You Have the Founding Mothers of Champagne to Thank for the Bubbly You Drink Today
The 17th-century Benedictine monk Dom Perignon may get the credit for developing the
Beginning in the early 19th century it was the women running some of history's most recognizable champagne houses who pioneered the attributes we consider mainstays today. From the iconic bottle shape to the clarity of the vintage, from that crisp,
Why widows, you ask? Unlike many women of the era, widows were allowed the independence necessary for running a business. While unmarried women were dependent on their fathers or brothers (they couldn't even get a bank account) and married women were forced to rely on their husbands' money and power, widows were allowed to own property and businesses in their own right, control their own finances, and move freely in society.
So, in honor of Women's History Month, we want to raise a glass to these "
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot
The grande dame of the champagne world, Madame Clicquot was the woman who started the female revolution in champagne by transforming her husband's failing wine business and becoming one of the first international businesswomen in the world.
Born Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, Madame Clicquot was the daughter of a successful textile manufacturer who gave her in marriage in 1798 to the son of a competitor, Francois Clicquot, thereby uniting the families and businesses. Rather than take over the family textile business, though, Francois, with Barbe-Nicole at his side, set about learning the wine business, expanding one of his family's minor side ventures. The gamble didn't pay off, and by the time of Francois's sudden, untimely death in 1805, the winery was on the verge of financial collapse.
Risking her own inheritance and with loans from her father-in-law, 27-year-old Barbe-Nicole kept at it, struggling through years with little success until the shrewd businesswoman, at last, saw her opportunity. With the Napoleonic Wars winding down and trade poised to once again open with the champagne-loving Russian market, Barbe-Nicole smuggled 10,550 bottles of her 1811 vintage to Amsterdam and readied herself to race to Russia the moment the naval armadas would let them through. Treaties signed, the widow's
Thanks to the Tsar's endorsement, Barbe-Nicole soon found herself scrambling to keep up with the increased orders. She quickly realized that she would need to find a way to streamline production. In order to produce champagne's signature bubbles, the wine must undergo a second fermentation in the bottle with a dose of yeast and sugars, but the yeast would leave unappealing sediment in the bottom of the bottle and leave the wine cloudy.
In Barbe-Nicole's time, the most common method for refining the vintage was simply to open it and pour the wine into a new bottle, leaving the yeast behind. The trouble, of course, was that this took a great deal of time, wasted a good amount of product, and dispersed many of the bubbles they'd worked so hard to produce.
To speed the process and reduce waste, Barbe-Nicole developed a rack and a process known as riddling, which consolidated the yeast at the neck of the bottle, allowing it to be removed quickly and easily with much less lost product. It remains a mainstay of champagne manufacture to this day.
The innovation allowed Barbe-Nicole to produce far more champagne from each harvest, which in turn allowed her to expand her business to a worldwide empire, creating one of the first mass-market luxury products in the world in the process
While we may owe the prominence of champagne to Madame Clicquot, the flavor that most of us associate with the French sparkler came courtesy of another
Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin was born in
One of her first decisions was to transition the brand away from still red wines toward the flourishing champagne sector. Her goal was to create a high-quality sparkling wine for a customer base she saw as underrepresented—the English.
Having attended an English boarding school, Louise was familiar with the British affinity for hard ciders and saw in it an opportunity to win fans for champagne. The only problem? The English preferred their drinks dry rather than sweet, and champagnes at the time of Veuve Cliquot's success were styled to contain ten to fifteen times as much sugar as a modern demi-sec, sometimes served with a partially-frozen, slushy texture.
The solution, she saw, was simple—create
Mathilde Emilie Laurent-Perrier
Mathilde Emilie Perrier didn't come to run a champagne house easily. In fact, Mathilde only inherited the house after the death of her husband Eugène Laurent in 1887, who himself inherited it from his former employer, Alphonse
Laurent-Perrier took the work of Madame Pommery a step further, creating and bottling the Grand Vin sans Sucre, a vintage with no sugar added before the second fermentation. The result was a very dry wine that catered to her own palette as well as the sensibilities of her British customers. The bottling debuted at Brébant, the restaurant of the Eiffel Tower, in 1889, over a century before the non-dosage trend would sweep the champagne world off its feet
Not all of the revolutionary women of champagne were ladies of the 19th century. Elisabeth "Lily" Law de Lauriston-Boubers was born just shy of the 20th century in 1899. She fell in love with Jacques Bollinger—the grandson of Joseph Jacob Bollinger, who co-founded the champagne house in 1829—but her affection for Jacques wasn't the only thing sparked by their relationship; in marrying Jacques in 1923 Lily also began a life-long love affair with champagne.
At the height of WWII, Lily lost her husband, stepping up to become the head of the champagne house at 42. Her wit matched her business acumen—she was famously quoted in the Daily Mail in 1961 saying, “I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I'm thirsty.” She raised the international profile of the house and introduced a new style of champagne to the market.
For years champagne houses had held a custom of holding some special wines for family and friends on the lees (the yeast that creates the second, bubble-forming fermentation in the bottle) for longer than a typical bottle for market, letting the flavors of the vintage mature in the bottle and then disgorging them just before the bottle was meant to be served. Disgorgement, the process by which the lees are removed from a champagne bottle after fermentation, can spark a variety of flavor changes in the wine as the vintage is exposed to oxygen, so
Before Lily, this style, which she dubbed "recently disgorged" or simply "R.D.," had only been available to those with close ties to the industry, but in 1967 Bollinger released R.D. 1952 to the public, creating what would become one of the house's signature styles
Champagne ran in Apolline Henriot's blood. Born in Reims, the famous stronghold of the champagne style, Apolline married Nicolas Henriot in 1794 with a dowery of pinot noir grapes. Together the two developed their vineyards and the style of their wine until Nicolas's unexpected death in 1808. At just 33 Apolline founded her own champagne house, Veuve Henriot Ainé, which would later become Champagne Henriot.
While Veuve Clicquot was busy courting the Russian royalty, it was another regal family that took a shine to Apolline's wines: the Hapsburgs. In 1850, Champagne Henriot was declared the Official Supplier to the Imperial and Royal Court of Austria, becoming a favorite of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
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*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors