Barbe-Nicole Clicquot lived an upper-class life during a tumultuous time in French history and, upon her marriage, worked with her husband in a very unusual capacity: helping to run a family vineyard. But, when he passed away at a very young age, she made an unusual and audacious choice about how to live her life.
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was born on December 7, 1777, in Reims, France. She was the eldest of three children of Nicholas and Jeanne-Clementine Ponsardin. Her father, a wealthy textile merchant, hobnobber with royalty, and a very fast (and smart) talker was able to keep the family safe and their fortunes intact during the French Revolution and all the changes in government that happened afterward.
Barbe-Nicole was married at 20 to the 24-year-old lad next door, Francois Clicquot. They had quite a bit in common and soon added to that list with: “learn all about becoming a vigneron” and running the Clicquot-Murion and Son vineyard, a side business in Francois’ own family’s textile business. They had one daughter, Clementine, and faced one failure after another trying to get the wine business off the ground.
And then, Francois died when Barbe-Nicole was just 27. Over a life of genteel widowhood or perhaps, remarriage, she chose to continue the work that they had begun together. With the assistance of her generous father-in-law, a mentor/temporary partner in the wine business, and a very enthusiastic outside salesman, Louis Bohne, the Veuve (that means, “widow” in French) Clicquot changed the company name to Veuve Clicquot and got very, very busy. She followed the same tradition that she and Francois had set: one failure after another during the reign of Napoleon who kept getting into war with the very countries that she was trying to establish a business in.
Finally, she got her big break when Russian soldiers took control of the city of Reims, fell in love with her outstanding sparkling wine, and became ambassadors for her product back in Russia.
Barbe-Nicole’s is a tale of defying the odds, planning ahead despite every evidence that you should quit, perfecting your craft and preparing for success whenever it may strike, and succeeding at a time in life when most women were…well, certainly not running a successful, international company and creating innovations that would be used for centuries.
Along the way, we dispel some myths about the beverage, give a mini-lesson in champagne production, talk about life in France during the beginning of the 1800s, and tell the story of a remarkable woman who became the face of champagne and the head of a world-famous champagne house.
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot died after a very long life and a great deal of success on July 29, 1866, at the age of 89.
Time Travel With The History Chicks
The epicenter of Veuve Clicquot is their website. There’s lots of marketing (Barbe-Nicole would be proud) but also some things to discover about the Grande Dame herself and you can book a visit at the vineyard (you know, for the next time you’re in France!)
There are lots of options out there to learn more about The French Republican Calendar, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or just look for any converter. Go on, we know you want to find out what your birthday is and you too can become as obsessed as Beckett.
The shipwreck where they discovered AND DRANK very aged Veuve Clicquot champagne.
The two podcasts from wine women that Susan liked were Fizgig (no longer producing, short back catalog) and Grape Minds (looking for the link after recording, we discovered that one of the hosts, Julie Glenn, passed away last year. Read about her life here. So sad; far too young.)
Madame Clicquot: A Revolutionary Musical cast recording, “Vintage 2023!”
While we can’t comment on the story holding up over time, there are several versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma (“Emmuska”) Orczy for you to choose from: Here’s a free audio version on Libravox and the version we discussed was the 1999 televised series with Elizabeth McGovern (oh heeeey, it’s Cora Crowley!)
The jury is still out on the quality of the 2023 movie, Widow Clicquot which (as of recording) was just premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. There isn’t even a trailer to share yet (as of this writing) but here is an early review from IndieWire. We’re going to wait and judge it for ourselves!
Join us on our Facebook private page, The History Chicks Podcast Lounge, and join the conversation about what YOUR Vitamin H/Macaroni and Cheese movie is (this only makes sense after you listen to the podcast!)
The song in the middle is Champagne by Leht Mo Jo, and the end song is That’s What Hopes Are For by Emma Wallace both used with permission,