Veuve Clicquot

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
IndustryChampagne production
Founded1772 (246 years ago)
FounderPhilippe Clicquot
Headquarters12, Rue du Temple
Reims, France
Key people
Jean-Marc Gallot (President),[1] Jean Marc Lacave (former President)
RevenueIncrease €1.2 billion (2012)

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (French pronunciation: ​[vœv kliko pɔ̃saʁdɛ̃]) is a French Champagne house based in Reims, specializing in premium products. Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot played an important role in establishing champagne as a favored drink of haute bourgeoisie and nobility throughout Europe. During the Napoleonic Wars, Madame Clicquot made strides in establishing her wine in royal courts throughout Europe, notably that of Imperial Russia, thus becoming the first Champagne house to ship Champagne through the blockade to Russia in 1811.[2] The 1811 comet vintage of Veuve Clicquot is theorized to have been the first truly "modern" Champagne due to the advancements in the méthode champenoise which Veuve Clicquot pioneered through the technique of remuage.[3][4]



Portrait of Madame Clicquot and her great-granddaughter Anne de Rochechouart-Mortemart by Léon Cogniet.

Philippe Clicquot was a textile merchant, a banker and an owner of vineyards in the Champagne country.[5][6] In 1772, he established a wine business[7][8][6] He soon expanded his clientele.[7] His annual shipments varied between 4,000 bottles a year to 6-7,000 bottles in a good year.[7] However, he kept the primary business focus on textiles.

Philippe Clicquot ran a successful textile business, so did Nicolas Ponsardin. In an attempt to consolidate the power of their two businesses, Mr. Ponsardin and Mr. Clicquot arranged a wedding between their children,[9] which was common at the time.

François Clicquot and Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin were married on 10 June 1798.[2][5][6]

After his marriage, François Clicquot was officially made his father's partner and on July the company name was changed to "Clicquot-Muiron et Fils".[7] Sales increased from 8,000 bottles a year in 1796 to 60,000 in 1804.[6] Little by little, all other activities unrelated to champagne industry were abandoned.[7]

In October 1805, seven years after their wedding, Francois fell suddenly ill[9] with a fever similar to typhoid.[10][9] He died some days later[9], at the age of 30[11], leaving his widow (veuve in French) in control of a company variously involved in banking, wool trading, and Champagne production. She became the first woman to take over a Champagne house.[2]

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin[edit]

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was born in 1777[6], a few years before the French Revolution. Her childhood was influenced by her father[9], Baron Nicolas Ponsardin, a successful textile maker, who was involved in both business and politics.[6][10] Formerly a royalist, he switched political positions to turn against the monarchy. Thanks to this move, Barbe-Nicole’s family escaped the Revolution unscathed.[9][7]

When Barbe-Nicole married François Clicquot, she was 21 years old.[9] When her husband died in October 1805, she was 27[6][12] and mother of their six-year-old daughter[6][10] and only child, Clémentine.[7]

In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic Code denied women civil and political rights, prohibiting them from working, voting, earning money, entering schools or universities... They couldn't do anything without the consent of their husband or father.[10][6] At that time, widows were the only women in French society to be free and to be allowed to run their own business.[10][13]

Against expectations and opposition, the widow Clicquot wanted to take over her husband's business.[13][5]. She went to her father-in-law with a proposal[9] and convinced him to let her manage the business[6] Philippe agreed to her proposal under one condition: Barbe-Nicole would go through an apprenticeship, after which she would be able to run the business herself, if she could prove that she was capable.[9] She entered into an apprenticeship with the winemaker Alexandre Fourneaux, and tried to save the wine business and make it grow.[9]

The House Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin[edit]

On 21 July 1810, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin launched her own company: "Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin".[7]

Barbe-Nicole exported the vast majority of her champagne out of France.[9] Unfortunately, she was facing naval blockades that kept her from sending her wine abroad. Furthermore, Czar Alexander I banned French products.[7]

Facing bankruptcy, Barbe-Nicole took a business gamble: she decided to send her champagne to Russia, when peace returned ahead of her competitors. While the war's naval blockades paralyzed commercial shipping, Madame Clicquot and Louis Bohne secretely planned to sneak a boat through the blockade to Russia.[9]

Russians used to love the kind of champagne she was making: a very sweet champagne that contained about double the amount of sugar in today’s sweet dessert wines.[9] She knew that European courts would celebrate the defeat of Napoleon as soon as his wars ended.[9] After Napoleon Bonaparte had been sent into exile on Elba, both British and Russians toasted his defeat.[6][10]

With the French monarchy restored, Madame Clicquot and Louis Bohne put the plan they have been preparing for five years into execution. In 1814, as the blockades fell away, the company chartered a Dutch cargo ship, the "Zes Gebroeders", en route to Koenigsberg,[10] to deliver 10,550 bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne to the Russian market,[6][10] taking advantage of the general chaos, while their competitors still believed such a move to be impossible. The boat left Le Havre on June 6, 1814.[6] Meanwhile, Russia had lifted the ban on importing French products. The whole shipment was quickly sold. A few weeks later, another ship left Rouen laden with 12,780 bottles of champagne destined for St.Petersburg, which were sold out as soon as they arrived.[6]

1814 was a turning point in the history of the Veuve Clicquot company. With her "Vin de la comète" (comet vintages), Madame Clicquot reinvigorated her business which began to take off again, thanks to the success of the Russian venture that made the name Veuve Clicquot famous overnight. She went from being a minor player to a brand name that everyone known to all.[9] Within two years, the widow Clicquot had become famous and was at the helm of an internationally renowned commercial business.[10]

Under Madame Clicquot's guidance, the firm focused entirely on the last, to great success.[14]

Champagne also became a vehicule for celebrating events.[10] Veuve Clicquot played an important role in establishing champagne as a preferred drink of high society. Champagne became an essential ingredient for festivities in European courts, and then amongst the bourgeoisie. Champagne then began turning up, in cabarets and restaurants.[6]

Sales of Veuve Clicquot champagne in Russia continued to progress. Madame Clicquot decided to establish herself in other markets, such as United Kingdom. Edouard Werlé, who joined the company,[6] started to make a whole series of trips through Central Europe.

In 1841, Edouard Werlé officially became head of the company.[7] Edouard and his son Alfred ran the business in the following years developing it further: they acquired new vineyards and in 1877 began utilizing a yellow label for the wines, an unusual color for champagne at the time.[8] They registered the label under the trademark "Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin" Yellow Label.[8]

While the company was pursuing its expansion, Madame Clicquot died at the Château de Boursault on July 29, 1866, at the age of 89.

By the time she died in 1866 Veuve Clicquot had become both a substantial Champagne house and a respected brand. Easily recognised by its distinctive bright yellow labels, the wine holds a royal warrant from Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Sales had reached 750,000 bottles a year.[6] Veuve Clicquot was exporting champagne from France to all Europe, the United States, Asia and elsewhere.[9]

By the terms of an agreement made earlier, Edouard Werlé was already her official successor appointed by Madame Clicquot herself, and in August 1866, a new company was formed: "Werlé & Cie, successors to Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin"[7].

Bertrand de Mun, who married Edouard Werlé's grand-daughter, joined the company in July 1898 and became a partner in 1902[7]. The company was slowed down by the 1914-18 war[7].

WW1 and WW2[edit]

During World War I, the Veuve Clicquot cellars sheltered over one thousand company staff and civilians in the war-torn champagne region from bombardments.[15] Cellars housed a hospital and a chapel. Even short plays were put on in these premises.[7] Today Red Cross signs on the damp chalk walls still indicate the infirmary and shelter area.[5][7]

After World War I, reconstruction began. All the buildings have been heavily damaged[7]. Gradually everything was rebuilt.[7]

In 1932, Bertrand de Mun was joined by his son-in-law Bertrand de Vogüé.[7] Long before the law required it, they offered benefits to their employees: holidays, pensions, healthcare, sports fields and recreation areas.[7] As a result, the company never suffered stoppage during the strikes that hit France in 1936.[7]

In 1963, the company became a "société anonyme" or joint stock corporation.[7] Bertrand de Vogüé was made chairman, a post to which his son Alain succeeded in 1972.[7]

In 1987, the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group acquired Veuve Clicquot,[16][5][17] where it remains today, headed up by Jean-Marc Gallot.[8]



The oldest parts of the Veuve Clicquot cellars (the "crayères") were originally chalk-pits (chalk quarries).[7] The Veuve Clicquot "crayères" are medieval and lie about 55-65 feet underground.[7] Placed end-to-end, they would extend over more than 12 miles. The chalk walls ensure constant temperature (about 48 °F) and humidity for aging wine.[16] At the beginning of the 20th century the house commissioned artist André Navlet to design reliefs on the cellar walls.[7]

The Veuve Clicquot chalk quarries are located beneath the colline Saint Nicaise and are granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.[16][7]


The first vineyards were owned by Philippe Clicquot near Verzy and Vernezay.[7] The second group of vineyards was the "Bouzy holding" inherited by François Clicquot from his grandmother Muiron in 1804.[7] These two vineyards were enlarged by purchases made by Madame Clicquot. She thus became proprietor of 99 acres (40 ha) of high-quality vines around Bouzy, Vernezay and Verzy.[7]

When establishing her own vineyards, she bought only vines on land that would subsequently be classified 100% on the "échelle des crus" (Bouzy, Verzenay and Verzy).[7]

Between 1872 and 1873, Alfred Werlé acquired 99 acres (40 ha) at Le Mesnil and enlarged the Bouzy vineyards by 30 acres (12 ha). In a single year, he doubled the vineyard holdings that the company had amassed over a century. Alfred stepped up his acquisition program in 1884, buying a total of 123 acres (50 ha). He also bought Duchesse d'Uzès's vineyards to return the vines she had inherited from Madame Clicquot into the company's ownership.[7]

The policy of extending the Veuve Clicquot vineyards was pursued by Bertrand de Mum. The last acquisitions were 61 acres at Saint-Thierry, purchased between 1967 and 1975.[7]

The house now owns 971 acres (393 ha) of vineyards, with an average rating of 71% on the "échelle des crus".[8][16][18] Fifty-five percent of Veuve Clicquot’s vineyards are categorized as Grand Cru and 40% are Premier Cru.[8] The vineyard is planted with 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Meunier.[8][15]

The company also purchases grapes from 400 different suppliers, some of whom are descendants of the wine growers who sold their harvests to Edouard Werlé.[7]

Modernisation of production[edit]

Bottles of Veuve Clicquot ranging from "piccolo" (0.188 L) to "balthazar" (12 L)

The natural sparkle is created by the sugar and yeast present in the grape. The interaction between these two elements creates carbon dioxide with varying quantities of bubbles. In the 19th century, neither sugar nor yeast was added to the finished blend to trigger a second fermentation. There was only one fermentation, and not two, as is practiced in modern champagne making. The result was an unpredictable sparkle, with fermentation sometimes continuing even after the wine had been shipped.

The yeast dies after digesting all the sugar, leaving sediments in the bottle and making the wine looking cloudy. To clarify it, champagne producers traditionally poured the wine from one bottle to another. However, this process was time-consuming and wasteful as it damaged the wine through the constant agitation.[9]

Madame Clicquot studied this issue to find a solution. She is credited with a great breakthrough in champagne handling that made mass production of the wine possible.

Assisted by her cellar master Antoine de Müller, she invented the riddling table ("remuage") in 1816.[6] This technique makes it possible to transform the champagne from a cloudy state to crystal clarity.[19]

Instead of transferring the wine from bottle to bottle, she kept the wine in the same bottle but agitated it gently.[9] The bottles were turned upside down, causing the yeast to collect in the neck.[9][12]

Composed much like a wooden desk with circular holes, the rack allowed a bottle of wine to be stuck sur point or upside down. For six to eight weeks, a cellar assistant would gently shake and twist the bottles (remuage), rotating them by a quarter-turn every day[10], to bring the sediments into the neck through gradual inversion.[20][5][8][10]. When this was completed, the cork was carefully removed, the lees extracted and a liqueur (a mixture of still wine and sugar) was added.[21] This technique was perfected to produce a crystal-clear champagne.[6][22]. These methods are still used today, with a few minor improvements[6][9][12].

The riddling rack rendered the dégorgement process both more efficient and economic.[23] Clicquot's advance involved systematically collecting the spent yeast and sediments left from the wine's secondary fermentation in the bottle's neck by using a specialised rack.

Veuve Clicquot is also credited with producing the first known blended rosé champagne in 1818[19]. Ruinart was the first champagne house to sell rosé[20], tinting champagne with elderberry juice[19], in 1764. Barbe-Nicole produced rosé champagne by adding still red wine to its sparkling wine.[19] Today, rosé champagne is made by adding pinot noir.[5] This method is still used today to produce rosé champagne.[19][24]

Oldest bottle[edit]

In July 2008 an unopened bottle of Veuve Clicquot was discovered inside a sideboard in Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland. The 1893 bottle was in mint condition, having been kept in the dark, and was the oldest bottle known to exist. It is now on display at the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin visitor centre in Reims and is regarded as priceless.[25]

Shipwrecked bottles[edit]

In 1987, an expedition, licensed by the Michigan Department of State and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and headed by underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence, recovered a number of cases of Veuve Clicquot (Yellow Label, Dry) Champagne from the 9 November 1913 shipwreck of the Canadian steamer Regina in Lake Huron, off Port Sanilac, Michigan. Spence afterwards described the still sparkling Champagne as "quite dark in color but as having an excellent taste." The shipwreck site is located in approximately 83 feet of water at latitude 43°20.24′ North, longitude 82°26.76′ West. The water temperatures at the wreck site range from 1°-18 °C (35 °F. to 65 °F).[26]

In July 2010, a group of Finnish divers found 168 bottles of champagne beneath the Baltic Sea off the coast of the Åland Islands.[27][28][29][30] Bottles were sent back to France for analysis. Ninety-nine of them were identified as Juglar, forty-six as Veuve Clicquot, and at least four as Heidsieck.[31][32][28][33][34]

When the wine was tasted in 2015, several of them were still drinkable, well-preserved thanks to the cold and dark conditions at the depth.[35][32][36][37]

Chemical analysis showed levels of sugar (150 g/L) much higher than modern champagne (more than most Sauternes), compared to today’s champagnes which are generally between 6 to 10g per litre.[32] This high sugar content was characteristic of people’s tastes at the time, especially the Russian market known for its preference for sweeter wines.[32][38]

It also had much higher levels of salt, iron, lead, copper, and arsenic compared with modern vintages. It is believed the arsenic and copper originated from antiquated pesticide (Bordeaux mixture) applied to the grapes. The iron probably came from nails used in the wine barrels, and the lead leached from brass valve fittings of the winemaking equipment. Modern champagne producers begin with wine from stainless steel barrels, yielding lower iron and lead levels.[39]

On 17 November 2010, the local government of the Åland Islands announced that most of the bottles were to be auctioned off.[40] A bottle of nearly 200-year-old Veuve Clicquot broke the record for the most expensive champagne ever sold. In 2011, a bidder paid €30,000 for one of them found in the Baltic Sea.[38]

As a result, in 2014, the house submerged 300 bottles and 50 magnums of its champagne at the exact location of the wreck to study whether it matures differently from on land.[41] It will be resurfaced in 40 years and compared with another set of champagne aged underground at the same depth.[20]



When Philippe Clicquot began producing champagne, he simply sold "champagne wine". There were no labels on the bottles.[6]

The earliest brand he used dates from 1798. It bears the initials "C.M. & F." as "Clicquot-Muiron et Fils". The initials were set within a design of a marine anchor,[28] as a universal symbol of hope, engraved on the cork.[28] His bottles were sealed with green wax, flecked with gold. This green wax was the sole means by which bottles could be recognized by customers.[6]

In 1814, Louis Bohne asked Madame Clicquot to "have a pretty ornamental design printed".[7] This was probably one of the very first labels used for champagne.[7]

The green bottle sealing wax was gradually replaced by foil or tinsel wrapped round the cork.[7] In 1895, it was covered with an additional plain, varnished or polished metal cage, bearing the anchor logo and the initials V.C.P.[7] In 1899, white or yellow paper band, depending on the quality of the wine, was added to the neck of the bottle. It took its current form four years later, in 1903.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Veuve Cliquot bottles and decorations as part of the company's "Yelloween" celebration

In the decade between 1830 and 1840, the brand was mentioned many times in operettas, vaudeville, variety shows, and reviews.[7]

Many 19th-century Russian novels used the term "klikoskoïe" as a synonym for high-class champagne.[7] The brand is mentioned in works by Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and many other authors.[citation needed]

The brand is also mentioned in songs. On his 2010 album Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa raps, "I'm sippin' Clicquot and rockin' yellow diamonds" in his song Black and Yellow.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Champagne : Jean-Marc Gallot prend la direction de Veuve-Clicquot (LVMH)". 12 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Glengarry Victoria Park Store [New Look] Episode 2: Regan and the Champagne Area
  3. ^ G. Harding "A Wine Miscellany" pp 45–47, Clarkson Potter Publishing, New York 2005 ISBN 0-307-34635-8
  4. ^ H. Johnson Vintage: The Story of Wine pg 337 Simon & Schuster 1989 ISBN 0-671-68702-6
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Touring France's Champagne Houses: Six Of The Best". Forbes. 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "Veuve Clicquot: the effervescent widow who gave us the champagne lifestyle". The Guardian. 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an Crestin-Billet, Frédérique (1992). Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame de la Champagne. Glénat (collection Gastronomie). ISBN 2723414213.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Veuve Clicquot". Bestchampagne. 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "The widow who created the champagne industry". Smithsonian magazine. 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "A kick from champagne". The New York Times. 2018.
  11. ^ "Women In Wine: The Grand Dames Of Champagne". Forbes. 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "Alison Brittain named Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of 2017". BBC. 2017.
  13. ^ a b "How women are changing champagne". BBC. 2017.
  14. ^ Don and Petie Kladstrup, Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times (New York: William Morrow, 2005), p. 77. ISBN 0-06-073792-1.
  15. ^ a b "My trip to Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin". Vanity Fair. 2009.
  16. ^ a b c d "The Drink For The Millennials? Champagne, Of Course, Says Veuve Clicquot". Forbes. 2016.
  17. ^ "Even in Tradition-Bound Champagne, Change and Marketing Are Key to Continued Success". Forbes. 2018.
  18. ^ "The Drink For The Millennials? Champagne, Of Course, Says Veuve Clicquot". Forbes. 2016.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Veuve Clicquot: 200 years of feminism in Champagne". Robb Report. 2018.
  20. ^ a b c "Why You Should Go to Champagne, France—And All the Houses You Should Visit". Vogue. 2017.
  21. ^ Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine, 5th ed. (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2001), pg 79. ISBN 1-84000-332-4.
  22. ^ Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine, 5th ed. (London: Mitchell Beazley, 2001), pg 79. ISBN 1-84000-332-4
  23. ^ Don and Petie Kladstrup, Champagne, p. 78.
  24. ^ "The Game-Changers: 5 Inspiring Women You Need To Know Now". InStyle Magazine. 2018.
  25. ^ "'Priceless' champagne discovered". BBC News. 28 July 2008. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  26. ^ "Mystery Wreck of the Great Lakes". 22 September 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  27. ^ The World's oldest champagne – Official web site of the Åland islands, Finland Archived 25 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ a b c d "Talk about vintage bubbly! Divers find 220-year-old bottle". The Independant. 2010.
  29. ^ "Treasure bubbles to the surface". The Australian. News Limited. 18 July 2010. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  30. ^ "'World's oldest champagne' found on Baltic seabed". BBC News. 17 July 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  31. ^ "Ahvenanmaan samppanjahylystä löytyi uusi juomalaatu". Helsingin Sanomat. 17 January 2011. Archived from the original on 20 January 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  32. ^ a b c d "Time Travel in a Champagne Bottle". Winespectator. 2015.
  33. ^ Lechmere, Adam, (17 November 2010). Champagne still 'fresh' after nearly two centuries in Baltic
  34. ^ "Veuve Clicquot: Shipwrecked champagne was ours". Yahoo! News. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  35. ^ "What's The Secret Behind The Most Expensive Champagne?". Forbes. 2016.
  36. ^ "Champagne from 1840s shipwreck analysed". BBC. 2015.
  37. ^ "Veuve Clicquot champagne found in Baltic shipwreck". The Telegraph. 2010.
  38. ^ a b "Shipwrecked 1840s Champagne reveals secrets". The Drinks Business. 2015.
  39. ^ Sarah Everts. 170-Year-Old Champagne Cache Analyzed: Chemical analysis of shipwrecked bubbly reveals secrets of 19th-century French winemaking. Chem & Eng News April 20, 2015.
  40. ^ Auction of the World's oldest champagne – Press release of Aland, Finland[permanent dead link]
  41. ^ "Veuve Clicquot to Age Champagne in Baltic Sea, Says". Bloomberg. 2014.
  42. ^ "The Top 5 Champagnes Fit For Ballers". Forbes. 2015.

External links[edit]