By JACQUELINE CORRIGAN
“I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.
When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when
I am. Otherwise, I never touch it unless I’m thirsty.”
Lily Bollinger, House of Bollinger
What a fabulous quote! Yes, Veuve Bollinger, I couldn’t agree more: Champagne is for every occasion and not just for christening ships or toasting the bride.
Dom Pérignon, while important in his own right to wine history, didn’t invent champagne as is often believed. Rather, he detested the annoying, pesky nuisances (the bubbles) that were forming in his wine and did everything to try and rid himself of these dastardly things. It was actually Veuve Clicquot (veuve = widow) who put the Champagne region on the global map.
In fact it was a number of women who made Champagne what it is today, but unfortunately history has not recorded their story in any great detail or clarity.
As 19th-century France was a chauvinistic society (c’est terrible!), women were to concern themselves only with homemaking and child-bearing, you know, being so fragile and all. (Sounds a bit like Mad Men.)
But, if you were a widow, then these rules didn’t apply. After all, what possible harm could you do? Drum roll please!
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin a.k.a. Veuve Clicquot — invented the riddling rack making it possible to extract spent lees (a.k.a. dead yeasts) from the neck of the bottle in order for ease of removal from its bottled prison. This system is still used to this day and is the job of the remueur, or “riddler.” She was also a marketing genius!
Veuve Pommery — Having been schooled in Britain, was well aware of the wine market there. She knew that a drier Champagne style would sell like gangbusters among the Brits. Sweet was out and dry was in!
The “Brut” style is accredited to the ingenuity of Veuve Pommery.
Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt – While you may be familiar with the Lanson name, this champagne house was not her crowning glory. She saw the Napoleonic Laws writing on the wall and decided to buy a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy, none other than Laurent Perrier.
And so we end off where we began, at the House of Bollinger.
In 1961 Lily aged a small portion of her vintage champagne on their lees for an additional 10 years, which added depth and complexity.
Thus the R.D. line was created. R.D. is the initialism for récemment dégorgé, or “recently disgorged” (the spent yeast cells are expelled just prior to shipping).
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the many accomplishments of these fine women and others of this region whose stories have not been told.
The next time you pick up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, look a little closer, and you will see her handwritten signature wrapping around the bottle’s label.
Her signature, and her signature style, are a reminder of the influence and impact of women in the history of Champagne and its wines.
Jacqueline Corrigan is a Certified Sommelier (graduate George Brown College Sommelier Program); a Member of the International Sommelier Guild; and a graduate WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust – Britain).