by Sommelier Robin Obert
This month I’m writing a small bit of history about an incredible woman who founded a process as well as an amazing business that allows us to afford and enjoy the wonderful thing that is Champagne. More specifically the Champagne Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin out of Reims France.
The story begins in 1789 which was the beginning of the French Revolution, a moment in history that would forever change the direction of one little girl’s life. This little girl was residing in the royal convent of Saint- Pierre-les-Dames on the outskirts of the center of Reims France. The daughter of an aristocrat, she was sent to this particular convent to assure that she would receive a respectable education and be assured safety. This was the case until July of 1789 when suddenly this particular safe haven became one of the most dangerous places that she could be.
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was in grave danger as the social elite quickly became targets of angry mobs. Nuns and children were being brutalized and raped. It was a desperate situation for this little girl. There was no way for her parents to come to her aid, she was trapped. But, there was one woman who could get to her, one incredibly courageous woman, the family dressmaker. This woman of modest means was able to slip by the rioting crowds, sneak into the convent and find Barbe-Nicole. She quickly changed her into peasant clothing and fled with her through the streets, safely returning her to her home. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin did not reside in just any home, her father was quite a wealthy textile business owner and had built an amazing mansion that was (and still is to this day) referred to as Hotel Ponsardin.
The changes the revolution evoked formed a very new future for Barbe-Nicole. The French Revolution began the evolution of capitalism. The public began forming businesses and purchasing goods which allowed them a new status. These former peasants were realizing that clothing was very important. No longer did their attire reflect their unfortunate lot in life, clothing began to reflect their status. Textiles became very important to them. This further increased the wealth of the Ponsardin family. Barbe-Nicole became very versed in business and politics throughout her childhood. Francois-Marie Clicquot had joined his father’s champagne business just months before marrying Barbe-Nicole. Six years later Francois-Marie would die and the family business would fall into her lap.
I leave you with this for now, next month I’ll talk about how this incredible woman would one day change the history of champagne forever!