Champagne has a lot to thank its women for. In a field mostly dominated by men, historically a select few woman have been influencing the way champagne as we know it is enjoyed. Louise Pommery (d. 1890), Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin (d. 1866), Camille Olry-Roederer (d. 1972), and Lily Bollinger (d. 1977) have all been huge influencers in a country that didn’t even allow woman to vote until 1944.
Louise Pommery, after having trouble convincing investors to back her in 1868, turned a small house into one of the largest champagne houses in the world by the time the First World War came around. It is a little known fact that she invented champagne the way we know it. Previously, champagne had been more of a dessert wine and was very sweet, with a dosage of about 100g/l of sugar. Mme Pommery wanted to produce something lighter and more elegant, so cut the dosage down to a few grams/litre and ‘Brut’ as we know it was born.
After taking over the reins of Clicquot Ponsardin in 1805 following her husband’s death, Veuve Cliquot had turned the small company around to be one of the most well know Champagne houses in the world by the time of her own death. Not only that, but she is credited with inventing the ‘riddling’ technique to rid the deposit, or lees, from the bottle. She also invented Rosé in 1818 by adding some red wine from the Bouzy region into a single cuvée.
Camille Olry-Roederer inherited a house ravaged by decades of war. A beautiful woman, she flaunted what she had and was a huge socialite. Through her international connections of beautiful people, she managed to get Roederer to the US market. When she died the house was flourishing and “Cristal” was the drink of choice for many celebrities.
Lily Bollinger also inherited a house that had suffered at the hands of the Nazi occupiers. However, she had already helped her husband run his business and had a very good palate. And she left us with some wonderful quotes and excuses to drink champagne.
To read more about these original champagne sisters, click here.
Now days, apart from two houses, all the major French champagne houses are owned by men. But we have woman all over the world championing the cause.
Australia is lucky enough to have the enigmatic Bernadette O’Shea, who calls herself a champagne consultant, and has possibly one of the best palates in the business. In 1984, she was the first non-professional woman to win the Vin de Champagne award, and has been imparting her knowledge through champagne master classes and dinners ever since. A former florist, she says that she could be blindfolded in a room of flowers and be able to identify 100 different perfumes. Most impressively her services to the champagne industry have been recognised through a French knighthood, the Chevalier de l’ordre du Mérite Agricole. Those lucky enough to attend one of her classes, dinners, or even tours of Champagne will never forget the experience, and gain enormous respect for the drink.
Champagne seems to effortlessly woo women. They are the biggest consumers, so it is not surprising that an enterprising group of woman from New York, LA, London and Australia have now set up Bubbly Talk Radio in an effort to further increase the profile of champagne to the masses and to, well, get everyone drinking, and appreciating champagne, one bubble at a time.
Champagne Sisters unite!