The French word for widow is veuve. You may have seen this word on a Champagne label—and maybe wondered why?
In 19th Century France, the Napoleonic Code restricted women from owning businesses in France without permission from a husband or father.
Fortunately, widows were exempt from the rule!
This created a loophole (and opportunity) for some amazing widows to turn their vineyards into empires.

Who were Les Veuves de Champagne?

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, Louise Pommery, Mathilde Emilie Laurent- Perrier and Lily Bollinger (among others)
Freed from status as “property” of their now-deceased husbands, these women fought their way up in the system to positions of great power.
From the taste and colour of Champagne, the style of the bottles, techniques, production and marketing, their contribution has shaped the modern Champagne industry.
The 17th century Benedictine monk Dom Perignon gets the credit for developing the actual “methode champenoise”, however when it comes to creating the iconic sparkling wine called Champagne, the lion’s share of our thanks goes to these women!

Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot was only 27 at the time she took over the House of Clicquot upon the death of her husband in 1805.
She rocked the conservative Champagne establishment.
An innovator, she was responsible for the invention of rosé Champagne, the world’s first Champagne label and the distinctive modern Champagne bottle shape.
Madame Clicquot was also a production genius, creating techniques still used in the making of fine Champagne today.

The old underground 'Caves' with stored Champagne bottles in a rack at the House of Veuve Clicquot

The old underground ‘Caves’ with stored Champagne bottles in a rack at the House of Veuve Clicquot

Louise Pommery assumed leadership of the House of Pommery upon the death of her husband in 1860.Some credit her with creating the world’s first Brut or dry Champagne.
Mme Pommery attended school in England and knew the English preferred their drinks dry rather than sweet.
Champagnes at the time were styled to contain ten to fifteen times as much sugar as a modern demi-sec!
She saw that she could create a champagne with a dry flavour profile to attract the untapped English market.
The gamble not only earned her a dedicated customer base (that other Houses had largely ignored) but also intrinsically changed expectations of the “flavour” of champagne.
She also purchased a number of limestone and chalk pits, carved beneath the city of Reims in Champagne by Roman soldiers
These unique cellars allowed her to store and age over 20 million bottles in a temperature-controlled environment – and helped popularise the use of “caves” among other Champagne houses.

Mme Laurent-Perrier took the work of Mme Pommery a step further, creating and bottling the ‘Grand Vin sans Sucre’, a vintage with no sugar added before the second fermentation.
The result?
A very dry wine that catered to her own palate, as well her new British customers.
This champagne debut was at Brébant Restaurant (in the Eiffel Tower) in 1889, over a century before the non-dosage trend would sweep through the champagne world

At the height of WWII, Madame Lily Bollinger lost her husband, stepping up to become the head of the champagne house at 42.
In the 1950’s Bollinger released the R.D. (Recently Disgorged) vintage Champagne, a technique that she innovated by aging the bottle with its lees, the dead yeast and grape skins, for extended periods of time and then removing this sediment from the bottle by hand.
The Champagne is still one of the brand’s most coveted cuvees today.
She was also well-known for her sparkling wit(and one of the most famous wine quotes of all time)
“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it. Unless I’m thirsty.”

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