A Kick From Champagne

by Jane & Michael Stern
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From the New York Times

widowcliquot.jpgThe Widow Clicquot,” Tilar J. Mazzeo’s sweeping oenobiography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, is the story of a woman who was a smashing success long before anyone conceptualized the glass ceiling. Her destiny was formed in the wake of the French Revolution when, Mazzeo suggests, “modern society — with its emphasis on commerce and the freedom of the individual — was invented.” Barbe-Nicole, daughter of a successful textile maker turned Jacobin, is portrayed as someone whose way of doing business helped define the next century.

Fate cursed or blessed her with the mantle of early widowhood. Her husband, a winemaker from whom she learned the craft, died when she was 27, leaving her a single mother — the veuve (widow) Clicquot. Officially, the cause of François Clicquot’s death was typhoid, which was then commonly treated by feeding the patient Champagne, believed to strengthen the body against what was known as malignant fever. “To think that a bottle of his own sparkling wine might have saved François!” Mazzeo writes, going on to speculate that it is also possible he killed himself because business wasn’t good.

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