Katie Kieffer

Raise your champagne flute and make a New Year’s toast to the entrepreneurs who made bubbly—once a drink of kings—available for mass imbibing.

It’s vital to know the entrepreneurial story behind everyday indulgences that we consume such as iPads; electric Christmas lights; or champagne. Our president likes to say that entrepreneurs “didn’t build” their companies on their own. Actually, entrepreneurs do build their companies on their own, and champagne is a fine example.

Sparkling wine was once a luxury exclusively for the wealthy and noble. It took two pioneering female entrepreneurs to make champagne a delight that we all enjoy.

By law, the only sparkling wine that can be called “Champagne” with a capital “C” is that which is produced from the terroir of France’s wine region of Champagne. Early winemakers in the Champagne region struggled to manipulate their unique climate and produce traditional red wines. Cold winters altered the fermentation process, causing bubbles to form in the wine, which ended up being a boon to winemakers once they figured out how to handle this new type of vino.

Women were not allowed to run their own businesses in France in the early 1800s. The only way a woman could become the chief executive officer of her own profitable entrepreneurial venture was if she became a widow. (Single and married women were to rely on their fathers and husbands for income.) When 27-year-old Barbe-Nicole Clicquot’s husband tragically died in 1805, she made the best of her unfortunate situation, literally turning sour grapes into sweet Champagne.

Madame Clicquot was the first winemaker to successfully mass-produce bubbly and put it in the hands of common people all over the world, including Americans. The French word for “widow” is “veuve” and Veuve Clicquot was pioneering and industrious until she was a year shy of ninety.

Madame Clicquot’s heir recently told the Associated Press that Veuve Clicquot was “the first businesswoman in France and maybe the whole of Europe.” She invented the first rosé (pink-colored) Champagne as well as the very first Champagne label in the world (Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin). Champagne makers still use her House’s ingenious procedure known as “rilling” to prevent sediment from forming in bottles through rotation.


Katie Kieffer

Katie Kieffer is a columnist and political commentator. She runs KatieKieffer.com. Kieffer is the author of the forthcoming book "LET ME BE CLEAR."