The exceptional journey of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin keeps inspiring the remarkable Veuve Clicquot Champagne House, which continues to be fuelled by boldness and innovation more than 250 years after its creation.
At 27 years of age, the young widow (veuve in French) demonstrated her keen intelligence, tenacity, and determination when she asked her father-in-law to take over the family champagne wine trading firm following the death of her husband. At her father-in-law’s suggestion, the man who provided her unfailing support, she entered into an apprenticeship with Alexandre Fourneaux to familiarize herself with wine production before taking control of the house in 1805, becoming one of the first businesswomen in modern times. Like her husband before her, she wanted her champagne to transcend borders and play an integral role in occasions celebrated around the world, from Saint Petersburg to New York. If the beginnings were sometimes grim, she knew how to overcome the obstacles. In 1810, she launched the Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin company and in 1810 produced the very first known vintage in Champagne. She would surprise buyers the following year with the comet vintage, a marketing strategy well ahead of its time to promote her special “cuvée.” However, it was in 1814 that she succeeded in her greatest entrepreneurial coup, securing the future of her house by thwarting the continental blockade to offer the triumphant Russians, following the defeat of Napoleon, the first bottles of champagne. This brilliant feat propelled the house way ahead of its competitors, establishing the brand in Russia and taking a leading position on the world market. Veuve Clicquot champagne conquered all of Europe and America in no time at all. It would take a few more years for the famous bubbles to reach our shores. Madame Clicquot, who learned about the tastes of the clientele of that era and their preferences for dry and full-bodied wines, sent 25 cases of dry and sweet Veuve Clicquot to Montréal and Québec City in 1855. It was enough for the brand to become indispensable.
Throughout her life, the Grande Dame of Champagne was credited with major innovative breakthroughs, including the riddling table, a technique still used today to evacuate the yeast and clarify the wine while increasing the production pace, as well as the production of a blended rosé that blends Bouzy red wine with champagne. A visionary, she began purchasing vineyards to extend the estate. She also understood the importance of communications and public relations by maintaining close ties with both her closest collaborators and her main buyers. At the time of her death in 1866, 750,000 bottles of champagne were shipping annually to Europe, Asia, and America. The house will continue on this path, gambling on boldness, innovation, and expansion. Beginning with the yellow saffron label, distinguishing its bottles as of 1877, and then by acquiring vineyards and the chalk pits where the wine would be aged. New techniques were developed to improve the quality of the wine and satisfy the taste of its clientele who prefer the sweet version from its early days to mild, dry, and brut champagnes. The company survived the two Great Wars, and the name Veuve Clicquot would become intertwined with the pleasure of celebrating. In 1972, two hundred years after the creation of the house, a tribute would be paid to the trailblazing legacy of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin with the launch of the Prix Veuve Clicquot de la femme d’affaires (Veuve Clicquot Prize for women in business), celebrating the success of business women globally who share the same business sense and entrepreneurial spirit as Madame Clicquot.
Luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) acquired the house in 1986, preserving the distinctive character and audacity that define it. Under its auspices, Veuve Clicquot has diversified the range of products and expanded its signature vintages, proposed extraordinary vintages, and developed a range of vintages to highlight exceptional cuvées. To honour the taste and expertise of Madame Clicquot, they broke with tradition by using pinot noir in Madame Clicquot, a groundbreaking vintage. Veuve Clicquot also knows how to rally the press and make a splash with the non-vintage Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne, the colour of cherry blossoms, offered in 2004 exclusively to Japanese connoisseurs, and in 2010 with the discovery of old bottles of champagne at the bottom of the sea, dating back almost two centuries, perfectly preserved, reviving the enthusiasm of collectors one more time. The entrepreneurial spirit of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin has become a beacon to follow. The work of the businesswomen of today and tomorrow will be recognized by the Bold Woman Award (formerly the Veuve Clicquot Prize for women in business) and the Bold Future Award (formerly the New Generation Award). For more than 50 years, 450 women from 27 countries have been awarded these prizes in France, the United States, Canada, and South Korea. Forming a group of exceptional entrepreneurs, these women can meet to discuss, expand their knowledge, and above all form connections. These awards are also used as a springboard for the Veuve Clicquot barometer that maps out the current state of female entrepreneurship: common prejudices, mental and structural barriers to overcome, and how to get beyond them.
The year 2022 marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of the house. While several events were held all over the planet, a travelling showcase known as Solaire Culture dives into the history, expertise, and creativity of the Veuve Clicquot. The exhibition, curated by women and featuring treasures like the portrait of Madame Clicquot brought to life by Yayoi Kusama, as well as the works of Sheila Hicks, Monique Frydman, and Tacita Dean, stopped in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and continues its run, arriving in London in June 2023. History, prizes, female entrepreneurship, networking, exposure… The feminist movement will never find a more eloquent model than that of the Veuve Clicquot.
The display for the Solaire Culture exhibition, Los Angeles version.
Sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who collaborated with the house for La Grande Dame, 2012 vintage.
Cover Photo: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, a businesswoman but also a marketing and communications genius of her time.