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The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

3.41  ·  Rating Details ·  2,172 Ratings  ·  393 Reviews

Veuve Clicquot champagne epitomizes glamour, style, and luxury. In The Widow Clicquot, Tilar J. Mazzeo brings to life—for the first time—the fascinating woman behind the iconic yellow label: Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who, after her husband's death, defied convention by assuming the reins of the fledgling wine business they had nurtured together. Steering the company

Kindle Edition, 293 pages
Published (first published October 28th 2008)
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Luvly bubbly!

"Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!", Dom Perignon, the cellar master of the ancient hillside abbey in the village of Hautvillers in the 1660s allegedly called out when his still wine developed unwanted bubbles. For many years he tried to find the source of his wine going 'bad'. Wine makers in the seventeenth century had a less charitable phrase for it. They called the bubbly vintage 'Devil's wine'. Nobody in France wanted fizzy wines.

Yeux de crapaud. Frogs eyes, it was called.
BAM The Bibliomaniac
I had no idea champagne was this fascinating. I enjoyed the history and development of this remarkable ebullient indulgence, than I did her story.
Jul 24, 2010 Kalen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
Thin. Based largely on speculation, this book would have made a much better historical novel than biography. Little actual information is known about Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, so Mazzeo filled in based upon the known history of France (and the rest of Europe) in the 1800s. The details about the history of the wine industry made up most of the solid information and were interesting, but the book was supposed to be about more than that--Ponsardin and the rise of Veuve Clicquot. Additionally, for com ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the face of it, this seems like a good long biography. Until you realize that you've never seen more 'perhaps'es, 'likely's, 'surely's, 'must have's, and on and on, in one place in your life. More that 90% of this book is the author imagining the widow Clicquot's life from little tiny details she gleaned from here and there. 3+ "perhaps" per page is a conservative estimate, not including all the other fluffy imagination words. And yet Mazzeo still tries to present this as nonfictional biograp ...more
Carolyn Kellogg
Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was born in Reims, France, in 1777. She was plain, yet her merchant father married her to the wealthy young Francois Clicquot, a man of her class. With ample support, Francois and his wife took over his family's languishing wine business. They hired a brilliant salesman, Louis Bohne, who persuaded Russians that they should buy Clicquot. Still the couple struggled, set back by wars (which got in the way of commerce) and weather (which was alternately too hot for stored wine ...more
Apr 18, 2017 Izabela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One must enjoy observing the reaction of a Frenchman while reading out loud: "In fact, the idea that Dom Pérignon invented champagne was always just imaginative marketing. It was a brilliant but misleading pitch. (...) Most wine experts now believe that the British were converting their barrels of imported wine from the region around Reims - wine with a natural tendency to fizz easily - into sparkling champagne by the 1670s, a full decade before the wine was first produced in France." Amazing st ...more
Feb 01, 2009 Weezie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love historical novels and this one was good for me because we were in Champagne last summer. I wish I had read this before we went because I would have tried to find the places written about here. It is the story of a very industrious, bright and determined woman to continue and prosper in the wine making business her husband left her with. Needless to say, this was not a time of women owned businesses! She was very young when she was widowed. In the process of making a go of the business, sh ...more
Zabetta Camilleri
I think the best way to describe what this book is about is to use a quote from a letter Madame Clicquot wrote to her great grand daughter

"I am going to tell you a secret... you more than anyone resemble me. you who have such audacity. It is a precious quality that has been very useful to me in the course of my long life ... to dare things before others ... I am called today the grand lady Champagne! Look around you, this chateau, these unfaltering hills, I can be bolder than you realise. The w
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've ever looked at the bright yellow label and wondered if there really was a Veuve Clicquot rather than a marketing creation, the answer is oui--Barb-Nicole, bourgeois survivor of the French Revolution, bankrupt widow and winemaking genius was not just a real person, but a revolutionizer of 19th century industry. While managing vineyards and negotiating the every changing political allegiances of France, she also invented labels and international name recognition, a secret method for stor ...more
Kristi Brown
Jan 19, 2009 Kristi Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I actually doublly enjoyed this book because I drank Clicquot along with the book! Learning about the Widow Clicquot and the challenges she and France faces with Napoleon and the ups and downs of the crops was amazing. Barne-Nicole Clicuot is the ultimate model of a successful woman! Clicquot surged the champagne market to depths higher and mightier than you can imagine...from Russia to America she created a luxury product that bubbles today!!!

A must read if in to French history and/or culinary
Eric Cowperthwaite
Fascinating history of Clicquot Ponsardin champagne house and the Veuve (Widow) Clicquot. Unfortunately, very little of the Widow's letters, diary, etc. survived and so the author had to use a tremendous amount of indirect information to construct the personal history of Barbe Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot. She did a great job with the limited resources available. And the history of the rise of Champagne is fascinating.
Candice Urmston
Interesting premise but the author's writing style was distracting, writing in the first person in odd places. It reminded me of episodes of Saved by the Bell in which Zach would turn to the camera as though no one else was there. The story could have been told better in the hands of another.
Apr 08, 2017 Renee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book really provided a great insight into a woman who is still considered one of the greatest business and entrepreneurs of all time. To understand the challenges and passion and also a Lot of history background as well.
May 19, 2013 Tonari rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The subject (the life of the widow Clicquot, famous Champagne entepreuneur) is interesting and the english quite easy to understand even for a non native speaker. In particular, the part regarding the hard times widow Clicquot faces during the Napoleonic Empire catches the reader attention and makes him genuinely wonder how she is going to resolve the situation.
Unkuckily there is one fatal flaw in this book: it is a matter of fact that not much has remained to the present to understand the priv
Feb 12, 2011 Tommy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was fairly well written and flowed nicely for most of the book. There were a few strange parts where it seemed as if the author or the editor lost her train of thought and let the narrative get away.

I thought the story was a very interesting juxtaposition of the history of France, the history of Champagne, and the history of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot. The three pieces were woven together nicely and the context and interplay of time period really drove the story.

The trickiest part of the bo
Dec 01, 2015 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must say that this book was well researched, and generally quite an easy read for non-fiction. The story of the Widow Clicquot is a fascinating one; as a woman, one could only truly wield power as a widow in the early 1800's, and Barb-Nicole Cliquot did just that as she built one of the greatest Champagne houses in the world. In addition, she was a pioneer in the champagne-making process, and a risk taker in an era when risks were often disastrous.

The only problem is - - -why, oh why, do non-
After Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin and François Clicquot are married, they begin trying to enlarge and enhance the Clicquot family's sparkling wine business, until then a small sideline income for the family. Francois is determined to open up exports to Russia and beyond, and after his untimely death Barbe-Nicole carries on his work. Over a period of years and despite many setbacks, she succeeds in creating the Champagne empire we know today as Veuve Clicquot.

While this is a fascinating book in theory
Katie Brown
May 03, 2010 Katie Brown rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, e-book
Unfortunately, I have to report that I merely "read" this book, because I gave up halfway through.

I think I would have been more engaged in the story of the Widow Clicquot if the book had been written as historical fiction. Instead, it's written as a biography. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of facts known about Mrs. Clicquot--barely any of her correspondence was kept, for example--so the author resorts to phrases like "she may have. . ." or comparing her life to what other women in time peri
Feb 06, 2017 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled across this book looking for a cocktail recipe book and had to buy it. Champagne is my beverage of choice and Veuve Cliquot is high on my list of favorites. I'm ashamed to admit I had no idea "Veuve" meant widow and the champagne house and the champagne itself is named after an extraordinary woman. Not much archival material remains despite all of the Widow Cliquot's accomplishments so there is a lot of speculation but I still found it a fascinating history of champagne, France and Th ...more
Jun 22, 2009 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! What a little-known, hardly realized story of a woman who almost singlehandedly launched an international luxury brand. Unfortunately, since not much is known of the Widow Clicquot's intimate life details, Mazzeo incorporates a lot of speculation making this story at times seem more like a novel. But she grounds any speculation in reality and gives good reasoning for the conclusions she makes. Aside from learning about Barbe-Nicole, this is also a great overall history of champagne. I learn ...more
Jock Mcclees
May 01, 2014 Jock Mcclees rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading other reviews I would be curious to go back and reread parts of the book. There were complaints about the amount the author used Perhaps and speculated about what Veuve Clicquot might have thought. Since it was explained at the outset that no diaries and little other source material exists to understand what Veuve Clicquot was thinking, it didn't bother me at the time.

I was fascinated by what a brilliant businesswoman she was and how many things she invented/created, from improved
Jan 18, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating biography of the woman behind the iconic yellow-labelled champagne. As much a story of the development of champagne itself and the fledgling industry as it is about the woman herself, it highlights the paucity of documentation of women's lives at that time. At times I felt the narrative suffered from walking a fine line between being an academic work and a more populist read, but overall I was very interested in the book, and learnt so much from it. We conducted our book club discuss ...more
Bailey Caskey
In the interest of my upcoming European trip where I will be taking a tour in the Champagne, this book sounded like the perfect way to brush up on some history of the area. This book is very interesting & well written. I enjoyed learning about the widow Clicquot & about the history of sparkling wine in general. I found the subject matter fascinating & would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to learn some little known history about this great woman.
Mar 23, 2010 Kristen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I love historical fiction and champagne, so I thought this book would be awesome for me. Not so much. It wasn't all that long, but it still took some work to make it to the end. In the author's defense, there apparently is not much information about her subject, but the way she kept saying "perhaps Barbe-Nicole ..." just drove me nuts. How do other authors in this genre keep from doing that? I'll have to pay more attention in the next one I read.
Tom Stewart
I'd hoped that this wouldbegoodeffervescent and enlightening fun. And it's ok. I learned quite a lot about the brief period during which champagne became *c*h*a*m*p*a*g*n*e!, a story I hadn't known. But the prose is baggy and flabby--this book fails the minimal test of editing, namely the application Struck & White's Rule 13. And the whole thing tries too hard. And so, while I have said that I finished, I mean that I finished reading the book, but not that i finished the book
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I really don't care a whit about Clicquot champagne or the Widow who helped build the empire, but it was the holiday read for my book club. I skimmed it. I think there just isn't much to the story and the detail added to make it book-length is on the border of excruciating. It would have made a better pamphlet or article, in my opinion.

Book 4 of 2016
Mar 16, 2010 Trish marked it as put-aside  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I put this aside because the author made asides to readers that may have been funny if we knew and liked her, but as we don't...they didn't seem relevant. Also, while the story of the Widow is undoubtedly interesting, it was less so in this case.
Book Lady
The best part is reading it for a girls book club and having a book talk with some of the spoils from the book.
I was happily surprised by how fascinating and immersive this book was. The Widow Cliquot is a feminist powerhouse and her life makes for a great story.
Danielle Tate
Nov 11, 2015 Danielle Tate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book so much that it inspired a trip to the Champagne houses of Reims and Epernay for my 30th birthday!
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woman that achieve in life 1 18 Nov 11, 2008 09:51PM  
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Tilar J. Mazzeo is a cultural historian, biographer, and passionate student of wine and food culture. She divides her time among the California wine country, New York City, and Maine, where she is a professor of English at Colby College.

(from the author's website)
More about Tilar J. Mazzeo...

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“lobster salad and champagne were the only things a woman should ever be seen eating.” 0 likes
“Widowed at the age of twenty-seven, with no formal business training and no firsthand experience, Barbe-Nicole transformed a well-funded but struggling and small-time family wine brokerage into arguably the most important champagne house of the nineteenth century in just over a decade. It” 0 likes
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