Saturday, November 1, 2008
Review: The Widow Clicquot, by Tilar Mazzeo
The Widow Clicquot is the story of the woman behind one of the world’s most famous and iconic champagnes. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot was born in 1777 in Reims, and married an idealistic dreamer at a young age. When he died, Barbe-Nicole entered his family’s business, and proved herself to be a shrewd businesswoman. Barbe-Nicole survived the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars (during which Napoleon apparently said that the vineyards of the Champagne would make perfect battlegrounds), and the civil wars of the mid-nineteenth century. She was a diminutive, nondescript woman, but she proved herself a force to be reckoned with in the champagne industry, turning a local curiosity into an international brand.
The book is a combination of things: its part biography, part story of the Veuve Clicquot empire, and part history of champagne-making in general (surprise! It wasn’t the French who discovered the art of creating the now-famous bubbles). Although Barbe-Nicole was one of the most famous businesswomen of the nineteenth century, there’s not much biography here, per se: the author tries to fill in gaps with a lot of conjecture, using phrases such as “perhaps she felt…” and “maybe…” Generally, storytelling that way is for me an attempt by an author to put words into people’s mouths or thoughts into their heads that they might not actually have had. However, I thought the historical detail was quite good, as well as the descriptions of the techniques used to make champagne. Even I, as a non-connoisseur, was able to grasp what was going on there.
However, I expected more of a biography; I was really drawn by the story of a completely average woman accomplishing extraordinary things. But what the reader is given here works, too: a lot of the book shows the author’s passion for wine and its production. I just wish that there had been a bit more focus. That said however, the book inspired me to track down a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, just to see what all the fuss was about. This is the kind of book that’s perfect for wine and champagne lovers.
Also reviewed by: S. Krishna's Books