Based in Reims in its sumptuous mansion of the 19th century, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin or simply Veuve Clicquot is the world’s second-largest Champagne house and probably the most recognizable champagne brand, thanks to its distinctive yellow (rather orange) identity, and its ever-innovating gift boxes. The brand is intimately associated with the image of the legendary widow who first made the success of the house and who has become the most iconic entrepreneur in the history of champagne. But under this layer of marketing, there are beautiful wines of great quality and personality.
The house was founded in 1772, when Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, from a family of bankers and textile merchants, decided to transform some vineyards he owned nearby Bouzy and Ambonnay into a wine business.
In 1801, he retired and handed control to his son Francois, at that time already married to Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin, daughter of Baron Nicolas Ponsardin, a successful textile maker also involved in politics. Francois led the business until 1805 when he suddenly died at 30.
This is when the newly widow (veuve in French) decided, at just 27, to take the family business in hand, something unheard for a woman at that time. The young Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, showed great business acumen, managing to export her champagnes to Europe and breaking into the Russian market in a moment when Europe was in turmoil, Napoleon was pursuing its expansionist ambitions, and Russian Czar Alexander I banned French products.
In 1816, with the assistance of her Chef de Cave Antoine de Müller, Veuve Clicquot invented the first riddling table, that continues to be used today for manually disgorged bottles. Thanks to this new technique, champagne would no longer require decanting before serving, or being left in the glass for the sediment to settle.
In 1828, the company fell into a financial crisis but thanks to Edouard Werlé, a wealthy employee of the company who paid off the firm’s debts, it survived and Werlé became business partner, leading the house as financial chief until Veuve Clicquot’s death, in 1866, at the age of 89.
Edouard and his son Alfred ran the business in the following years, developing it further. They acquired new plots of vines and in 1877, they began utilizing a yellow label for the bottles, an unusual color for champagne at the time. They registered the label under the trademark Veuve Clicquot P. Werlé Yellow Label in recognition of the great importance of the work done by the great widow.
In 1972, 200 years after its foundation, the house launched its prestigious cuvée La Grande Dame (the Great Lady), the name used in the region to refer to Madame Clicquot. In the same year, it created the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award, a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Grande Dame.
In 1986, the house was acquired by Louis Vuitton, which one year later became LVMH. At present, President Jean-Marc Gallot, who previously managed another great Champagne house, Ruinart, heads Veuve Clicquot.
Vineyard and Production
The house owns 393 ha throughout Champagne that account for 20% of its grapes supplies. It includes 12 of the 17 grands crus and 18 of the 44 premiers crus. The vineyard is planted with 50% chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs, 45% pinot noir and 5% meunier on the Montagne de Reims. The vines are mostly planted on the hillside where the soil is the shallowest and exposure to the sun is maximum. The house buys the rest of the grape from 400 suppliers, some of whom have been partners of the house for generations. The winemaking team, guided until late 2019 by Dominique Demarville, perpetuates the motto set by the widow “One quality only, the finest,” which is impressive considering that the house produces an estimated 20 million bottles per year. Characteristics of their winemaking are vinification respectful of the terroir and precise blending thanks to a huge winery, the dominance of pinot noir in the blends, and the generous amounts of reserve wines used in their non-vintage champagnes.
Yellow Label, the brut non-vintage that best embeds the style of Veuve Clicquot, carries two opposing factors in balance: aromatic intensity without heaviness, and a lot of freshness with a silky texture.
I am a great fan of the style of this house and I am a heavy drinker of Yellow Label, a solid brut non-vintage that properly incarnates the champagne equation: a lot of taste with elegance, accompanied by a great brand that perfectly embodies the glorious history and entrepreneurial spirit of Champagne. The non-vintage range also includes a rosé, two demi-secs, and since 2017, a very interesting extra brut made entirely of reserve wines to counterbalance its lower dosage. But the vintages are my favorite, before the prestige cuvée Grand Dame. Give me an old Veuve Clicquot Vintage, and you have a very, very happy man.