Portrait of Madame Veuve Clicquot. Léon Cogniet, ca. 1859-1861 (public domain)
The next time you pop a celebratory champagne cork, be sure to drink a toast to Mademoiselle Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin. You may never have heard of Mlle. Ponsardin, but you probably have heard her professional name: Madame Veuve Clicquot. Barbe-Nicole was born in 1777 to a wealthy industrial family in Reims, a town in the Grand Est region of France. At age 21, she married businessman François Clicquot. Six years later, when her husband died, Barbe-Nicole, now a widow (veuve in French) inherited her husband’s company, Clicquot-Muiron et Fils, becoming one of the first women in the early 19th Century to head up an international business operation. The company was involved in banking, wool trading, and champagne production. Madame Clicquot chose to have her company focus almost entirely on champagne production. Bankrolled by her father-in-law, Phillipe Clicquot, the champagne operations thrived under her leadership.
In 1810, Madame Clicquot created her own company Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin. In addition to running a very successful business, she is credited with the invention of the riddling table (a device for optimizing the removal of dead yeast) as well as the first blended Rosé (the technique by which red wine is added to tint the champagne pink). The champagne production techniques pioneered by Madame Clicquot to produce delicious and popular vintages were adopted across the region and are still used today.
Today, the champagne maker still champions women who take leadership roles in the business world. In 1972, at the bicentenary of the house's founding, the company created the annual Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards (BWA) in honor of Madame Clicquot. The award celebrates women from around the globe who demonstrate the business savvy and entrepreneurialism of Madame Clicquot. Recipients of this prestigious award often are women business leaders who are doing pioneering work in male-dominated fields, just as Madame Clicquot herself did more than two centuries ago.