You can’t say ‘Champagne’ without thinking of Veuve Clicquot. This is a champagne house with an extensive, and sometimes difficult, history. The bubbly wine you can now drink from any Champagne producer is the result of centuries of struggle and innovation since its early times, and here Veuve Clicquot had a significant contribution.
The house started in 1772 as a second business of a textile and banker magnate, Philippe Clicquot, and for the first years it only produced 4 to 7 thousand bottles a year. 1798 is the year when, in June, François, the son of Philippe Clicquot, and Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, daughter of another textile magnate – Nicolas Ponsardin, got married. After this marriage, François Clicquot was officially made his father’s partner and on July the company name was changed to “Clicquot-Muiron et Fils” (the name ‘Muiron’ comes from François’ grandmother which also was owner of vineyards in Bouzy village, Champagne). François proved to be a skilled manager and the production of the house raised to 60,000 bottles a year, mostly sold outside France. The early death of François at only 30 years old, in 1805, only 7 years after the wedding, left the champagne house in the hands of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. She was to become one of the most important names in the history of Champagne – La Veuve Clicquot! There was a difficult situation, as the society was not prepared for accepting leading women, especially in the business field, but the young widow convinced Philippe Clicquot to let her run the house instead of closing it, and so she became one of the first business women in the early 1800s to run an international business in a world dominated by men. Her ambition was to create a champagne that can be sold both on Russian and Londonese markets. In 1810, she launched her own “Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin” champagne house. In the early years, because of the Napoleonic wars, she faced many problems due to the naval blockades that banned French products outside the borders. She however managed to survive (even secretly sending a shipment to Russia) and raise the bottle production to 280,000 in 1821 and to 750,000 in 1866, the year when she died at the age of 89. Then, the company continued to raise, passing through generation to generation until in 1987 when the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group (LVMH) acquired Veuve Clicquot. Now, the production grew to 22 million bottles a year and Veuve Clicquot is one of the most famous three champagnes in the world.
The most important thing remains, however, Madam Clicquot’s contribution in improving the quality of champagne. In short, this can be resumed to two great ideas: first, le remuage (the riddling, invented in 1816), a very important process that uses short bottle movements sur les pupitres, the goal being to gather all the sediments in the neck of the bottle for a much easier removal; and second, the champagne rosé. Initially, the pink color of champagne rosé was made combining the wine with elderberry juice (Ruinart, 1764), but Madam Clicquot used red wine (mainly Pinot Noir) to obtain that wonderful pink color. Also, Madam Clicquot made the first vintage champagne in 1810, which proved to be a big hit the following year, when the iconic 1811 vintage Champagne was labelled ‘The Year of the Comet’. In 1972, the house launched a prestige cuvée called ‘La Grande Dame’ to celebrate Veuve Clicquot’s 200th anniversary. We will come with more details when we will post the tasting of this exceptional cuvée. Now let’s focus on our visit to Veuve Clicquot’s cellars in Reims.
We booked the cellars visit with a complete Veuve Clicquot experience which guided us from the vineyard, to the spicy gardens, then to a sort of ‘nose and taste calibration room’, then to the chalky Unesco Heritage cellars and finally to a fantastic tasting of iconic cuvées vintages (done also in the cellars). The photos speak for themselves, enjoy the adventure!