by Fred McMillin
for January 31, 1997
Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend
Winery of the Week
Barbe's SecretIt was a storybook wedding in the fabled champagne town of Reims.
The bride was the mayor's daughter, Nicole Barbe Ponsardin. The groom was a local vintner's son named Francois Clicquot.
Six years later the couple's new champagne works and even newer daughter, Clementine, were all doing beautifully when Francois died suddenly from a fever. Would the grieving mother-widow at age 27 sell the business to nearby Moet, Heidsieck or Roederer? Forget it. Against impossible odds, during the next 62 years she built it into one of France's great champagne houses. Her springboard to success was what I'll call "Barbe's Secret."
The Sediment Problem The year is 1806. Dom Perignon had invented champagne over 100 years earlier, yet nobody had figured out how to eliminate the cloudy, unattractive sediment that forms in the bottle during fermentation. Then the Clicquot team hit on the answer. They inverted the bottles, allowing the solids to settle on the cork. Then they loosened the cork and the pressure blew out the sediment. With the only clear champagne, business boomed. While the rest of the industry was selling perhaps 300,000 bottles annually, in 1814 the "veuve" (French for widow) sold 30,000 bottles in Russia alone. She could have sold even more, for her agent wrote "It is cruel that I have to refuse orders for another 20,000 or 30,00 bottles."
That established Veuve Clicquot as a leading exporter. Today, the success continues; they export to over 150 countries. As to quality, the Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine says the Clicquot bubbly "ranks with the finest produced in the Champagne district." Somewhere, the widow is smiling.
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