The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Dec. 5, 2008
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled Itby Tilar J. Mazzeo
Collins, 265 pp., $25.95
The title refers to Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin and the titular Champagne is Veuve (French for widow) Clicquot. Barbe-Nicole was a widow at age 27. Her husband left a successful winery, but Barbe-Nicole had no idea how to manage it. Through a combination of grit and ingenuity, within 10 years, she was one of the most renowned and wealthy female entrepreneurs in France. This book is largely descriptive of her successes, with just enough glamour and danger to keep us turning the pages. It's also a testament to author Mazzeo's pit-bull approach to research. Where many journalists might just drink a few bottles of the Champagne and Google "Clicquot," professor Mazzeo (English, Colby College, Maine) digs through mountains of possible material, striking gold about as often as a tourist with a pan and a river. Her assemblage of those nuggets – 23% of the book's total pages are in research notes and a bibliography section – into The Widow Clicquot is a miraculous feat of organization, one worthy of a doctoral thesis. Luckily, the writing generally escapes the monotony of an academic's drone, and in its moments of action, this is actually a gripping story. And while the book appears to be a feminist history/business biography, it's also the appealing story of the author's odyssey.