The Widows Behind the World’s Best Drink

Women’s History Month is wrapping up and we’ve enjoyed recognizing inspiring women in the restaurant industry. All you women restaurateurs deserve a pat on the back for continuing to make huge strides in the restaurant industry. Since it’s hard to pat yourself on the back, pour yourself a glass of Champagne instead and toast to another group of women who changed an industry and left a legacy still resonating in your restaurants today.

For much of the 300 year history of winemaking in France, it was the male winemakers leading the industry. However, in Champagne, where monk Dom Pérignon is credited with creating a beverage he equated to “tasting the stars,” many women stood alongside these men and made changes to the industry that we’re still grateful for today.

Let’s look at four of these grand dames of Champagne and the impact they had on the Champagne industry.

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the widow of Clicquot

In 1772, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron established a wine business that would eventually become the Champagne house, Veuve Clicquot. His son François married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin in 1798, a smart woman who shared his passion for Champagne. When François died only 7 years later, he left his widow (Veuve in French) in control of all his businesses. The widow Clicquot became the first woman to lead a Champagne house and quickly focused on establishing her wine as the wine of royal courts throughout Europe. An ambitious woman, she also invented the table de remuage (riddling table) which is used to clarify Champagne and made great advances in rosé Champagne, a style invented at Veuve Clicquot (thank you!). At the time of her death, not only was Veuve Clicquot known as one of the world’s best Champagnes, it’s distinct yellow label made it one of the most recognizable brands, a distinction still true today.

Madame Louise Pommery

When Madame Pommery’s husband died shortly after leaving his wool business to go into the wine industry, his wife announced, “I have decided to carry on with the business and take the place of my husband.” She then shifted the focus of the winery from red still wine to sparkling white wine. Madame Pommery insisted on only the highest quality wine, and created a style that was delicate and dry, in a time when sparkling wine was often cloyingly sweet. Along with this creation, she changed people’s tastes to a style of wine that is still the standard in Champagne to this day. A smart businesswoman, and seeing the success of her competition, the Widow Clicquot, she opened a place in Reims for visitors to come taste wine. An excellent entrepreneur, she turned her husband’s business into one of the most successful Champagne houses.

Madame Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonacourt

In 1939, after losing her husband and inheriting her husband’s businesses, Madame Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonacourt purchased a Champagne house which had previously combined two smaller houses, Laurent and Perrier. Madame saw great potential in Laurent-Perrier, and ran the business while her two sons joined the French Resistance. By herself, she managed to keep the winery in business through WWII and saved it from looting by German soldiers by hiding 100,000 bottles of her most prized wine behind a false wall in her cellar.

Madame Lilly Bollinger

While Madame Bollinger may not have been as involved in the making of wine as some of the other women mentioned, she was a smart marketer who took over the Bollinger house after the death of her husband in 1941. She traveled the world with bottles of Bollinger, or Bolly as it was often nicknamed, and helped this Champagne gain prestige. Madame Bollinger is perhaps best known for a famous quote, seen in many a Champagne bar, “ I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m 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’m thirsty.”  

Being a widow in France gave women a unique independence that their unmarried and married counterparts could never attain, and in Champagne that freedom helped shape the industry into what it is today.

Champagne isn’t the only way to get customers into your restaurant—visit Yelp Reservations to learn how to fill your open tables.