In the business biography The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, Tilar J. Mazzeo tells the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin who, after her husband’s death, took control of the family wine business.
The story takes the reader on a journey through the process of making the wine I so enjoy and reveals the business and manufacturing challenges Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin encountered during her time in charge. Different bottle shapes and sizes made it difficult to stack and store the wine. (Commercial glassware wasn’t available yet.) Fulfilling the wine orders of customers overseas, surviving the economic crisis of 1829 and defending the company’s reputation against impostors selling cheap champagne under her name were some of the other obstacles she tackled.
Barbe-Nicole’s determination meant nothing could get in her way. In the excerpt from the book below, her passion is evident:
“Thinking like the daughter of a manufacturer [her father was a successful textile manufacturer], she hounded her suppliers mercilessly. In the company archives in Reims, there are pages and pages of scolding correspondence where she writes about the shape of the bottles she needed to deliver or the quality of the corks she wanted cut. The manufacturers soon learned that she would come to complain in person if it was the only way to get what she required.”
She was always one step ahead as commercial conditions changed. The manufacturing model of business made it essential to think more like a corporation and less like a family unit. Instead of handing the reins to her daughter and son-in-law (who had a taste for gambling), she put the business first and brought in an outside partner who could keep Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Company competitive and take it to the next level. Defying convention and the Napoleonic Code, which stressed that the woman’s place was in the home, Barbe-Nicole became one of the world’s first successful businesswomen and one of the wealthiest women of her time. This book is a great read for anyone interested in business history, women’s history, winemaking or manufacturing in the industrial age.