“La Veuve Clicquot” Champagne - 1867
General View of Reims, 1880 © 1882 History of Champagne
The ancient city of Reims is pleasantly situated in a spacious natural basin, surrounded by calcareous hills, for the most part planted with vines. It is fertile in historical associations, rich in archaeological treasures, and at the same time able to claim the respect more readily accorded in the nineteenth century to a busy and prosperous commercial center.
The famous champagne of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, which is so much esteemed in Russia, and where it has been so profusely drank for forty or fifty years past, that its manufacturers — the noted Widow, Werlé the Mayor of Rheims, and the "Baron de Sachs," have made such fortunes as to rank them among the millionaires of Europe, owes its success to chance.
The Widow Clicquot had been the wife of one Francois-Marie Clicquot, an officer who had retired from active service in consequence of his wounds, Corporal or Sergeant Clicquot, was naturally of a convivial turn, and instinctively took to the wine business.
At that period, 1798, the trade in white wines at Rheims was in the hands of mere routinists, who were incapable of giving the least development to it. Mr. Clicquot, endowed with a lively conception and an activity almost ardent, visited the neighboring vineyards, went down into all the cellars, compared, weighed, meditated, and then finally laid the foundation of an entirely different commercial system.
Renaissance House at Reims, in Which Madame Clicquot Resided
© 1882 History of Champagne
The effervescing wines of Champagne came only from the cellars of the Abbey of Hautvillers. Mr. Clicquot undertook that they should also issue from the cellars of Rheims.
While the monks, (excellent drinkers ), imbibed the most and best of their vintage, Monsieur Clicquot, less thirsty or less selfish, resolved to offer his wines to all the crowned heads of Europe, of whom he knew they were perfectly worthy.
However, while successful with this magnificent project, death came and cut short the career of Mr. Clicquot, the son-in-law of Mr. Ponsardin, the former husband of the Widow Clicquot Ponsardin.
Madame Clicquot thus became Widow Clicquot (La Veuve Clicquot) and was left to carry out the magnificent project which had originated in the lively conception and the activity almost ardent of her late husband.
Though only twenty-seven years of age, and with a daughter in the cradle, (who became the Countess of Chevigné afterward), this heroic dame accepted with courage the position that destiny had given her.
She struggled on spiritedly, but with little success, until the invasion of France by the Allies in 1815, when the Russians came thronging into Rheims and filled the cellars of the widow.
La Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Label in 1889
Present Day Label of La Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
All the Russian officers commanded by Saint-Priest had lifted the champagne glass to their lips. It was said even that many of them preferred the popping of the bottle of Rheims to that of the cannon of the Emperor, and that on the retaking of Rheims, about a dozen prisoners were made, who had been laid under the table by the first and pacific artillery. At the moment of the attack of the French troops, there remained some drinkers but no soldiers….
When these officers returned to Saint Petersburg and Moscow, they talked so much of, and praised so highly, the delights of their debauch in the cellars of the Widow Clicquot, that they made her name famous throughout Russia, and gave her wine a currency which has made her and her partners enormously wealthy.
Madame Veuve Clicquot at Eighty Years of Age © 1882 History of Champagne
Madame Clicquot, a dwarfish, withered old woman of eighty-nine years, whose whole soul was in business, scanning over each day to her last the ledger of the commercial house to which she had given her name, died in 1866.
The Clicquot wine is made to suit the Russian taste, which likes sweet and robust champagne. It is accordingly highly brandied and sugared, and although doubtless generally made of good wine, its qualities, whatever they may be, are entirely smothered in the sweetness.
Unlike other houses, that of the Widow Clicquot never varies its wine to suit varying tastes. A bottle of Clicquot in America is the same as a bottle of Clicquot in Russia or elsewhere.
The Clicquot-Werlé Established at Reims © 1882 History of Champagne
Champagne -- Maison V Clicquot Ponsardin, Reims - Werlé & Co., Successors after Mme. Clicquot's death in 1886. © 1889 Arts and Letters
Excerpt from Robert Tomes, The Champagne Country, New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867. Edited by E. B. Gjenvick, 2019.