“How Do You Celebrate?” by Matthew D. Christianson

images 5 Since it was my girl Simone’s 30th, we have been doing a lot of celebrating and for us that always includes bubbles. Our go to champagne selection is always Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. The consistency in this non-vintage is amazing as the makers achieve and maintain an elegant house style year after year. The wine is always slightly creamy with medium sized soft bubbles and is rounded out by a nice grapefruity acidity. There is another reason that we hold true to the Clicquot label and that is Madame Clicquot’s major contributions that she made personally to the method of champagne making. This is the story of the Widow, told by the makers themselves, who changed everything and literally turned the champagne world “upside down”:

“Madame Clicquot’s life could have been typical of that of many 18th-century young ladies in France. Born into a wealthy family, she made a good marriage to François Clicquot, who owned a champagne business, in 1798, before giving birth to a little girl called Clémentine. However, her natural curiosity encouraged her to take an interest in the house’s affairs, and, when her husband died prematurely, she decided to take up the reins of the estate. Her strength of character and business sense transformed her family-in-law’s trade into a great Champagne House. While her representatives travelled throughout Europe and her champagne was shipped across the seas the world over, Madame Clicquot personally took charge of the cellars, choosing her motto as only one quality, the finest.

She invented the riddling table in order to obtain champagne wines that were as clear, distinct and limpid as possible. She gradually acquired land in vineyards with the best crus, which are now part of Veuve Clicquot’s exceptional wine heritage. Her contemporaries already considered her as a great lady and she became known as the Grande Dame de la Champagne. She died in 1866, in her château, surrounded by those she had loved with generosity and tenderness. Today she holds sway over every bottle of champagne sold by Veuve Clicquot, reigning over an empire of bubbles appreciated by all connoisseurs of excellent champagne.”

Just to be clear, the Widow Clicquot invented the part of the chamapgne making process that is called “riddling”. This is the racking of the full champagne bottles which are undergoing the secondary fermentation due to the addition of yeasts into the already fermented wine. The yeasts also add the carbonation naturally, but after they die inside the bottle they appear to be just a form of sediment. This would not do for the Widow as she designed a rack to store the bottles, which were turned slightly daily to push the dead yeasts toward the neck of the bottle. After the yeasts were close enough to the opening of the bottle the neck was frozen which would trap the yeasts in solid pill that would be shot out of the bottle using gravity and the pressure that built up from the secondary fermentation. Once the yeasts were removed, then the bottles were corked and wired and stored until ready to drink.

The Widow Clicquot was definately one of the most important people in the wine making business and she is another hero of mine!  Click here if you would like to learn more about this facinating woman.

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