There is a story that reminds us of how several of France’s most significant Champagne innovations came to be: via the resourcefulness of a few independent and creative women. As we get ready to bust the cork for a brand-new year, we have brought back one of our favorite tales from BBC Travel.
Winding lanes converge close to a chateau that is guarded by gates on the outskirts of the city of Reims, which is located in the north-eastern region of France. Cars are parked in a roundabout that is surrounded by expansive pastures. The atmosphere is peaceful and the air is still. Nearly twenty meters below the surface, the main action is taking place.
More than two hundred kilometers of basements can be found carved into this underworld. These cellars are lined with millions of Champagne bottles that are affixed to chalky rock walls. These bottles are unlabeled and have the words “I was here” written on them by tourists in the dust that covers them. In the faint light of the cellars, some of them are blazing in the darkness, while others are in chains and appear to be glowing against the backdrop of tunnels that appear to lead nowhere. Some of them are placed in little caverns that are protected by gates made of wrought iron. This is the starting point for the Champagne market all over the world.
In addition, widows were the dominant social group in the caverns.
The creativity of a number of women was responsible for some of the most significant developments in the Champagne industry. The Napoleonic Code, which was in effect during the 19th century, made it illegal for women to own enterprises in France without first obtaining permission from their husbands or fathers. However, widows were exempt from the ban, which created a loophole that allowed individuals like as Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, Louise Pommery, and Lily Bollinger, amongst others, to transform vineyards into empires and ultimately overhaul the Champagne business, so permanently altering the way that Champagne is produced and marketed.
In 1798, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin tied the knot with Francois Clicquot, who at the time was the proprietor of the modest textile and wine enterprise that his family owned and operated in Reims. Originally known as Clicquot-Muiron et Fils. A financial catastrophe ensued as a result of it. At the age of 27, she was left a widow after Clicquot passed away in 1805, and she took the uncommon decision to take over the enterprise.
“It was a very unusual decision for a woman of her class,” expressed Tilar Mazzeo, a cultural historian and author of The Widow Clicquot. “It was a very unusual decision.” Considering that she did not have a requirement to run a business, it would have been exceedingly unusual for her to do so. She could have spent her entire life working in drawing rooms and as a hostess for social gatherings.
Due to the fact that she was in dire need of financial assistance for the company, she approached her father-in-law and requested approximately 835 thousand euros.
“Amazingly, her father-in-law said yes,” according to Mazzeo, “which I always think must say something really important about who he thought she was, and what he thought she was capable of as a woman with no business background.”
Beginning with the very beginning, Barbe-Nicole utilized her status as a widow as a marketing weapon, which resulted in favorable outcomes. As a result, the Champagne house was renamed Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin. The term “widow” is translated from the French word “veuve.”
The term’veuve’ gave the impression that the beverage was of a particular level of respectability… Kolleen M. Guy, author of When Champagne Became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity and chair of the Division of Arts and Humanities at Duke Kunshan University in Jiansu, China, explained that some of these beverages had become associated with the debauchery and wild parties that were held in the royal courts of the past.