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Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Widow Clicquot: Raises a toast to the Queen of Champagne

‘The Widow Clicquot’ by Tilar J. Mazzeo is such a well written historical biography of a formidable woman – Barbe Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot. She was meant to be an ordinary homemaker and mother and was supposed to fade into the background over time. If any mention of her was made, it was meant to be as a footnote in her husband’s (Francois Clicquot) life and business venture. He dreamed of making and selling wines under his family’s marquee –Clicquot - and she supported him wholeheartedly.

She was married off in what amounted to an arranged marriage-business deal, which meant two wealthy business families that held sway in the city of Reims (France) would join hands, to prosper together.

Her father Nicholas Ponsardin was shrewd enough to survive the French Revolution even though he favoured the monarchy and aspired to acquiring aristocratic titles himself. When he realized he could lose his family, his life and his wealth, he very wisely took part in the birth of the Republic. He then worked hard to charm Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon’s reign ended at Waterloo, he foresaw this as being another political allegiance that could become inconvenient, and made sure he was not caught on the wrong side.

So, though she lived in tumultuous times and saw some of the most famous people of her generation up close and personal, she was never meant to be the subject of her own biography. Mazzeo acknowledges this and states that it made her research on Barbe-Nicole that much more taxing and interesting! She’s literally travelled in this woman’s footsteps to try and understand her as a human being and the remarkable businesswoman she turned out to be.

Barbe-Nicole sent her salesmen across war-ravaged Europe to generate business. They risked their lives to get business deals done. And they listened to gossip and sent back orders for some Clicquot wine. One of them was that the Russian queen was pregnant and might produce an heir to the throne, so the country would end up celebrating this news with champagne. She ended up producing her second daughter who also died as a baby. But the wine got drunk anyway, so things ended up well for Clicquot this time around.

The book highlights many such instances where Barbe-Nicole went with her sharp business instincts and got her wine across to countries, which had banned it because they were retaliating against Napoleon’s restrictive trade policies. Reading about them tells you a lot about this woman and how she was even willing to defy an emperor to create her own empire.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. Not to many people in your position are so gracious. Your article was very poignant and understandable. It helped me to understand very clearly. Thank you for your help.

Anonymous said...

I have a tendancy to be lazy sith commenting, but i adore your blog and i may also say it right now.