The biddies take a second look at one of the most badass women in winemaking history, the widow Clicquot – and how she created a veritable champagne empire, invented new technologies to get her champagne to market faster, and was just a generally awesome lady.



Study Notes for the Widow Clicquot:


  • Six atmospheres worth of pressure behind a champagne cork


  • Barbe-Nicole grew up the daughter of a wealthy textile merchant 
  • Born Dec 16, 1777
  • Probably 4.5 feet tall, light hair and grey eyes 
  • Married to the son of another wealthy textile merchant but Francois Cliquot also dabbled in wine


  • The family business was about to end. Barbe was married to Francois Clicquot but he “suddenly fell ill” with a fever (typhoid) and died
    • Rumors swirled it was suicide
  • His father, Philippe was about to shut down the business bot Barbe-Nicole said she’d like to risk her inheritance plus asked her father-in-law for an extra million dollars to keep running the wine business to which he said “oui”
  • There had been little to no success selling champagne so she first had to undergo an apprenticeship
  • The business was still struggling at the end of her four year apprenticeship but Philippe Cliquot believed in her and invested more
  • Bottled first vintage champagne in 1810
  • This coincides with the end of the Napoleonic Wars and she had the legendary vintage of 1811 in her cellar right before she was going to go bankrupt
  • She knew the Russian market would be interested in getting champagne at the end of the Napoleonic Wars but that they wanted the sweeter profile she had been making
    • Naval blockades had crippled commercial shipping
    • She took a change and smuggled her wine to Amsterdam to await peace and once the blockades were lifted, it was sent to Russia, beating her competitors by weeks
    • Tsar Alexander I announced that it was the only kind he would drink and that preference spread throughout the Russian court
    • Demand was bigger than supply because champagne making was a tedious process at the time so she had to improve the process
  • In 1818 made the first rose champagne to contain red wine by adding Pinot Noir – previously rose champagne had been colored with elderberries


  • To rid bottles of dead yeast, wine makers used to pour from one bottle into another which was time consuming, wasteful, and damaging to the wine by constantly agitating the bubbles
  • She invented riddling – the process by which bottles are turned at angle upside down and twisted periodically causing the yeast to gather in the neck of the bottles
  • > 1816 invented riddling table 
  • Quality improved, production became much faster
  • No one told her secret about riddling which gave her an advantage over the market


  • Regarded as the greatest vintage in living memory and universally held to be the finest vintage of the 19th century throughout the vineyards of Western Europe
  • The perfect weather was said to be due to the Great Comet which was visible to the naked eye during September and October when the grapes were being harvested
  • Taken as a sign of supernatural blessing on the harvest so its now known as the “Comet Vintage”


Vintage 2012 displays a bright yellow color with refined gold hints. The nose is fresh, delicate and saline. Then, a whole new universe unveils. Juicy, candied or dried apricots set the tone. Enhanced with grilled, toasted notes, the nose evolves towards complex aromas of figs, dried fruits, honey, trufffe and mocha, giving the wine its amplitude. On the other side, the wood, brings soft spices of vanilla and nutmeg. On the palate, the attack is fresh and frank. Then appear the first aromas of fruits with mirabelle tart, candied citrus and roasted pears notes. Finally, refreshing notes of green hazelnuts and almonds arise. The structure, signature of the vintage cuvée, is angular and complete, and the Pinot Noir plays its full role of foundation. And so, with balance, the Vintage 2012 unveils a beautiful liveliness on the palate and refined pastry notes.