Instantly recognizable by her distinctive yellow sleeve, she has been a guest at every kind of celebration for more than 250 years. After releasing her first vintage, no one could have suspected this merry widow would become the standard against which all champagnes would be measured, not to mention an icon for the art of living well.
During a recent trip to Quebec, Jean-Marc Gallot, president and chief executive of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, proudly pointed out the brand’s outstanding contributions, and highlighted the many advances the company has made over the years. After all, he said, Madame Clicquot herself demanded “only one quality: the finest.” He also noted that Quebecers were the first Veuve Clicquot consumers in Canada. The first shipment of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne to this country was in 1855: it contained 25 cases for Montreal and 25 for Quebec City. And that was only the beginning! The longstanding love affair between Quebec and ‘the widow’ (‘veuve’ means ‘widow’ in French) was celebrated in style on November 3 and 4 at the Château Frontenac in Quebec City. Media and other guests at this historic event enjoyed a variety of activities, including a recreation of the dinner held for Queen Elizabeth II in the hotel’s former wine cellar.
A bubbly history
Philippe Clicquot-Muiron founded the company in 1772, and is credited with creating the first pink champagne… not a minor achievement! Control passed to his son, Philippe, but it was the son’s young widow, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin – only 27 when her husband passed – who would give the company its mission, its reputation, and its name.
In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, the daring Madame Clicquot made a breakthrough in the royal courts of Europe, shipping her wines as far as St. Petersburg. The sharp businesswoman had bribed the Prussian soldiers in charge of the blockade with champagne. Eager to sample their loot, they opened the bottles with their sabers, hence the dramatic technique of ‘sabering’ champagne. In 1810, she created her first vintage. The following year, an exceptional grape harvest attributed to a comet led to the production of a remarkable vintage known as ‘comet wine.’ It is considered the first modern champagne, produced using advancements in the méthode champenoise, pioneered through the use of a technique called riddling in English (remuage in French). Madame Clicquot further refined the method by inventing the riddling rack, which is used to this day.
The company continued to grow, and the widow Clicquot came to be known as ‘La Grande Dame’ by her peers. She died in 1866, leaving behind a well-established, and respected, house of champagne.
A tradition of great vintages
Innovation has been the hallmark of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin ever since that first vintage. In 1972, to celebrate its bicentenary, the house launched La Grande Dame, its prestige champagne.
It was an unprecedented success, as was the Veuve Clicquot Rosé in 2004. Introduced in Japan during cherry blossom season, it was a sensation that the rest of the world had to wait until 2006 to try. More recently, the company launched Veuve Clicquot Rich, champagne designed specifically for mixologists, and sure to win young fans in bars everywhere! If the past is any indication of the future, then Veuve Clicquot has nothing to fear. In 2008, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot from 1893 was discovered, unopened, and intact. This priceless bottle of champagne is thought to be one of the oldest in the world.
Another miraculous find occurred in 2010, when bottles of wine were recovered from a shipwreck off Finland’s Åland Islands. Despite nearly two centuries at the bottom of the ocean, the contents were remarkably well preserved. A salvage operation raised 145 bottles to the surface, including 47 bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne. The fabulous discovery is yet another testament to the quality of these wines. And if you need further proof that Veuve Clicquot is the ne plus ultra of champagne, have a look onscreen: the famed brand is the champagne of choice in Casablanca, Babette’s Feast, and the television series Downton Abbey.
A landmark hotel
In 2011, after several years of renovation, Maison Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin reopened the doors of Hôtel du Marc, a classical yet contemporary maison in Reims, France. The magnificent 19th-century building, beautifully restored by Bruno Moinard, one of Paris’ most in-demand architects and designers, houses both historic treasures and avantgarde art. But don’t attempt a reservation – the maison is available exclusively to friends, family, and business partners.