The Iron Ladies of Champagne!

Raising a Glass to the Women that Created the Sparkling Superstar as we Know It Today.....

“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.” Lily Bollinger 

I don't think i can argue with Madame Bollinger's logic.. However not many of us would have her access or deep pockets..

It's International Women's Day and i thought it apt to discuss some of the amazing women of the worlds number 1 Fizz. The Champagne Academy was my 1st real deep look into the history of Champagne and the pioneers that formed its superiority. Now a lot of us have heard that the 'creator' of Champagne was a religious fella by the name of Dom Perignon. This is a bit of a myth to be honest, fizzy wine was seen as a fault for a long time and to be avoided at all costs.

The climate in Champagne was the real the inventor. Glass was a big cause for this being seen as a fault. At the time French glass wasn't strong enough to withstand the re-fermentation pressure, leading to a lot of exploding bottles (Note: the English did have strong enough glass and a man called Christopher Merrett is the first documented man to have intentionally created a sparkling wine).

Dom Perignon did however bring some very important rules into place with the 'still wine' he had striven so hard to improve, most notably the ability to blend varieties and the multiple soft presses of grapes to release juice, without tannin or colour affecting the wine.

What happened to take this cloudy, visually undesirable liquid to the modern sparkling sensation we know and love today was massively influenced by some very powerful heroines, mostly at a time when it was unheard of for Frenchwomen to run big businesses.

All were strong, fierce leaders, and to cross them was definitely not advisable. The only way to start this discussion is with possibly the most influential and famous Iron Lady; Barbe Nicole Clicquot....

Barbe Nicole Clicquot Ponsadin (Veuve Clicquot) (Early 19th Century)

Widowed at the age of 27 (also a single mother to a 6 year old girl), with no formal business training and absolutely no first-hand experience, Barbe-Nicole transformed a well-funded, but struggling, small-time family wine brokerage into arguably the most important champagne house of the nineteenth century. Her insistence and ferocity that the struggles would eventually lead to success were key.

 "When she took over, there were only men in the company. So she really had to persuade these guys that she was the one able to make it. And she made it."  Isabelle Pierre (Veuve Clicquot Historical Resources Officer)

One of The Widow Clicqout's most famous changes came with the invention of riddling (the process used to create a clear liquid). Rumour has it she did this by drilling holes in one of her dining tables and placing the bottles in upside down, until all the sediment (which caused the liquid to be cloudy) reached the neck and could be removed. This is still an integral part of Methode Champenois.

Also (Barbe really was a revolutionary women)........ The Millesime (Vintage) Champagne idea was devised by Madame Clicqout. After a lacklustre few years, a very good 1810 made Barbe decide to use grapes solely grown from this year and create the first ever vintage Champagne.

Don't think she stopped there either..... It's also written that Barbe-Nicole invented rose Champagne in 1818 by adding some Bouzy (a Cru of Champagne, with a fantastic name) to a cuvee. This blending method still used today, however it is only permitted in Champagne. 

Louise Pommery (Vranken Pommery) (Mid 19th Century)

Madame Pommery created Champagne as we know it today. In her time, Champagne was a sweet wine (Maison Clicqout especially); while addition of sugar varied according to the tastes of different markets (Russians preferred very sweet, British, less so), the norm was in excess of 100 grams per litre . Louise tried something a little different, instructing her head winemaker to create "a Champagne that is lighter, fruity, elegant". Inventing the Brut (dry)style which now is by far the most popular (alcoholic) sparkling thirst quencher.

Louise was also a pioneer of wine tourism, building an estate for the soul purpose of housing people travelling to see the estates. To this day Maison Pommery is one of the most visited houses in Champagne. It has some of the most weird and wonderful artwork you will ever see, all with Madame Pommery's original image in mind.

Camille Olry-Roederer (Louis Roederer) (Early 20th Century)

The opening decades on the 20th Century weren't easy for many Champagne houses. Thankfully for Louis Roederer, into this climate stepped Camille Olry-Roederer to helm a house that in 1932 was nearly bankrupt, a house that really was a shambles. 

Her approach differed from the hardline and fierce business style of the women before her. She used her feminine wiles to put Louis Roederer in the middle of the rich and famous. Camille became an international socialite and eventually, at every gathering of the rich, they were all drinking Cristal.

Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt  (Laurent Perrier) (Early 20th Century)

From the name you would be right in assuming Marie started with Maison Lanson. In 1938 she made the bold decision to leave a successful and developed house and purchase Laurent Perrier. At the time of purchasing LP was near bankrupt and relatively unknown, it has been written that the house was ranked 98 out of 100 champagne houses.

She was a shrewd and passionate businesswoman who amazingly turned this Champagne house with no hope into one of the Grand Marques of today.

Lily Bollinger (Bollinger) (Early 20th Century)

Dame Bollinger (Also known as Bolly) was a much more modern day businesswoman. In 1941, after her husband Jacques passed away, Dame Lily assumed control of the company. She was often seen cycling through the vineyards checking on the vines, quizzing growers about their families, and checking on the health of the vintage. She left little to chance as a businesswoman but she never forgot the essential truth of Champagne—enjoyment. It's this fun and energetic approach to life which helped mould Bollinger's modern image, also leading to the famous quote i started this blog with.

The modern wine world continues to be littered with successful stories of fantastically passionate and driven women helping to create a better product and a more enjoyable drink for everyone. 

I have been assisted and coached by many strong and inspirational women during my wine journey and have a great affinity with International Womens Day and how it highlights the achievements of females and and brings a highlight on equality throughout the world.

I will leave you with an amazing quote from the 1st lady of Champagne The Widow Clicqout (

“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.”
Madame Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot