By Katie Kieffer
Raise your champagne flûte and make a New Year’s toast to the entrepreneurs who made bubbly—once a drink of kings—available for mass imbibing.
It’s vital to know the entrepreneurial story behind everyday indulgences that we consume such as iPads; electric Christmas lights; or champagne. Our president likes to say that entrepreneurs “didn’t build” their companies on their own. Actually, entrepreneurs do build their companies on their own, and champagne is a fine example.
Sparkling wine was once a luxury exclusively for the wealthy and noble. It took two pioneering female entrepreneurs to make champagne a delight that we all enjoy.
By law, the only sparkling wine that can be called “Champagne” with a capital “C” is that which is produced from the terroir of France’s wine region of Champagne. Early winemakers in the Champagne region struggled to manipulate their unique climate and produce traditional red wines. Cold winters altered the fermentation process, causing bubbles to form in the wine, which ended up being a boon to winemakers once they figured out how to handle this new type of vino.
Women were not allowed to run their own businesses in France in the early 1800s. The only way a woman could become the chief executive officer of her own profitable entrepreneurial venture was if she became a widow. (Single and married women were to rely on their fathers and husbands for income.) When 27-year-old Barbe-Nicole Clicquot’s husband tragically died in 1805, she made the best of her unfortunate situation, literally turning sour grapes into sweet Champagne.
Madame Clicquot was the first winemaker to successfully mass-produce bubbly and put it in the hands of common people all over the world, including Americans. The French word for “widow” is “veuve” and Veuve Clicquot was pioneering and industrious until she was a year shy of ninety.
Madame Clicquot’s heir recently told the Associated Press that Veuve Clicquot was “the first businesswoman in France and maybe the whole of Europe.” She invented the first rosé (pink-colored) Champagne as well as the very first Champagne label in the world (Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin). Champagne makers still use her House’s ingenious procedure known as “rilling” to prevent sediment from forming in bottles through rotation.
A young Frenchwoman named Louise Pommery was left a widow when her husband Alexandre died. Like Madam Clicquot, Veuve Pommery decided to become an entrepreneur and support herself. She was also very successful, and we have her to thank for inventing “brut” or dry Champagne. Even today, the world’s first and second biggest Champagne makers are LMVH (the owner of Veuve Clicquot) and Vranken-Pommery.
There are between 44 and 57 million bubbles in the average 750 ml bottle of champagne. That’s a lot of bubbles! It’s inspiring to know that this pressurized, effervescent drink, which is nearly as fun to pop as it is to sip–is the product of entrepreneurial women who found themselves in hard situations and dug themselves out—while creating jobs and a terrific product—on their own.
Obama would surely say these women did not achieve their feats on their own—but we know the truth and tomorrow night we’ll proudly toast to freedom, lower taxes and pro-business regulations that will allow many more young men and women to become prosperous entrepreneurs.
Champagne widows turned their personal losses and challenging climate into one of the world’s biggest business success stories. In our own tough economic climate, these stories offer hope that we too can overcome our hardships and achieve financial independence if we work hard and think resourcefully.
Cheers! To free enterprise, which creates careers and empowers pioneers!