Often referred to as the grand dame of champagne, Barbe Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin is responsible for giving champagne its clear quality, selling her Veuve Clicquot in international markets.

After the death of her husband in 1805, Clicquot persuaded her father-in-law to allow her to take over the family wine business, a move that later prompted the inclusion of ‘veuve’, or ‘widow’, in its name.

Production slumped initially, and Britain’s naval blockade forced her to look east to Russia, at one point shipping champagne bottles hidden in barrels to skirt an embargo the Tsar had placed on French wine.

In 1810, she produced the world’s first vintage champagne and its popularity spread among Europe’s elite, who soon began to associate it with celebration and luxury.

Key achievements

  • Pioneering the ‘riddling’ process – tilting bottles and turning them for several weeks to collect and remove dead yeast and give champagne its clear appearance.
  • Becoming one of France’s first successful female business leaders in a male dominated world.
  • Putting an anchor on each cork as a form of branding in an era when bottles were not even sold with labels.

Lessons for your store

  1. When trade suffers, get creative – during embargos and blockades Clicquot expanded into selling red wines in a domestic market and cut costs.
  2. Business can be therapeutic – Clicquot threw herself into work after her husband’s death, often working from 7am until 10pm.
  3. Specialise to survive – Clicquot steered the company away from banking and wool trading to focus entirely on champagne, which thrived.