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A Toast to the New Year

picture of many men and women sitting around tables drinking in formal clothing and party hats

New Year’s Celebration, 1940, National Photo Company.

From earliest days (not as we count early days in California, but as the ancients counted them), champagne has been bubbling and bursting, sparkling and effervescing through the staider wines of the old vintages, to reach the “top of the ladder,” where it could explode and froth and beguile at its own sweet will. Prelates, kings and artists, burgomasters and masons, dainty ladies and clever demoiselles have caressed this foaming child of compressed force and found it good, a tonic for tired brains (if not too tired) and an originator of sweet fancies.

The grandiloquent quote above comes from an October 12, 1902, article in the San Francisco Call. The author adds:

From that time to this present day champagne has been the pet of the wealthy and has made world-famous those sloping vineyards of the Champagne. Romance, wild and mysterious, lives to-day in the stories one may hear at Rheims or Epernay concerning those early days of this dazzling wine, but space permits no further digression.

People know that Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Over the course of its history, it has become the celebratory beverage – particularly for New Year’s Eve celebrations. But how did that come to be? Ultimately, it seems to come down to cost. The simplest, and most abbreviated, answer that I found seems to indicate that champagne was always an expensive product consumed by the very wealthy. As changes in production technology and transportation made it possible for more to be produced and transported more easily, it became more widely available and somewhat more affordable. As a result, it became, for many, something to splurge on for special occasions.

If you are interested in the business aspects of champagne, the Library has a number of resources that look specifically at the history and business of champagne, including some that focus on specific people and brands such as Dom Pérignon (yes, he was a real person), Madame Clicquot the “Grande Dame of Champagne,” and Perrier-Jouët. Business Reference also has a guide for those interested in the alcoholic beverage industry as a whole.

map showing Reims, France and nearby towns as well as the river Suippe and the forest south of Reims and the Argonne to the east

Reims area. Map of France , (Image 8). César-François Cassini.

For those interested in history, Chronicling America is also good for locating interesting bits of information that were written for a wider audience. I discovered advertisements from champagne importers and others from retailers listing prices of Champagne-related products. I also found interesting articles about a Champagne war in France and another that introduced readers to Madame Clicquot. There were a few related to the “quarter millennium of champagne” anniversary celebrations planned for 1916. On a more purely business end, one article from 1906 reported that the United States consumed 4,500,000 quarts of champagne while the British imported 9,000,000 and another 1901 article reported on the industry at the turn of the century.

And finally, in spite of its long-established reputation as the celebratory beverage, champagne is not the only sparkling wine. Prosecco, a sparkling wine from Italy, has been growing in popularity and is now, for many, part of their weekend brunches and holiday celebrations.

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