Raise a Toast to…Champagne!

New Year’s Eve celebrations are all about traditions: champagne toasts, black-eyed peas, lofty resolutions that will (in my case) be abandoned by February. Champagne is synonymous with this and other celebrations, thanks in part to marketing tactics used by French wine merchants 150 years ago.

In the 19th century, wine was a finicky commodity. Champagne perhaps more so: it wasn’t until 1837 that Andre Francois figured out the appropriate amount of sugar for fermentation  to prevent a flat wine or an exploding bottle (Simpson, 2004).  Quality varied greatly. A bad year, or even a few lower quality grapes could ruin a wine. Infestations of phylloxera wiped out vines in the late 19th century, ruining entire vintages  and devastating regional wine production in France – the Champagne region included (Campbell, 2006). Simpson notes that there were few economies of scale in wine production: increased sales did not translate to lower production costs per unit.

Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that champagne marketing focused on things that could be controlled: the name, the brands, and high society connections. Négociants (wine merchants) for champagne cultivated elite buyers to become devoted consumers and attempted to attract new clients from the growing middle class in France and abroad.

Continue reading Raise a Toast to…Champagne!

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The Singer Sewing Machine: A story of credit

Isaac Merritt Singer was an odd man. Part inventor, part actor, he had a way with women – to the point where one wife had him arrested for bigamy, and by the end of his life he had fathered at least 20 children (the exact number has been debated). He was such a pariah that he was chased out of New York City society and fled to England. Today, his scandalous personal life is an amusing anecdote while his claim to fame is the Singer sewing machine. Continue reading The Singer Sewing Machine: A story of credit