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Don’t forget to watch A Year In Champagne, coming March 6, 2015.

These two women changed Champagne from a typical pale flat red wine to the clear sparkling white wine we know today. Both women upon their deaths bequeathed the companies to men.  Each woman had a daughter but left no part in management for their daughters.

Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (of the French Champagne house Veuve Clicquot) lived during the French revolution era. The widow Clicquot understood the need to differentiate her product and brand distinction, using the well recognized yellow/orange label so consumers then and now immediately identify her bottles. She also invented riddling. Bottles of new Champagne are stored on their sides in deep cellars in Champagne, France. This wine is now stored sur lie, or “on the lees” (the dead yeast cells and sediments trapped in the bottle). This aging process creates Champagne’s texture and the complexity of its bouquet. The amount of time Champagne spends sur lie bears a direct correlation to its quality: the longer the aging, the more complex the bubbly.

Riddling racks are critical to the process of making Champagne. After the sparkling wine has aged on the lees, it is ready to be finished. Riddling is the process that collects the yeast and sediment in a bottle and concentrate it near the mouth of the bottle. After initial fermentation in the bottle, the bottles are inclined at a 45-degree angle on a riddling rack, which is made up of two simple rectangular boards hinged at the top. Each side consists of bored holes able to hold the neck of a Champagne bottle. The riddler puts the neck of a bottle of Champagne in each of the holes. A mark placed on the bottom of each bottle acts as a reference marker, with all markers on all bottles in the rack pointing in the same direction. Over the next few weeks on a daily basis, the riddler rotates every bottle a few degrees which is an art unto itself. At the same time he raises the bottle’s bottom slightly, lowering the neck maybe a centimeter or two each week. After a few weeks bottles that started at a 45-degree angle are now slanted to a 60-degree angle and are neck-down in their holes. Manual riddling is still done for Prestige Cuvées in Champagne, but has otherwise been replaced by mechanised riddling equipment.

Madame Pommery revolutionized champagne in 1870 by developing Brut Champagne. She kept prices of her Champagne high so as to identify it as luxury item and refused to drop prices to gain entry as an import into other countries. Champagne Pommery is a French Champagne house located in Reims. The house was founded in 1858. Under the guidance of the widow, Louise Pommery, the firm became dedicated solely to Champagne production and soon became one of the region’s largest Champagne brands.

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