The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

by Tilar J. Mazzeo
3.2 19


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The Widow Clicquot: The History of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Mazzeo started her quest to reconstruct the life of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot with a well intentioned zeal, and clear desire to extol the virtues of a businesswomen before the term had even been coined. Her initial premise was flawed in that Madame Clicquot, by her own admission, was like most businesswomen of the Napoleonic Era in that she stepped into the role as the result of a death of the patriarch either their fathers or husbands, in this case her young, fragile husband. Rather than take up the reins on her own she immediately embraced male business partners and professional sales and managerial staff to whom she delegated many of the major duties of running a wine wholesale business and ultimately a full production estate winery. While Clicquot¿s accomplishments were many, as were her failures, they were not done by her alone as the precursor of the modern female entrepreneur. To expect this of a young widow in the mid 1800s was simply too much to hope for and an unfair imposition of our modern constructs; fighting against fact to prove so is unfair to Clicquot as it distracts from her authentic accomplishments.

The narrative is forced by Ms. Mazzeo with insufficient historical material leaving a story filled with awkward conjecture. Perhaps because of a lack of foresight in keeping the papers of the Widow Clicquot or simply because running a business and raising a family left precious little time for diaries and social correspondence there is precious little in the way of personal details beyond sales records and a few impersonal letters to her chief salesman during his travels.

What does come through from the facts and figures is that Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot was a brave and adventurous woman. The daughter of a wealthy textile merchant who married another Reims elite, another son of a textile merchant and wine distributor, she was destined for a comfortable provincial life until the Napoleonic Wars and the premature death of her husband interfered. Her aggressive expansion into Russia, running blockades, and out innovating her competitors showed a brilliant mind and an appetite for risk.

Bits of wine wisdom peppered throughout the book were not enough to propel the story along but included such interesting party knowledge as name for the wine cages (muselet) and the metal cork cap (capsulets) both invented by Adolphe Jacquesson in the 1840s. The fact that Dr. Jules Guyot ¿invented¿ the practice of growing grapes in rows to increase evenness in ripeness, prior to the widespread use of this practice they were grown in round clusters for support. And perhaps most interestingly and relevant that the widow Clicquot invented the riddling racks out of her kitchen table as a way to speed the disgorgement process whereby the yeast is cleared out of the wine and removed from the bottle. She was also on the forefront of our modern conception of branding by being among the first to use a signature color in sealing her bottles, adding labels, and marketing prestigious vintages.

While this book makes marginal gains in Champagne scholarship and will be a useful reference for future authors it fails in its primary task of informing and entertaining the reader.
cannonball More than 1 year ago
I love the champagne and thought I would enjoy the book. The author, however, was plagued by lack of primary sources creating a book that does little to flesh out her subject. What's left is a thin social history describing the role of women in nineteenth century France and an explanation of the difficulties of exporting a luxury product during the Napoleonic Wars.
Chaucer More than 1 year ago
The publisher and author should be chastised for allowing the WORK OF FICTION to be classified as a Biography. The author waits until the end of the book to confirm what this reader presumed all along -- that in the absence of any good factual information on the life of the Widow, she chose to surmise or make up the Widow's character. She crafted the widow as she hoped she might have been. The text is littered with 'must have's and 'no doubt's and 'surely's. The historical factual material that is present in the book relates not to the Widow but to the times in which she lived. At best, this is a "tale". Readers who want to learn about the Widow Clicquot would be better served by investing in a bottle of her bubbly than in this tale cloaked in in biographical clothing.
Flamingo_Book_Club More than 1 year ago
My book club just finished reading this book and felt that the amount of actual FACTUAL material about Barbe-Nicole could be summarized in a chapter (versus the supposition that is liberally used throughout the book because there are no facts). If supposition were the only recourse, this book would better have been written as a novel on the order of Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Significantly pared down, this book would make a great article in a good wine or food magazine...again, just sticking to the facts.
BlueDog807 More than 1 year ago
After reading The Billionaire's Vinegar, I was unsure about how this book would read. However, my love of Champagene and history won out and I bought the book. I am glad that I did. The author did a great job making a flowing story from the great amount of history that makes up the story of The Widow. This book does not read like a bestseller, but if you enjoy a story about someone who can pull themselves out of the ashes, and make great things happen, then be sure to pick this book up.
Iora More than 1 year ago
Mazzeo writes a story that includes the backdrop of the French revolution, a history of champagne making, and how unusual it was for a woman to take control of a family's side business when she was widowed in her 20's. The story moves along quickly, and you'll only slow down your reading because you'll Google the pronunciation of French words or want to know where these villages are on a map. A fascinating non-fiction read and you'll learn so much about the making of champagne.
PanchaBuenosAires More than 1 year ago
Loved the book, besides learning about the story of Madame Clicquot, you get a great scoop about champagne making and a great description of the historical facts of the time, war, diseases, culture, relationships, protocol, etc. Will enjoy my next bottle of "THE WIDOW" differently next time. Cant' wait for the next Tilar Mazzeo book.
CookingWiz More than 1 year ago
This seemed like it would be an interesting book, however the author's interjections of her own thoughts,feelings and guesses while reflecting on the subject detracted from the story and blurred the historical facts. I would not recommend to any of my friends.
ezwriter More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting book for wine lovers and history buffs. The writer must have had to do voluminous research as so little, as regards women and businesses, was saved. Madame Cliquot was unusual in that she ran a business and appeared in a brief time period when it was permissable for females to do so. The appeal of champagne which we tend to think of as a French connection was spread to England and Russia by the upperclasses, particularly royalty. To be the official wine of the king carries the same cache that we think of a manufacturer sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth and it was a profitable relationship for those who had that connection. The upheaval in France between freeman and royalty was also touched upon in this book. A great gift for a wine lover, even if they prefer varieties other than champagne!
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