First Woman of Champagne, Veuve Clicquot
by Rebecca Rosenberg
Champagne, France, 1800. Twenty-year-old Barbe-Nicole inherited Le Nez (an uncanny sense of smell) from her great-grandfather, a renowned champagne maker. Determined to use Le Nez to make great champagne, she marries her childhood sweetheart to start a winery, despite his mental illness. Soon, her husband’s death from Typhoid forces her to become Veuve (Widow) Clicquot and grapple with a domineering partner, the complexities of making champagne, and six Napoleon wars and the Continental Blockade which forbids her from selling champagne. She defied Napoleon, risking imprisonment and death.
review by coffee&ink
Easily one of my favorite books in the last couple of years or so of reading. Barbe-Nicole is a woman with vision and determination during the wars with Napoleon. She has the vision because she has Le Nez—an acute sense of smell so strong she can smell people’s feelings. She puts this talent to good use when she inherits her grandmother’s vineyards, though she must marry to keep them. Le Nez knows what the right man for her smells like as she waits for him to come home from the war.
Not only is this a story about a strong-willed woman, but an epic story about family and dynasty, suffering and starvation, sacrifice and loss. How does one woman dare to sell French champagne outside the borders of France, where everyone hates everything French because of Napoleon? Barbe-Nicole has the determination to see her through spectacular defeats and a dark brush with power. With the men conscripted or compromised by the war, she relies on the widows and women workers from the vineyard for friendship and knowledge.
This is a spectacular story, sparkling, based on the true story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. Well-written, well researched, and interpreted, I highly recommend this great historical read.
HAPPY RELEASE DAY!
New Veuve Clicquot Novel Reveals how Pandemic, War, and Sexism
Nearly Derailed the Champagne Industry
CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS tells of the remarkable woman who defied Napoleon to build a champagne empire. (Sonoma, CA, September 1, 2021) In a story that could be pulled from today’s headlines, the determination and audacity of a young widow during a pandemic birthed one of the world’s greatest champagne empires. CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS, new historical fiction by Rebecca Rosenberg, tells of twenty-five-year-old Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, a young widow and founder of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
In the early 1800s, Barbe-Nicole and her husband struggled to perfect the early art of making champagne, hampered by archaic techniques, crude equipment, and fragile hand-blown bottles. Then, to complicate their plight, worldwide pandemics of typhoid fever, typhus, smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever ravaged Europe. All this, while Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte waged fifteen years of war
to control Europe, destroying the economy for champagne sales. When the pandemic claimed her husband, the widow (Veuve) Clicquot forged ahead on her own. If disease and war were not enough to battle, Barbe-Nicole could not own a business as a married woman. According to the Napoleon
Code and the custom of coverture, a married woman’s identity was ‘covered’ by her husband’s, and she had no legal or financial rights.
“I was shocked to discover women could not own businesses in the nineteenth century,” said Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning author of CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS. “But I was fascinated to discover the ‘widow’ loophole and why widows refused to remarry after their husbands died.”
When Barbe-Nicole’s husband died of Typhoid fever, she was allowed to own her vineyards and business as a widow. Other ‘Champagne Widows’ remained single to keep their wineries. Most notable are the widows Clicquot, Pommery, Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier, and Roederer, who built the world’s leading champagne brands. “The first women of champagne making must not have realized how strong they were until they had to learn and do it all to survive for themselves and their wineries! It makes it even more of an honor to learn a craft still dominated by men,” said Penny GaddCoster, Executive Director of Winemaking, Rack & Riddle, a thirty-year veteran of méthode champenoise, the traditional method of
making champagne. Rebecca Rosenberg is a triple-gold award-winning author, champagne geek, and lavender farmer in Sonoma County, California. Her other books include Lavender Fields of America, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, and Gold Digger, the Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor.