Event Occurred During the Week of March 6 to March 13

We celebrated over 170 women-owned and co-owned businesses in our SLO County food and beverage industry during the week of March 6 to March 13 with over 50 brunches, dinners, cider tours, coffee cuppings, wine tastings, classes on cheese and savory pairings, Winemaker Wednesday, the Progressive Menu at Paso Market Walk, educational and networking events followed by food and drink specials at individual businesses. Congratulations to Michelle Barrera and all the volunteers who organized and participated in making this week an unforgettable introduction to women working in the hospitality industry. The Wine History Project and Libbie Agran were sponsors of the events AT HER TABLE.

We celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 with an Untamed Dinner which included 150 guests seated at one very long table (half a block long!). We dined on five courses prepared by local women chefs paired with amazing wines produced and served by six local winemakers including Molly Lonborg (Alta Colima), Jordan Fiorentini ( EPOCH Wines), Sonja Magdevski (Casa Dumetz Wines), Lily McGlothern (ONX), Vailia From (Desparada Wines) and Laura Roach (Loubud Wines). Please visit the website to join the non-profit AT HER TABLE or to donate to support the continuing education and support of local businesses in the hospitality industry.

The International Celebration – French Women in Champagne.

To continue the International Celebration of Women’s History Month, I want to introduce you to some of the heroines, winemakers, and owners of the Champagne Houses, who promoted, innovated and made French champagne during the past 250 years. In the shadow of the war that is being fought in Ukraine, I want to acknowledge the contributions of these women to the Western World during the last two World Wars by pairing their espionage work with winemaking, and their caring for refugees and the wounded during the conflicts. These women also assumed ownership and management of wineries at the deaths of their husbands. 

All of these women dramatically increased the production and distribution of the French champagne we know and love today. Many of the production sites and wine houses owned by women in the Champagne region were designated as Cultural Historic Landmarks in 2015 and were placed on the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage List. To be included the sites are judged to contain “cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” Several of these to be discussed include Champagne hillsides, houses and cellars sites.


Champagne-Ardenne in France © TUBS 2011. From Wikimedia Commons

Madame de Pompadour François Boucher, 1756. From Wikimedia Commons


Louise Pommery, 1819-1890. From Wikimedia Commons


Credit- Archives Départementales de la Marne – Fonds Famille Krug – FRAD051_142J_001

Camille Olry-Roederer

“Lily Bollinger”, Bollinger site. From Wikimedia Commons

The Champagne Region Produced Quality Wines in the Middle Ages

The history of French women in winemaking goes back many more years than in the United States – particularly in the Champagne wine region located within the historical province of Champagne which is located 100 miles east of Paris in the northeast of France. This region developed a reputation for producing quality wines in the early Middle Ages. It is also located at the intersection of two major trade routes in use for over 1500 years.

Sparkling Wines Produced in the 17th Century

Sparkling wines were produced in the 17th century but production grew rapidly in the 18th century with the establishment of the great Champagne houses. The Champagne region is divided into five wine producing districts: Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne , Montagné de Reims, and Vallee de la Marne. Reims, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Épernay are the main commercial centers in the Champagne province.

However, the location of the region has been a double-edged sword; it is near Paris which has promoted the economic success of the champagne trade for centuries. But the Champagne region has been vulnerable in wartime because it is on two major routes to Paris: east-west from Paris to the Rhine and north-south from Flanders to Switzerland. Champagne region has been a crossroads for both trade and military forces dating back to 451 A.D.

Enemy armies have marched through the villages, destroyed vineyards and seized champagne from famous cellars during the Napoleonic Wars (May 18, 1803-November 20, 1815), the Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870-May 10, 1871) and two major international conflicts in the 20th century: World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). These military invasions have disrupted the planting and maintenance of the vineyards.

The Oldest Champagne Houses were founded in the 1800s

There were ten Champagne houses in operation during the 18th century. The oldest Champagne house still in operation today is Gosset, founded in 1584, to produce “still” wine. A simple definition of still wine is a wine that is obtained from the natural fermentation of the freshly harvested grapes. Ruinart was founded in 1729, Chanoiné Freres (Madison accent on first e) in 1730, Taittinger in 1734, Moet et Chandon (accent on the e) in 1743 and Veuve Clicquot in 1772. In 1800 the Champagne production for that region of France was 300,000 bottles a year. In 1850, the regional production had grown to 20 million bottles.

Madame de Pompadour – the First Champagne Ambassador 

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson (Madame de Pompadour) was a powerful woman in the French court and the official chief mistress of King Louis XV from 1745 to 1751. She was a patron of the arts, a trend and style setter, a remarkable hostess at the dinners and parties at the King’s palaces and the head of marketing French champagne. She was the 18th century influencer who introduced French champagne to the rich and famous kings, queens, diplomats, merchants and aristocracy from western Europe to the czars of Russia. This created an increasing demand for sparkling wine starting with the reign of Louis XV.

The concept of  “vintage champagne” was introduced in 1840. Winemaker Claude Moët marked his first vintage in 1842. Thanks to Madame de Pompadour, champagne was enjoyed by women of court and courtesans who often drank it between meals or alone in their own private apartments with their lovers. Madame de Pompadour favored the champagne produced by wine trader Claude Moët who founded the Moët Champagne House now known as Moët and Chandon, in 1743. He shipped Moët Champagne directly to the Court in Paris. As such, Madame de Pompadour became an ambassador for sparkling wine. King Louis XV built new roads between Paris and the Champagne region to make sure that thousands of bottles of champagne were delivered to his court as fast as possible to keep his guests in good spirits.

Today Moët and Chandon is a French fine winery located in Épernay and co-owner of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vutton). It produces 28 million bottles of champagne annually.

Women Revolutionized the Champagne Industry in the 19th Century

The 19th century brought industrialization with new tools, glass bottles, and new technical innovations in winemaking. The following French women changed the history of sparkling champagne.

Madame Louise Pommery (1819 – 1890)

Madame Louise Pommery, a 19th century widow is remembered for developing “brut” champagne and developing wine tourism. Champagne Pommery is a Champagne house located in Reims. It was founded in 1858. She was widowed in 1860 at age 39. At his death her husband was producing 40,000 bottles of wine annually. Madame Louise Pommery increased the production to 2 million annually and Champagne Pommery became one of the region’s largest and most successful brands. 

 As the business grew, she needed more room to store her wine. She knew the Romans had dug limestone and chalk quarries under Reims centuries before when they occupied Gaul. She knew they would be the perfect cool dark place to store thousands of bottles of her wine in a temperature-controlled environment (10C). She purchased 120 pits and connected them with tunnels. She hired a sculptor to create a 13-foot-long bas-relief of Bachhus celebrating wine on one wall. Free-standing sculptures were added during the years. She also was the first to promote wine tourism. She had artists make more sculptures for visitors to enjoy as they toured the cellars.

Pommery’s main market was England. The English were not fond of sweet wines commonly favored in Europe and Russia at the time. Madame Louise Pommery decided to make a “brut” champagne by eliminating the addition of sugar following fermentation. She changed her winemaking techniques by harvesting grapes at a lower sugar content and aging her wine longer to create a champagne that we now call “brut” in 1874. This changed the drinking habits of the English. Champagne began to be served at the beginning of the meal rather than at the end as a dessert wine. It was often served as a beverage at a formal Tea or reception.

Madame Louise Pommery was the first to establish business practices in France to provide both retirement and health funds for her employees. She regarded her employees as essential to her success and rewarded their loyalty and hard work.

She was also the first woman to be honored at her death on March 18, 1890, with a French state funeral, which solidified her national importance. Over 20,000 mourners gathered in the streets of Reims to honor her legacy and contributions to the Champagne industry. Pommery continues to produce champagne in Reims.

Twentieth Century Women Kept The Champagne Industry Afloat During Two World Wars.

During the two World Wars, women worked in the vineyards, pruning, and harvesting while bombs were falling, and soldiers were fighting nearby. They often tended vineyards wearing gas masks. They had few fertilizers for the vineyards or chemicals for winemaking. They lived, sorted the grapes and worked in producing wine, bottling, and labeling underground during World War I. They tried to hide the best wines from the Germans. More than half of the vineyards in the Champagne region were destroyed during World War I.

Jeanne Krug (1880 – 1954)

The Twentieth century women to celebrate starts with Jeanne Krug. The Krug Champagne House was founded by Joseph Krug in 1843. It was founded in Reims and is one of the famous Champagne houses that formed part of the Grandes marques. Jeanne’s husband, Joseph II, was captured in 1914 by the Germans at the beginning of World War I. Jeanne managed the Krug Champagne house during the war, overseeing the vineyards and harvests in spite of the bombings and road blockades while also raising her son Paul,a toddler, as well as working as a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross. 

Most of the residents of the Champagne region lived underground for three years in the champagne cellars because of severe bombing. Jeanne sheltered reserve troops and the citizens of nearby Reims in her wine cellars, setting up a school, a chapel and an infirmary surrounded by bottles of champagne in her wine cellars. After World War I, she was the first woman to enter politics as a member of the Reims city council. 

Reims was almost completely destroyed during the war so Jeanne founded a charity to help restore the city and worked with the United States to build the American Memorial Hospital for children.

Jeanne continued her good works during World War II and was arrested twice by the Gestapo for smuggling secrets relating to Spain. She had to negotiate the German occupation diplomatically, providing the German military officers with allotments of wine as did all Champagne houses. They respected her and released her from custody after both arrests.  She survived the war and was awarded three awards by the French government: the Croix de guerre, Médaille de la Résistance, and the Légion d’ honneur.

Currently (2021) both the CEO and Cellarmaster at Krug are women. Krug Champagne is renowned for the complex blends and its Krug Grandé Cuvee which is a blend of over 120 wines coming from ten or more different vintages.

 Between the World Wars – The Bolshevik Revolution, the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, and the Worldwide Depression

The Champagne houses in France were on the verge of bankruptcy following World War I. Most of the vineyards had been destroyed or severely damaged. Russia had been a major market for French champagne but after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 the Soviet government was established and immediately banned champagne.

This event was followed by the Prohibition Movement in the United States which didn’t ban drinking but did ban the sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages. During the “Roaring Twenties” American women were liberated and loved to drink and dance at speakeasies, parties and in private homes during the Prohibition years from 1920 to 1933. However, champagne was not on the menu. The influence of a new art form, the cinema revived the fascination with champagne both in Europe and the United States. As the movies became a favorite pastime, fans often saw actresses on screen drinking champagne. Many actresses negotiated movie contracts that included the delivery of a certain number of cases of champagne to keep them in bubbles. Before long all levels of society drank champagne. 

The worldwide Depression in the 1930s continued to impact the major customers for champagne and forced many out of business. However, the champagne continued to flow in Paris cafes and brothels. 

 Women were very important in keeping the champagne houses afloat. They became major ambassadors of French wine to the world.

Camille Olry-Roederer (1892 – 1975) 

Camille Olry-Roederer revived champagne as a major luxury item in Europe and in the United States. She became internationally known as the ambassador of her own champagne house. She reintroduced glamor and elegance along with Cristal Cuvee into society. Cristal champagne was a precursor prestige cuvée which became a status symbol. 

The Roederer Champagne House was founded in 1776 under another name. Louis Roederer inherited it from his uncle in 1833, rebranded and started selling the wine abroad. Tsar Nicholas II nominated Louis Roederer as the official wine supplier to the Imperial Court of Russia.

The Champagne house was very successful until the Russian Revolution when Roederer lost its market in Russia. The Depression further weakened the family business, but it remains one of the only family-owned independent companies run by wine specialists.

Camille’s first husband died during World War I leaving her a very young widow. She married into the Roederer family and lost her second husband in 1932 during the worldwide Depression. Roederer was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. 

Camille took control of the Champagne House and became known for her iron fist in a velvet glove. She was regarded as an outsider by the family. So, she fired everyone and hired new staff that she trusted. She reorganized the business and survived World War II. In 1945 the prestige cuvée Cristal Champagne was released commercially. It is a blend of around 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Noir.

Camille was known as a socialite who loved elegance. Against all odds, she made Cristal Champagne famous in America and throughout the world by courting high society. She had inherited horse stables and decided to enter them in races in the United States. Horse racing brought her in contact with the elite of America. She was accepted as a socialite known for her elegant clothes and jewelry and her Cristal Champagne which she promoted tirelessly. 

The press loved her and reported on her attendance at parties, social events, her couture, and her champagne. She started by introducing her Cristal Champagne at the horse races, followed by the opera and finally in clubs such as Studio 54 in New York City. She promoted her Extra Dry Champagne as an afternoon beverage to be served at every occasion; she was a trend setter and an influencer. 

Lily Bollinger (1899 – 1971) 

Elizabeth (Lily) Bollinger lost her husband, Jacques Bollinger in 1941, midway through World War II during the Nazi occupation of the Champagne region. Jacques was the grandson of the founder Jacques-Joseph Bollinger. He originally founded Champagne Bollinger in 1829. Lily was deeply involved in the Champagne Bollinger with her husband. She was known for her excellent nose and palate. She was a super taster, and she knew how to blend wines. She managed the vineyards, often riding through on her bicycle through the rows of vines and the winery while the Nazis occupied France. The Champagne region was not bombed in WW II because the Nazi’s occupied the region. The Nazis forced the production of French Champagne which they confiscated to raise funds to pay off Germany’s war debts. 

Lily was diplomatic with the Nazis. She managed to provide them with champagne but to keep the finest hidden in her cellars. However, during the severe bombing of Champagne suddenly ordered by American General Patton in 1944, she opened her wine cellars to shelter local citizens from the nearby city of Ay and arranged funerals for the victims. 

After the war she continued to manage Champagne Bollinger for the rest of her life. She acquired additional vineyards and today they cover 179 hectares (approximately 442 acres), most of which are classified Grand or Premier cru. Pinot Noir forms the backbone of the winemaking style. After the war Lily traveled the world, collecting stamps and selling her champagne. The champagnes are praised for their elegance and complexity. It should be noted that the Court of England awarded this Champagne house the Royal Warrant in 1884 and it continues in 2022.

Lily carried on the winemaking traditions established during the first 100 years of winemaking at Champagne Bollinger. These secret production techniques are passed from generation to generation including hand-riddling reserve magnums and vintage cuvées stoppered with natural corks and a resident cooper making barrels.