Widows, Champagne and Entrepreneurship: Learn from Veuve Clicquot

If you think small, family-owned businesses have it rough right now, step into Veuve Clicquot’s (The Widow Clicquot’s) shoes in this dynamic book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. Talk about an “entrepreness” with moxie to spare.

You’ve most likely enjoyed these festive bubbles at a wedding, gala or (if you are anything like some ad agency friends and I were back in the day) at a typical Tuesday night happy hour. I served Veuve at my own wedding. But I never stopped to consider the widow behind the label. This book is the tale of how she created a champagne empire, undettered by Napoleon, more savvy and well-established competitors, trade restrictions or war waging all around her.

Pick up this treat if you need some business-building inspiration. Barbe-Nicole and her new husband dreamed of exporting their bubbly confections all over the world – until he died from typhoid fever. Just 27 and with little business experience, Barbe-Nicole was a quick study, savvy marketer – and more than anything else, a courageous woman who would not let silly trade restrictions, war and big competition stop her from fulfilling her dream.

Among the highlights:

  • Find a way: When Barbe-Nicole was thwarted from exporting due to the war and closed ports, she didn’t give up. While she engaged in some “illegal” activities to get her wines to other countries, it was not like she was breaking moral laws: she just found the courage to hire ships that would get her wines through. Even after a disastrous attempt through Amsterdam where thousand of bottles of wine were destoryed in storage while they waiting for the embargo to lift, she just got right back on her feet again and tried another route.
  • Trust savvy partners and mentors: Barbe-Nicole was taken under her father in law’s wing and he found her first investment partner. She also was sharp enough to trust Louie, her husband’s right hand man and chief sales rep and brought him into her vision and plans. She even took mentorship and advice from the son of her chief rival. You can’t do it alone and Barbe-Nicole strategically reached our for help when she needed it, otherwise she’d never have succeeded.
  • Build off of name recognition: The Clicquot name was known in Russia but the widow was thwarted time and again from getting her wines to that country. Ironically, when the Russians invaded France, the soldiers frowned upon looting in her town of Reims and, because of her brand recognition, paid top dollar for her wines. She often wondered at this strange turn of events: She had broken her back to try to get her wines to Russia, and in the end, the Russians came right to her front door.
  • Don’t let setbacks kill your dream: Back then, wine was a messy business. Weather and poor storage conditions could ruin thousands of bottles. Transportaion and poorly made glass could cause tons of breakage. And this was all after going through the painful process of storing and blending correctly in the first place. Talk about huge risks at eveyr turn. Barbe-Nicole’s take is one of several ruined shipments, poor vintages and destroyed merchandise but she kept at it, and saved herself from the brink more than once.

There are tons of fascinating vignettes about women’s place in society during this time, as well as interesting tidbits about the wine and champagne-making process. At at least ten points in the story (and I’m not even finished yet) I would have called it quits. Not Barbe-Nicole. Just another great example of a female entrepreneur who made it happen – and today, we often toast our own successes with the fruits of her labor.

Photo Credit: y2pkreads

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