Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin: the daughter of Count Nicholas Ponsardin, a wealthy textile manufacturer and politician. She married François Clicquot at 21; just six years later, he died, leaving her a widow at 27. It also left her in charge of all of their affairs, which included banking, wool trading, and champagne production.
We all know which of these industries she chose to devote her time: under Madame Clicquot’s guidance, the firm focused entirely on champagne and thrived, even bringing about new technology to sparkling wine production. (The company developed a technique called riddling, which changed the world of champagne. Prior to the invention of riddling, the second fermentation of wine to create champagne created a very sweet wine with large bubbles and a lot sediment from the remains of the yeast used in the fermentation in the bottle (which creates the bubbles in the wine). The result was a cloudy wine.
Clicquot’s new technique suggested storing the bottles upside down during the second fermentation, and then regularly turning the bottles to gather the dead yeasts at the cork: process know called “riddling”. Once the fermentation completed and the yeasts settled, workers froze the wine around the cork and removed the cork and the frozen “plug” of wine, then refilled the bottle with a bit more wine to top it off. The result was a clear wine that was free of sediment and cloudiness. Genius!
Interesting bottles throughout history
Veuve has an interesting claim to fame: a bottle of the house’s wine is the oldest known bottle of wine. It was found in July 2008 in the sideboard of a castle in Scotland. The bottle is from 1839, and in perfect condition because of its odd (but cool) storage. It is now on display at the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin visitor centre in Reims.
In July 2010, a group of Finnish divers found 168 bottles from the 1830s on a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. In November 2010, officials determined that the wreck included at least three Veuve Clicquot bottles. (It currently appears that the rest of the bottles are from a now-defunct house called Juglar.) In January of 2011, they determined that 46 bottles were actually Vueve… the story continues to unfold, but it is certainly a fascinating one! Last November, officials determined that the bottles will be auctioned. I can’t wait to see who buys them, and for what price!
Today’s Veuve Clicquot continues to produce beautiful, high-quality French Champagne. While the non-vintage brut is by far their most well-recognized yellow label, they also produce a demi-sec (slightly sweet), a gorgeous rose, vintage wines, the cave privee blend of Cellar Master Dominique Demarville’s collection of unique vintages) and La Grande Dame: Brut vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1998, and Rosé vintages in 1995 and 1998 that were the most superb.