Although plenty of old-world wine regions have patriarchal systems, many female leaders created and sustained some of the most prominent Champagne houses.
In this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, Assistant Digital Editor J’nai Gaither speaks with Rebecca Rosenberg, author of Champagne Widows, about the grandes dames of Champagne. They discuss the roles these leaders, especially La Grande Dame herself, Madame Clicquot, or Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, played in building such sparkling empires, from work in the vineyard and innovations in the cellar to savvy growth and international marketing strategies.
Who rules the sparkling world? Grab a glass of bubbly and listen in for the answer.
To learn more about how sparkling wine like Champagne is made, read here. Find some of our favorite bottles of bubbly to buy now here. Or, explore the legacy of female brewers in this podcast.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, J’nai Gaither, Rebecca Rosenberg
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the executive editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, the second in a three part series on women in drinks history, we’re taking a look at the magnificent grandes dames of Champagne. Although plenty of Old World wine regions have promoted patriarchal systems, many great women have stood behind some of the most prominent Champagne houses in history. In this episode, Associate Digital Editor J’nai Gaither speaks with Rebecca Rosenberg, author of Champagne Widows, about the role of these leading ladies, especially La Grande Dame herself, Madame Clicquot, or Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, played in building such sparkling empires, from work in the vineyard and innovations in the cellar, to savvy growth and international marketing strategies. Who rules the sparkling world? Grab a glass of bubbly and listen in for the remarkable answer.
J’nai Gaither 1:14
Well, hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. My name is J’nai Gaither, and I am the assistant digital editor or Wine Enthusiast. I am here with Rebecca Rosenberg, the author of Champagne Widows, about one of the most famous women in all of wine who had a huge impact on the wine industry. Welcome, Rebecca.
Rebecca Rosenberg 1:44
Thank you. It’s so great to be here.
J’nai Gaither 1:47
Thank you so much for being here. And we really appreciate it. I am incredibly intrigued by your book, but first, I want to kind of get into who you are. And I want to know what it is you do besides writing amazing books and talk about your robust love of Champagne and how you got into Champagne, if you can talk briefly about that.
Rebecca Rosenberg 2:12
Sure. That’s great. Well, I am a Champagne geek, as you well know. And I have been studying Champagne since I was about 21. So I love to find out everything about Champagne and sparkling wine. And, lucky me, I live here in Sonoma Valley, so we have wonderful Champagnes here, except we’re calling them sparkling wine. Because as we all know, only Champagne can come from the Champagne region. So I live on a lavender farm in the middle of Sonoma Valley with about 100 wineries all around me. So I am blessed to smell the lavender and enjoy the Champagne, the sparkling wines and it’s pretty much heaven here. And I pretty much write full time right now, though we started the largest lavender company in America called Sonoma Lavender. So that has been something that we’ve been involved with for 20 years. So that is pretty much what I do, and also travel the world, drinking Champagne and fine wines.
J’nai Gaither 3:29
Love it. Sounds like a dream to me. Truly, truly, it does. But before we kind of dip into Champagne, I want to go back to your background on owning this lavender field. How did that come to be? And what drew you to lavender? That’s really, really interesting. You’re the first person I’ve ever met who actually owns her own lavender field.
Rebecca Rosenberg 3:51
Well, 30 years ago, we had a little one year old. And we wanted to have a second home up here in Sonoma. And we were looking at property, and we discovered this five acres in the middle of Sonoma Valley and it was idyllic. And I said, “I just have to live here.” I can’t live in a congested suburb anymore of San Francisco. So we figured out a business that we could do up here and obviously with five acres, you’re not going to make any money growing grapes. It’s just not big enough. So I loved lavender all my life. We’ve been to France many times and we’ve been to Provence and gone to all the fields and met the farmers and everything. We said that is perfect. Now, this was 30 years ago, so nobody had thought of growing lavender here. So we started that farm. And we actually just adored it and we had big festivals every year when the lavender was in bloom in June. So we’d have 5,000 people wandering around our lavender fields. And we made this fantastic company, Sonoma Lavender that made 300 different items out of lavender. So that was a lot of fun. And meanwhile, my first book was Lavender Fields of America. And we found out that throughout America at that point, people were starting to grow lavender and they were doing different things with it. So that was exciting to get to know them and what they wanted to do with that magical stuff called lavender. And it goes very well with wine and Champagne. And then, unfortunately, which you probably know, all the Northern California fires. Our entire farm and fields burnt down in 2018. So we rebuilt and replanted and now we have a more spectacular, truly more spectacular garden than ever. And it’s called Rêver Lavende. So it is a lavender dream, a tapestry garden of different lavenders and salvias, everything in purples and two accent accent colors like orange and yellows. It’s pretty exciting. I just walked out there, actually, before I talk to you.
J’nai Gaither 6:27
That sounds so idyllic. And it sounds like kind of like the perfect pairing with Champagne, actually. Going back to Champagne, I would like to know, do you remember the first time you had Champagne, and what you thought about it and do you remember what producer it was? And how did you get so into Champagne?
Rebecca Rosenberg 6:49
Probably the first real Champagne I had was Veuve Clicquot. You know, it’s that beautiful orange—what I call orange bottle that they call a yellow label. And I thought it was exquisite. And I was very curious what Veuve meant. And I discovered that it meant widow. And I couldn’t understand why they would name a Champagne widow could come. So when we went to France and we visited there that was very exciting to learn why all these widows were in Champagne and how they ended up with wineries.
J’nai Gaither 7:29
I’ll say. I definitely will say that it’s super interesting. So your book is about—it’s called Champagne Widows. But it’s specifically about Madame Clicquot. What drew you to Madame Clicquot?
Rebecca Rosenberg 7:44
Well, she was the first woman who ever made Champagne in 1800s. And that has to be intriguing in and of itself. But the more digging that I did, I discovered that she was the great granddaughter of Ruinart. Nicolas Ruinart, which is a really fantastic, oldest Champagne there is and Ruinart actually worked with Dom Perignon at the Abbey. And I just thought that was super intriguing. Then I discovered that she had a very extraordinary trait called le nez, the nose, and that she could smell all the different scents that were in the Chardonnay in the Pinot Noir in the Pinot Munier. And she could blend them perfectly year to year to create an exquisite taste. So the more I dug into her, the more I was totally intrigued because she came from a very rich family. And so why did she have to make this Champagne? Her father owned a wool factory, and he employed 1,000 people, and so she really wouldn’t have had to work at all. In fact, her parents really wanted to marry her off to a rich nobleman, but she was determined to use her le nez to create a winery. But there was one gigantic problem with that, is that women were not allowed to own businesses in 1800s. So she couldn’t own a business, she couldn’t own property because it was illegal. And so she figured out a way to marry her childhood sweetheart, who also wanted to start a winery. And they started together this—and he happened to be Francois Clicquot, that’s where Clicquot came from. And they started this winery together.
J’nai Gaither 9:54
So that takes us to their time of marriage. Tell us what happened next.
Rebecca Rosenberg 10:01
Okay, so they married and they have a child pretty much right away. But Francois Clicquot was very fragile, a fragile personality. So he was mentally unstable and very insecure and not easy going. And he also was physically weak. And yet he wanted to do this Champagne winery. So Barbe-Nicole found herself pitching in and calming him down and taking over and really trying to coddle him. But the conditions of the 1800s were such that it was extremely difficult to make Champagne. For instance, they were hand blowing the bottles to put the Champagne in. So they were thick and thin. And the corks were all different sizes. And when the Champagne went through its fermentation, they would burst in the caverns. And then all the glass would explode everywhere. And Francois just could not take all this difficulty. Also, the harvesting, of course, you have all the normal things of winemaking, the weather and the wind and the temperatures and all the terrible things that happen that really work against you to make the perfect Champagne. And pretty soon, he came down with typhus. And he died five years into their marriage, and left her a widow and owning the winery. And she owned it actually. It could have gone to Francois’s father, that would have been the normal thing. But she convinced Francois’s father to let her run it because it was so much a part of her blood at that point. So she started to run it alone.
J’nai Gaither 12:06
So she was quietly ambitious. It’s something that she kind of pined after for a long time, but knowing that she couldn’t own a business, she just, you know, fell to the background, let her husband run it.
Rebecca Rosenberg 12:19
Since he couldn’t really run it then she was always jumping in, you know, and helping. So she really learned a lot. And she was really in the fields and working with all the people that were harvesting. Now, during that time, they were also going through 15 years of Napoleon’s wars trying to take over Europe. And that was excruciating, because Napoleon was taking all the men out of France and putting them in his grand army and marching them wherever he was waging war, which was Austria and Poland, and Russia and England, all over Spain. He was in Spain. So he was taking all the good men. And what did that do, and this is why I call the book Champagne Widows, is it was leaving all these women home alone, to do the work that they were never really allowed to do before and to take over the businesses. And they became widows because after all those 15 years of war, he left 5 million men dead on the battlefield. And so there were all those widows left in France.
J’nai Gaither 13:46
That’s very interesting and something I didn’t know about. So it’s interesting that, you know, in hearing you talk about Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, I find out that she has all these connections to history, including, you know, being the, did you say granddaughter of Ruinart? Nicolas Ruinart?
Rebecca Rosenberg 14:05
Yes, great great granddaughter of Ruinart.
J’nai Gaither 14:07
And then also she, you know, indirectly had a connection to Napoleon. This is very, very interesting. It’s something I never knew. But there’s more to this Napoleon story, huh?
Rebecca Rosenberg 14:21
Well, just that her father was actually made mayor of Riems, the major city in the Champagne district. So Napoleon was always in Champagne. His best friend was Moet, and he would visit him all the time. He would visit all the Champagne cellars all the time. And why? Because he knew that one key that he had, one weapon he had against Europe was Champagne, because Champagne was coveted by all Europeans. He would not let them have a drop in those 15 years. He made it illegal to ship Champagne out of France. And he made it illegal to do any shipping or selling of Champagne. So that’s what Veuve Clicquot had to deal with during those 15 years that she was a widow.
J’nai Gaither 15:23
Yes, it’s a lot for her to deal with. And she was only 27, right, when she took over for her husband and had to deal with all of this?
Rebecca Rosenberg 15:31
Yes. And she had, I think she was about five years old by then, her daughter, Clementine, who she called Mentine.
J’nai Gaither 15:40
Mentine. Interesting. Okay. But there’s more to this story with Napoleon, right? Because it was you said it was illegal for Champagne to be shipped. So how did Madame Clicquot kind of overcome this obstacle?
Rebecca Rosenberg 15:55
So underneath Riems is a tremendous network of caverns, and they call them the crayères. And so year after year, they were making this Champagne. And they were storing it under the crayères, because they couldn’t ship it out of France, and no one in France could buy it, because all the money was being taken for the Napoleonic Wars. So she was getting really tired of not being able to sell her Champagne, and she needed to support now, she had about 500 employees, most of them women that she needed to support. And actually they started growing their own vegetables and having their own animals. And she really fed those women. And she had learned that from her father, who had done the same for his 1,000 employees through the revolution. So she got so tired of it, that she decided to actually take the law into her own hands, break Napoleon’s laws, and hire a ship, and pack that ship full of 50,000 bottles of Champagne that was down in her crayères going to waste, and break through the barricades that Napoleon had put out in the Baltic ocean. And she had a salesman that she was very sweet on. They sent many flirtatious letters back and forth. She had a salesman in Russia, waiting to receive that Champagne. And they actually broke through that blockade and sailed into Russia. And the way that I explained it in Champagne Widows is this was exactly at the time that Napoleon was marching his 500,000 men across all of Europe, into Russia, across to the Tsar, because the Tsar had broken off his relations with him. And he was going to prove to him that the two of them could rule all of Europe. And what does he find there in the smoldering Moscow where he thought the Tsar would be, but no, the Tsar has burned down the city. But what does he see there is Veuve Clicquot and it’s against the law to ship the Champagne there and he finds it. So actually, she could have been executed for that, for treason. But by then, everyone was really tired of Napoleon after these 15 years of war and losing and being poor, and all the men being killed. And Napoleon actually marches that army right back home again, and loses three quarters of them to freezing and snow and blizzards. And they turn on him and he is deposed. He is no longer the Emperor of France. So in a way Barbe-Nicole conquered Russia, where Napoleon could not.
J’nai Gaither 19:17
Unbelievable. She was an incredible, ambitious, enterprising woman. A businesswoman in addition to being really really well versed in viticulture and enology and all the winemaking processes and she kind of was very well rounded in all of those ways, which was probably rare for women back then to have even being very patrician and aristocratic. Having that wide ranging of an education. No?
Rebecca Rosenberg 19:54
I think that’s true. And in the book, Champagne Widows, I do describe that. Napoleon was, as I said, really into the wine and Champagne industry, and he wanted to make that stronger and stronger for France. So he was investing in his interior secretary to really do research on what should be done. And she was studying all those books. And I really get into that. She had a huge library of everything she could get her hands on in terms of wine. And one of the biggest problems they had with Champagne at the time, was that it was murky. It was murky because of the dead yeast cells. So you could get a bottle that was clear and sparkling like we expect today. But more likely, you would find that it would be all cloudy. And sometimes those dead yeast cells taste really terrible and smell really terrible. And her salesman in Russia said you have to fix this. And so she worked night and day to try to clarify this yeast in the wine. So she, of course, the biggest invention that she came up with was the riddling rack, and the process of riddling. So that is where you turn the bottles upside down and at an angle, and you turn them very slightly over time. And all of those dead yeast cells go into the neck of the bottle. And then you’re able to extract those murky, yucky yeast cells and get rid of them and have clear wine. And really, she’s responsible for that. And we still use riddling rocks and riddling today. So that’s amazing.
J’nai Gaither 21:50
An incredible, incredible first. It’s a shame that today we’re also, a lot of people are moving away from traditional riddling and hand riddling and going to gyropalettes, but it’s wonderful when producers still kind of preserve that tradition in the cellar. That’s really amazing, because it was an amazing invention back then and that it’s still used today just is a testament to how revolutionary it was.
Rebecca Rosenberg 22:18
It’s true. And then the other two things that I can think of that she was amazing at is she came up with the first vintage Champagne. And so you know that Champagne is usually blended from different years of wine, different years of wine and different vintages to make this beautiful wine. And they do that because some years you might have picked too early and others you might have picked too late. And there are different areas of Champagne that you have different tastes from and so they blend all these different ones together. But in 1811, there was the great comet, and that lasted the entire year. So you could see that beautiful comet streaking across the sky for the entire year. And that year, they had the most magnificent harvest they’ve ever had, it was twice as many grapes. And they were delicious and perfect. And she went for it. This was before she went to Moscow with it. So she went for it. And she made all that Champagne. Even though it was a very dire time in Europe, she went for it. And she was able to store it in those crayères under her father’s and hers and her basically Clicquot’s homes. So she was ready then to send that Champagne to Russia. And so that 1811 Champagne of hers called Vin de Comet was the first vintage Champagne. I love that. Vin de Comet.
J’nai Gaither 22:18
Rebecca Rosenberg 22:19
And then the last thing that I think she did, that was the first was to come up with the first rose. So they hadn’t really done a rose. And she did it by adding still red wine to sparkling wine, to the Champagne. So that’s interesting. She was just really working it. And so the thing that I’m always amazed at is that why did she, what drove her so much that she would break the law to defy Napoleon and get her Champagne to Russia, when he was clearly trying to shut that down. You know, she just kept going no matter what. And that’s why I chose the cover of the book of Champagne Widows as I did. It’s a woman rocketing on top of a Champagne cork, because she was not going to stop for anything, not famine, not being poor, not being without a husband, not Napoleon, nothing. I really loved her story.
J’nai Gaither 25:23
And I love that cover of your book. And I think it was completely appropriate cover for the story that is inside. So wonderful choice there.
Rebecca Rosenberg 25:34
J’nai Gaither 25:35
Beyond that I want to talk about, you know, your book is categorized as historical fiction. But all the things that you’ve been telling me are definitely truths that could be researched, if someone wants to do a whole lot of research. So what percentage of your book, because I’m sure people would like to know what percentage of it is truth? And what percentage is false? And how did you make those choices to kind of like, take liberties in certain places and use complete truth in others?
Rebecca Rosenberg 26:08
Okay, this is interesting to me. Where Veuve Clicquot is concerned, I really stuck to the truths, the facts, because I wanted to tell her story. Where there might be fictional lives, characters, I’ll give you an example: her mother. It’s true and it’s a fact that her mother was fashionable, and that they did not get along. So Barbe-Nicole was not fashionable, not interested in being a socialite like her mother was. And so I really develop that friction between them. And you discovered that her mother loves to wear fashion with green dyes. And that was the most popular fashion of the day was green. And it turned out later that to make the green they were using arsenic, and what would they do but eat your skin away. And so the poor mother developed sores on her skin all over and she actually dies from arsenic poisoning. Shoot.
J’nai Gaither 27:25
Rebecca Rosenberg 27:25
I gave it away, darn. But there’s an example. Oh, well, the cat’s out of the bag. But that is not necessarily true. You know that Barbe-Nicole’s mother died of arsenic poisoning. That was nowhere in fact, so what I tried to do is use characters that are outside the main story. The main story is Barbe-Nicole and her struggle to make this Champagne. And I use them to show other facts about those times. And arsenic poisoning is like a hilarious one, you won’t believe what her mother wears. And that part is all true. Like she will wear her hair up like two feet above her head and have birds and nests and eggs and things in her hair. And that is all true. That’s what women were doing at that point. So in a weird way, I use these characters to show a truth. Another example is her brother, and he’s gay in this book. But I don’t know that he was gay in reality, and yet some things point to that, because he married an older woman with a child who was very wealthy. And he died very early. And that was it for him. So I wanted to have one gay character that we cared about so that I could really illustrate what it was like to be gay at that point, and that you could be killed to be gay. You know what kind of places you would go. And actually the gays were extremely flamboyant at the time. They weren’t trying to hide it. But they were still being ostracized, and they would be in stocks or they would be hung up, you know, in public, so it was dangerous to be gay.
J’nai Gaither 29:26
Okay, I see.
Rebecca Rosenberg 29:28
I stick to the facts as much as I can. But then I like to use characters to show the other side. For instance, here’s a Barbe-Nicole’s father truly was made mayor by Napoleon, but he was a royalist. He wanted the king and that was known before the whole revolution started. And so I make him kind of a spy for the king. And I think there are enough facts to kind of support that. But it’s a kind of because no one has said that he’s a spy. Meanwhile, he was the emissary to the king before Napoleon, then he ends up as Napoleon’s guy. And then after Napoleon’s gone, he serves the next king, you know? So he was a royalist at heart. It’s fun that way to try and bring out the facts of life instead of the exact facts of those characters. And I try and do it with those secondary characters.
J’nai Gaither 30:36
That is really, really cool. And it leads me to another question. And that question being, how much research went into writing this book? And how long did it take to write? Did you do multiple trips to Champagne? I want to know, I want to know your entire story of how you wrote the story.
Rebecca Rosenberg 30:58
I have been to Champagne six times, and going again pretty soon. And because I’m writing, actually, the story of Madame Pommery right now. So I glean a little bit more about our widows each time I go, and I really get into seeing where they lived. And I visited all the Clicquot properties, and all the Ponsardin properties, and I hired the historian at Veuve Clicquot for an entire day, to walk around with us and show us where the where Barbe-Nicole grew up and where everything was and talk about every little detail that I could think up. And then you have to read every single thing that has ever been written. And luckily, the winery itself gave me their history book on the family, which was extremely helpful with letters between Barbe-Nicole and her incredible salesman Lewis, who spent his whole life for her kind of like a knight in shining armor, honestly, traveling through Europe selling her wine when it was really very, very difficult. And they’re very flirtatious letters. So that was fun bringing out that romance in Champagne Widows. So there’s a lot of reading, there’s a lot of talking and emails back and forth with the historian. And then the part that I didn’t anticipate was having to study Napoleon because I didn’t realize what a big part of her life and what a big thorn in her side that Napoleon was, and how it turns out that he’s really the antagonist to her story. So that was interesting, too, is to get under the skin of Napoleon, and what he was all about. So there’s a lot of research, and I’m not fast in writing. So it was a two years. It takes about 35 drafts of the novel to get finished with it.
J’nai Gaither 33:19
Oh my gosh.
Rebecca Rosenberg 33:19
And it’s not long, you see, you see that it’s not really long. It’s because I’m writing something that I want to be very accessible. In fact, it just got a review from Writer’s Digest that says drama, impeccable drama mixed with humor. So it’s funny, the book is funny, actually. You wouldn’t think so from everything we’ve talked about. But there are funny personalities, and there’s humor throughout. And I think that the characters really come alive.
J’nai Gaither 33:52
That’s awesome. And one thing I like about writing, I like many things about writing, but one of them is the fact that you get to learn so much when you’re writing. Sure, you already have knowledge when you start to put words to a page, but then you do more research. And then you go down a rabbit hole. And you’re kind of like delving and delving and delving and finding all this new information that you are trying to make sense of and synthesize, to distill it down and then show to a wider audience. So it’s interesting that you say you didn’t anticipate learning so much about Napoleon, which brings in a different kind of history, like political history that you probably were not anticipating and a lot of people don’t realize that so much of wine is about politics.
Rebecca Rosenberg 34:41
Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah, definitely. And I’m not a political person, so that was something that I didn’t want to delve into. And, as you know, J’nai, I depicted Napoleon in not a dry way. And the way I did that was including this mythical character that was truly in his folklore, called the Red Man. And the Red Man, in my mind is like the devil, who convinces Napoleon that he has to turn himself from being this freedom loving revolutionary that he started to be to be the Emperor of France. And then he wanted to be the Emperor of all of Europe. And so when I discovered the Red Man in history, the fact that so many journalists had described the Red Man in great detail and all the conversations that he had with Napoleon, I loved that angle because it was mythical. And a lot of times we look at our politicians and say, like, what made them do that? Why are they like that? And so the Red Man is a wonderful way to make this fiction. There’s where a fiction comes in, because I don’t think the Red Man existed. And yet so many people have eyewitness accounts and drew pictures of him and all that, but there’s never a factual statement of who he was, where he came from, and all that. So the Red Man is a fun, fictional character that really makes the Napoleon part of it, that historical part of a palatable and fiction for me.
J’nai Gaither 36:37
Wonderful. That’s interesting. I’m really excited to kind of delve into reading more about the Red Man too. Yeah, so thank you for giving us a little an intro insight into what we’re going to run into in the book. Switching gears just a little bit, I want to talk about the yellow label, the iconic yellow label. Is that is that color, something that Madame Clicquot had something to do with? Because it is known the world over as almost a symbol of quality? Did she have anything to do with that yellow label?
Rebecca Rosenberg 37:19
Well, that is a good question. I will have to look in my history book about that. I have a feeling… I’ve seen the old bottles, first of all, in that time that I’m writing about, there were no labels. So I would say no, in this time period, that they hadn’t come up with that color. But I will tell you what they had come up with, and this is in the book, they had come up with their symbols of the anchor. Have you seen that anchor?
J’nai Gaither 37:55
Rebecca Rosenberg 37:56
Okay, so the Clicquot anchor, she started that from the very beginning. And she had it put on her corks, so she had it burned into the top of her corks. And that was actually one of the very first decor items that wine ever did. So she had this anchor burned into that. And I looked up what that meant to her. And it meant stability, calm and courage in the face of chaos. And I thought that was amazing that you would have this calm and courage in the face of chaos because she was facing such chaos. And she really was a steady rudder. So I think the color came later than 1815.
J’nai Gaither 38:47
Rebecca Rosenberg 38:47
I love the color, though. It’s so incredible.
J’nai Gaither 38:51
It is a cool color. And you know what it reminds me of whenever you go into the chalk cellars of Champagne, there are all those cool yellow, that yellow glow, those sodium lights that glow in all the Champagne cellars. I mean, it’s literally like the same color. And I’m wondering if that has something to do with it. I should probably do a little research myself.
Rebecca Rosenberg 39:10
Well think about this, that in this time, they didn’t have even gas light. They didn’t have electricity, they didn’t have gas light. So they have like whale oil lamps. So I think right now, and here we can say that this is the color of a whale oil lamp in the crayère. That’s how fiction is born.
J’nai Gaither 39:37
Absolutely, absolutely. And I guess that probably kind of evolved into those sodium lights that we see today, which are so prevalent in the cellars. Very cool. So, you briefly mentioned that your next book is going to be about Lily Bollinger.
Rebecca Rosenberg 40:00
J’nai Gaither 40:01
But what a lot of people might not know is that there were many Champagne widows Lily Bollinger was one. Matilda Perrier of Laurent Perrier, Matilda Perrier one.
Rebecca Rosenberg 40:16
And Camille Roederer.
J’nai Gaither 40:18
I didn’t know about that one. Fantastic.
Rebecca Rosenberg 40:21
And Pommery is my next one.
J’nai Gaither 40:23
Ah, Louise Pommery.
Rebecca Rosenberg 40:26
Yes, yes. You know, so her name actually was not Louise, can you believe that? Because everyone says Louise, but that was her daughter’s name. Her name was Jeanne Alexandrine Pommery. And her daughter’s name was Louise. And it’s a very curious thing that I’m trying to figure out right now because her husband’s name was Louis. Her son’s name was Louis. And people called her Louise later and Louise. So it’s Louise, Louise, Lewis, Lewis. And I’m thinking while she wasn’t born that from the records, she was born Alexandrine, or Jeanne Alexandrine, so it’s funny. I’m trying to figure that out right now. But back to the widows. So I’m in the second draft of that Pommery book, and that is very exciting, because she’s an entirely different woman with entirely different sensibility. And I will just say, imagine a woman who becomes a widow at 40 years old, and she actually has a one and a half year old daughter who was born. So she’s had a surprise daughter late in life, and her husband died, and she’s destitute. And what’s she going to do? She built a castle winery on the city dump. So I love how audacious she is. And so I’m having a lot of fun with that. But I think all these… something we alluded to earlier, is that the only way that a woman can own a business, or a property is to be a widow. And so when these men died, and there were so many wars that happened. War after war after war, even after Napoleon is long gone, all they did were these wars, so all the men would die. Plus, at that point, I bet you the life expectancy is probably in the 60s. So the women were left to do the work. And so they realized that the only way they could keep their businesses is by staying widows and that’s why there are so many widows.
J’nai Gaither 42:58
Got it, got it. It’s so interesting, because so many people don’t know this, but those women kind of revolutionized Champagne. And even today, women are still kind of like leading the charge. But there are a lot of women in Champagne leading the charge that many people don’t know about. And I think that’s wonderful. And it’s a perfect, perfect thing to talk about during International Women’s Month. So thank you so much.
Rebecca Rosenberg 43:26
Thank you. This has been fun.
J’nai Gaither 43:28
This was an amazing conversation. You were so knowledgeable and so engaging and you know, just listening to you I’ve learned so much and cannot wait to continue delving into the rest of your books. So every time one a new one comes out, I’ll be there ready to ready to purchase it.
Thank you, J’nai.
Of course and I’ll tell all my friends. I would ask what’s next for you but you have a pretty full plate in running a lavender field and writing about Champagne’s widows, so I wish you all the best.
Rebecca Rosenberg 44:04
Thank you very much.
J’nai Gaither 44:05
Thank you so much for being on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast and we will catch up with you later.
Rebecca Rosenberg 44:11
Lauren Buzzeo 44:15
Full of passion, pride and vision, Madame Clicquot’s story, as well as those of other widows of Champagne, is fascinating and inspiring, with lasting impacts still felt today. The next time you enjoy a bottle without iconic yellow label, or any celebratory pour of your choosing, raise a glass to the remarkable grandes dames and all of the innovative ladies around the globe that keep pushing the wine world forward. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcasts. And if you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. For More wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.
Last Updated: June 5, 2023