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.