I admit to being a fairly poor book reviewer. I tend to say too much and enjoy the journey (reading), so much more than the destination (telling others). But the little orange book, The Widow Clicquot is an exception to every rule. Written by Tilar J. Mazzeo, it chronicles the life and times of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, perhaps one of the most unsung but accomplished business women in history.
And why, you ask, do I bring this up now? I am not headed to Epernay, where she was based, where Clicquot still gives the big boys like Dom P a good run for bubbly supremacy. I am headed to Domaine Carneros, to pick up some bubbly, for perhaps the next party. Domaine’s winemaker, Eileen Crane is specifically mentioned in this book! But for this detail, you must read.
Let me just summarize Widow C’s life, as she became a widow at the age of 27. Back then, the woman’s role was at home, according to the Napoleonic Code and many other unwritten codes. But she soon became aware that widows are the only women who have the freedom to run their own affairs. She went through many serious financial and emotional struggles before she succeeded.
In 1814, when dear Nappy Bonaparte abdicated, she was ready. She sneaked a boat around the armada, successfully delivering 10,000 bottles of her 1811 cuvee’ Veuve Clicquot to Koningsberg where it sold for the equivalent of $100 a bottle. For you math impaired, that is a cool $1 million!!!!
When the ship reached St. Petersburg (about the time the war ended), the Czar Alexander declared he would drink nothing else. Within two years, she was a financial success, and brought Russia to her knees with her champagne. The book even exposes Dom Perignon’s attempt to remove those dastardly bubbles from their wine!!!
The famous orange label
The book is as much about the history of champagne, as it is about this most remarkable woman. In fact, as powerful and popular as she became, I would now entertain the possibility that I would set foot again on French soil. But it would only be for a trip, not to Paris, or southern France, but to Epernay and Reims (90 miles northeast of Paris), and the vast domain of the Widow.
PS: I visited Epernay, and Veuve Clicquot a few years ago.