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Wine, Networks and Scales

Intermediation in the production, distribution and consumption of wine

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Edited By Stéphanie Lachaud-Martin, Corinne Marache, Julie McIntyre and Mikaël Pierre

Wine as a product arises from human connections in know-how and trade as much as from the natural environment in which grapes are grown. At each stage of decision-making about growing grapes, making wine, selling and drinking it, people with different roles are networked together into systems of production and distribution. The authors in this collection offer new studies of the individuals and groups who act as connectors in these networked systems, intermediating in the delivery of wine from growers’ vines to consumers’ glasses. These actors operate at multi-layered scales of geography or within multiple regimes of governance, all the while taking account of arbitrations of quality and taste. This collection highlights how intermediators in many different wine countries and periods of history are, and have been, significant agents of continuity and change in the wine industry.

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‘Getting the Favour of the Public’ in the Nineteenth-Century Champagne Trade: How Important Was a ‘Smart Agent’?

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GRAHAM HARDING

Between 1860-1862, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, substantially reduced duties on unfortified wine and liberalised the licensing laws. His goal was to wean the British public away from the heavily fortified and often adulterated wines characterised by contemporaries as ‘black, strong and sweet’1. Though his intervention failed to convert the mass of the British population to light wines, it gave an enormous boost to claret and to champagne. Sales of the latter wine rose threefold in less than fifteen years.

This chapter looks at the networks governing the supply and demand of champagne in this period, concentrating on the London agents who represented the French producers in this vital market. It is not a full study of the role of the agents in the nineteenth-century wine trade but focuses on a small number of the most influential and important figures, notably Adolphe Hubinet of the firm of Pommery & Greno who built the Pommery brand from nothing into the most powerful, highly-priced and best-publicised champagne brand of the second half of the century2.

This expansion of consumption in the 1860s was matched by an increasingly complex market. Before 1850, most champagne was sold by British merchants who received stock direct from a French producer. These merchants were responsible for selling through to customers – mostly private individuals – through their personal ‘connection’ or ←75 | 76→via the medium of price-focused press advertising. Itinerant ‘commis voyageurs’ (salesmen on commission) such as those...

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