On CTV’s The Social yesterday, we chatted about the top Champagnes made by women for Mother’s Day.
(Click on the arrow above to play the video.)
They were all young women whose families owned the great champagne houses at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. When they lost their husbands to war or illness, they didn’t sell the businesses or remarry.
They took control of the chateaus to produce some of the most prestigious wines in the world. In an era when few women were in business at all, these women headed what were, at the time, some of France’s largest companies.
Get my Top 9 Champagnes for Mother’s Day list.
LAINEY: This weekend is Mother’s Day so we thought we would toast the wonderful women in our lives and around the world with a glass of bubbly.
JESS: What’s more, most of the prestigious champagnes we’re showcasing today, were developed by some enterprising mothers. Here with their stories is the editor of Canada’s largest wine review site, Natalie MacLean. Welcome back, Natalie.
KATE: What’s the difference between Champagne and other sparkling wine?
NATALIE: Think about his way: all Thoroughbreds are horses, but not all horses are Thoroughbreds. Champagne is the Thoroughbred of sparkling wine.
As Napoleon said, “Champagne is one of the elegant extras of life.”
CYNTHIA – MADAME CLICQUOT
Probably the most famous woman of this group is Madame Clicquot of Veuve Clicquot. Tell us about her.
NATALIE: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin’s husband died of a fever in 1805 when she was only 27, Leaving her with the business and a six-year-old daughter.
Veuve actually means widow.
Only weeks after the funeral, she continued to coordinate shipments of wine to Russia—an extraordinary feat, given the uncertainty of trade during the Napoleonic wars. Her champagne became so popular in Russia that Pushkin, Gogol and Chekhov all wrote about it.
When the fortunes of war swung the other way in 1814, Russian soldiers invaded her home town of Reims and raided her cellars. “Let them drink,” she is rumored to have said. “They’ll pay for it later.” Madame Clicquot ran the business for more than sixty years, until she died in 1866, at the age of 89.
CYNTHIA – INFLUENCE ON CHAMPAGNE MAKING
What influence did Madame Clicquot have on champagne production?
The second fermentation in the bottle that gives champagne its carbon dioxide also creates sediment, which gives the wine an unsightly, cloudy appearance.
To clarify it, Madame Clicquot drilled holes in her kitchen table and inserted the bottles upside down. The sediment gradually collected in the necks, where it was disgorged while still upside down. Then the bottles were righted and re-corked.
CYNTHIA – VEUVE CLICQUOT TASTING
What can I expect from this champagne?
JESS – LOUISE POMMERY
The next champagne widow is Louise Pommery. What can you tell us about her?
NATALIE: In 1858, at the age of 39, Louise Pommery was left a widow with two young children — just a year after her husband, a wool trader, had invested in the champagne business. She developed Pommery from a small winery into one of the world’s most respected champagne houses, buying some of the best vineyard land in the region.
During her travels in England, Madame Pommery noticed that the British liked their wine dry with finesse, such as well-aged Bordeaux and Burgundy. So, in 1874, she decided to make champagne with this in mind and produced the first “brut” champagne. Until then, champagne had always been made sweet to balance the wine’s acidity.
JESS – POMMERY ESTATES
She must’ve made a lot of money from her brut wine. What did she do with it?
NATALIE: She used the profits to build the grand Pommery estate, over which she presided for thirty years. The gloriously gaudy Pommery building in Reims is an architectural hodgepodge of towers, domes and spires, all blazing with orange, red, yellow and blue. It’s a modified Elizabethan neo-Gothic style, chosen by Madame Pommery in tribute to the British.
Beneath the whole Champagne region is a massive labyrinth of caves. These caves have been designated a historic monument. Pommery winery is famous for its 11 miles of underground cellars with 120 caves holding some 20 million bottles.
JESS – POMMERY TASTING
Tell us about the tasting notes for this champagne, Natalie.
KATE – CAMILLE OLRY-ROEDERER
Who’s the third champagne widow on your list?
NATALIE: Camille Olry-Roederer lost her husband, Leon Olry-Roederer in 1932, leaving Camille to run the champagne house they had inherited just two years earlier. Camille was a newcomer to the Champagne region and was considered an interloper because she knew practically nothing about wine.
Overseas markets were weak because of the Great Depression and the aftermath of prohibition. When she took over, sales were 264K bottles that year compared to 2.3 million bottles in 1876. Still, she had an excellent instinct for business: while land prices were low in the 1930s, she bought up local vineyards.
Camille ran the company for forty-two years until 1975, when her grandson, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, took over.
KATE – HOUSE OF ROEDERER
How popular is Roederer?
KATE – ROEDERER TASTING
I can’t wait to try this champagne. What will I taste, Natalie?
LAINEY – MADAME JACQUES
I understand we’re ending with the most colourful of the pioneering women. Why is that?
NATALIE: Elizabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers, known as Madame Jacques, ran the champagne house, Bollinger, from 1941 to 1971. Her first taste of champagne wasn’t until her engagement party in 1923, before she married Jacques Bollinger, the third generation of the family to make the wine.
She was famously quoted as saying: “I drink champagne when I am happy, and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I am thirsty.”
Over the thirty years that she ran the winery, she doubled its sales to more than a million bottles. In 1976, the French government awarded her the Ordre National du Merit.
In 1969, to mark her 70th birthday, she introduced Vieilles Vignes Françaises – the first champagne made from only pinot noir grapes. She also created Bollinger Rosé.
LAINEY – BOLLINGER
So, she took over the winery in the middle of WWII. How did that affect production at Bollinger?
When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, they took 178,000 bottles of champagne, but the Bollingers agreed to keep producing the wine in order to free their employees from prison camps, and to protect their home and winery. U.S. liberation came not a moment too soon: on August 22, 1944, General Patton’s Third Army arrived just in time to stop the retreating German army from dynamiting the Bollinger cellars.
LAINEY – BOLLINGER TASTING
What can I expect with this champagne?
CYNTHIA: Thanks so much for being here today, Natalie. Cheers to you, to our mothers, and to all of the great women around the world. We’ll be right back.