How Barbe-Nicole Clicquot outsmarted the French patriarchy to bring Veuve Clicquot to the masses and create an international sensation

Veuve Clicquot is now one of the most famous Champagne brands in the world. Veuve Clicquot
  • Veuve Clicquot is one of the most popular Champagnes in the world, beloved by celebrities for its tasty bubbly and its lavish events.
  • However, few know the woman behind the company’s rise to prominence: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the visionary who identified a loophole as a widow in patriarchal Napoleonic France in order to create an international phenomenon.
  • To hear the full story Veuve Clicquot, subscribe for free to Business Insider’s podcast, “Brought To You By…”
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Veuve Clicquot is one of the best-known Champagne brands in the world.

Though the effervescent drink has long fuelled posh, celebrity-packed parties, its renowned status is largely thanks to the work of a little-known tenacious young widow, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot.

Clicquot, formally known as Madame Clicquot, came of age during France’s Napoleonic period, an era in which men were given complete control over their wives and daughters. Under Napoleonic Code, women had virtually no rights regarding property, taxes, or business, and they were relegated to the home as caretakers.

It was under these circumstances that Clicquot’s husband died, revealing a small loophole within Napoleonic law that allowed her to take over her husband’s struggling wine business. Before long, Clicquot was using her resources as a member of an affluent, high-society family in Champagne to get access to vineyards to advance the business.

“The Widow Clicquot was in some ways really the first audacious businesswoman and she lived at a moment where that was not culturally valued,” Tilar Mazzeo, author of “The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It,” told Business Insider’s Charlie Herman in the latest episode of “Brought To You By…”

Still, Clicquot quickly found that her status as a female business owner drew contempt from several notable figures, including the man who would soon become her life-long competitor: Jean-Rémy Moët, founder of Moët & Chandon Champagne. (Today, the brands are owned by the the luxury conglomerate LVMH, though they operate independently.)

Given Napoleon’s fondness for Moët, Clicquot knew she would need to do something radical to set her company apart and find a competitive edge. She took significant risks and experimented with new production models in an attempt to make the process more efficient, and thus make Champagne cheaper and more accessible.

However, her most impactful strategy was boldly bringing Veuve Clicquot to the rest of Europe during the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a period rampant with blockades intended to prevent trade with France. These barriers didn’t stop Clicquot, who used her business acumen to outsmart her competitors and bring her product to Russia and, ultimately, the rest of Europe.

“I think she’s probably the biggest single reason that Champagne today is something that you and I could go home and drink even though we are not members of royal courts of Europe,” Mazzeo said.

To learn more about the history of Veuve Clicquot, subscribe to Business Insider’s podcast, “Brought To You By…