How One Woman Overcame Pandemics, War and Patriarchy to Build a Champagne Empire

For centuries, women have faced the devastation of pandemics and the roadblocks of patriarchy. Yet, one of them, the audacious and determined Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, found a way to build a champagne empire despite the hardships.

9/25/2021 7:27:00 PM

For centuries, women have faced the devastation of pandemics and the roadblocks of patriarchy. Yet, one of them, the audacious and determined Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, found a way to build a champagne empire despite the hardships.

For centuries, women have faced the devastation of pandemics and the roadblocks of patriarchy. Yet, one of them, the audacious and determined Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, found a way to build a champagne empire despite the hardships.

)Eventually, she created the riddling rack, a large board with holes to store wine bottles neck down. A gentle rotation of the bottle slid sediment down into the bottleneck for easier removal. This method of riddling bottles and the riddling rack are still used in champagne making today.

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The Great Comet of 1811, known as Napoleon’s Comet, streaked across the sky for one million miles and was visible for more than 260 days. Prophets said the comet predicted Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the war of 1812. But, for Barbe-Nicole, the Great Comet of 1811 brought the most magnificent and bountiful grape harvest of a decade. Using her new techniques and skills, she crafted an exquisite champagne that would make her famous.

Le Vin de Comètewas the firstvintagechampagne ever made, using only grapes from that comet year instead of the traditional method of blending wines from different years.While Barbe-Necole aged herVin de la Comètein the chalk caves under her winery, France remained in turmoil as Napoleon waged the Sixth Coalition war against Prussia, Sweden, Austria, Russia, the United Kingdom and several German states. headtopics.com

In 1812, he marched his Grand Army of 450,000 soldiers to Moscow. When they arrived, Moscow was deserted and burned by the Russians. Napoleon had to march his army back across the vast frozen wilderness in the winter. Bitter winds froze the horses in place. Men died of Typhus and other diseases. Battling peasants and Cossacks on the way back, Napoleon’s Grand Army

dwindled to 10,000 men.  When Napoleon heard of a coup d’etat in Paris, he abandoned his army and fled back through Barbe-Nicole’s town of Reims, seeking lodging at her father’s house.Prussians, Cossacks, and Russians invaded and occupied Reims until Napoleon abdicated in March 1814. Finally, the time had come for Barbe-Nicole to launch the audacious strategy she had been planning. She hired a Dutch vessel, packed it with 10,550 bottles of Clicquot champagne, and sent it with her salesman, Louis Bohne, through the Baltic Sea.

Veuve Clicquot bottle display. (Wikimedia Commons)He found an eager market of Prussians starved for fine wine and other luxury goods. “Our ship is the first for many years to sail North … with a cargo of champagne,” Louis Bohne wrote. He immediately sold out his stock in Konigsberg and St. Petersburg. Barbe-Nicole sent another ship with 12,500 bottles.

By autumn, they had 70,000 bottles committed. Barbe-Nicole worried they would run out.“What a lovely problem to have,” Louis Bohne wrote.Barbe-Nicole oversaw the growth of the business, which rocketed to 280,000 bottles in 1821. Survival of the champagne house Veuve Clicquot was assured. headtopics.com

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Good for her! Fascinating story!

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