“We can’t always be unlucky, in my experience. And so, my dear friend: courage, patience, and resignation” (Barbe-Nicole Clicquot quoted 117).
–Tilar J. Mazze, The Widow Clicquot
A few years ago when I was in the restaurant business I had the pleasure of attending a champagne tasting hosted by Veuve Clicquot. A champagne tasting! Hosted by The Widow! It was quite a treat. The gentleman who led the event was one of the nine vintors that was employed by the company. He delighted our taste buds with comparative joys and regaled us with tales of the company’s history while mentioning a book that had been written about the widow Clicquot. The book has remained in my memories until recently when I finally requested it from my library.
“Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” (apocryphal quote of Dom Pérignon 31)
“I am drinking the stars” – oh, how lovely, gee I hope he said it! The account of the history of “the devil’s wine,” (as was dubbed by those, like Pérignon, who was actually enlisted to rid the wine of the damnable bubbles that erupted in the processing) is a fascinating story on both historical and technical grounds.
The champagne that François and Barbe-Nicole tasted wouldn’t have been a pretty blond color, either. We would probably describe it as rosé. The finest wines from the region were a brownish pink. In fact, one of the earliest uses of the word champagne as a color described it not as the pale golden straw hues of the twentieth century, but as “a faint reddish colour like Champagne wine” (26).
In these very early days of champagne production, (to which we have the English, rather than the French, to thank for its earliest appreciation) Barbe-Nicole Clicquot and her husband began their company. But before it was even establish, M. Clicquot died. The story of how the twenty-seven year old widow carried on and audaciously made the company what it is, as well, along the way, inventing techniques to improve the production and quality, is quite remarkable.
In the end I did find the book to be somewhat wanting. It is unfortunate that there is a dearth of emotional content to fill out the sketch of this remarkable woman but I became impatient with the attempts to fill in or speculate as to what Clicquot (or anyone else) may or may not have been seeing, thinking or feeling at any given time–I can’t help feeling that this would have made an excellent article for the New Yorker rather than a full length book. Nevertheless, it remains a fascinating and delicious bit of history. Yes, we are drinking the stars!
*Photo from a delightful pin-up calendar of harvesters and winemakers: http://punchdrink.com/articles/behold-a-calendar-of-nude-french-wine-harvesters/