Just before midnight on the eve of 2018, I will for the 9th year in a row at Londolozi, pour 100 glasses of South Africa’s finest Méthode Cap Classique for our guests to celebrate with as the clock strikes 12. Ensuring that these 100 glasses are all poured timeously and that they are perfectly chilled has become a ritual of sorts; a way to wash away the old year and provide focus for the New. Pondering on this task ahead got me wondering – why do we celebrate the New Year with Champagne?

The story starts approximately 1,500 years ago, towards the end of the fifth century, when Clovis I became the first king of the Franks, uniting all Frankish tribes under one rule. Essentially he became the first king of what would become France. During his quest to become this great ruler, he promised his wife Clotilde that if victorious in his quest, he would become a Christian. Upon his victory, he was baptized in Reims, the unofficial capital of the Champagne region in France. The event was an elaborate affair and for many centuries, French kings continued to be crowned in Reims, and so Reims became known for royal celebrations where the regions finest wines were served.

Towards the end of the 1600’s, Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, became the new cellar master at Hauvilliers in Epernay. Whilst we now know that it is a myth that he actually created the first sparkling wine – sparkling wine was already readily available in the area – he can nevertheless be credited with producing the first white wine from red grapes, using corks to seal wine bottles, and finding a way to secure corks in sparkling wine bottles as the pressure built up. He also ensured that Champagne became known as a primary producer in the sparkling wine market. So much so, that by the beginning of the 18th century, Champagne had become the drink of choice for French royalty, and King Louis XV created laws as to what was permitted to be called Champagne and how it could be sold. With King Louis XV’s endorsement of Champagne and continuous improvements in the quality thereof, in 1790 Champagne was the only wine used to celebrate the end of the French Revolution. Thereafter it became the drink of choice for signing major treaties, landmark celebrations, royal weddings and any other noteworthy celebration.

It was only in the 1800’s that staying up till midnight to see in the New Year became a popular tradition, and as we are now aware, Champagne was a large component of celebrations by this era. By the end of the 19th century, Champagne was served at most New Year’s parties and Champagne sales skyrocketed from 6 million bottles a year in the 1850’s to 28 million bottles by the start of the 20th century.

In the 1930’s, Champagne as the New Year’s drink of choice was further cemented, when a restaurant in New York, Café Martin, run by two French brothers, offered a dinner menu of $1.50 with a selection of 69 different Champagnes. Café Martin became the first “Champagne Only” restaurant for New Year’s, and when this rule was implemented, the restaurant was one of the trendiest places to be in New York, so people wanting to be seen there were more than happy to only drink Champagne. The staff were also encouraged to promote Champagne as they would earn a bonus for each bottle they opened and cork they kept.

So tonight, after those 100 glasses have been poured, I will raise a glass as many have done throughout the years, and will continue to do for the unforeseeable future, and celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

About the Author

Kim Drake

Wine Curator

“When a winemaker gets the wine right, it is pure joy, like sipping a wonderfully painted artwork from the Louvre.” These are the words of Kim Drake, Londolozi’s Procurement Manager turned part-time Sommelier. Kim’s love of wine first started developing in 2010, shortly ...

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16 Comments

on Why Do We Toast the New Year With Champagne?

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Marinda Drake

Lovely blog Kim. Love the history behind drinking champange or sparkling wine while celebrating the new year. Enjoy the celebrations tonight.

Kim Drake

Thanks Marinda, it was a lovely evening, and great bubbles was enjoyed by all.

Denise Vouri

I’ll take the Rover with the DP row behind the ranger’s seat!😘. Seriously, champagne is a magical beverage that should be enjoyed anytime, anyplace. The effervescent quality of this wine just makes one smile. So here’s to you all at Londolozi, may your days be filled with magical moments.

Kim Drake

It truly is a magical wine, Happy New year to you too. I’m sure we’d all love a little Rover filled with some Dom Perignon 😉

Jennifer Ridgewell

Thanks for this informative blog Kim. We have enjoyed so many from the various contributors during 2017 and shall raise a glass at midnight to wish a very happy, healthy and exciting 2018 to everyone at Londolozi!

Kim Drake

Thanks Jennifer and Happy New Year to you too!

Jennifer Seal-Hensley

Happy New Year to everyone at Londolozi..I am still enjoying all the blogs years after our trip..I do hope to return..

Kim Drake

Happy New Year Jennifer – hopefully you’ll enjoy our lovely upcoming blogs in 2018, and hopefully we’ll see you soon!

Lucie Easley

Thanks, Kim, for this interesting history of the use of Champagne. Happy New Year to all of you at Londolozi.

Kim Drake

One of the things I love most about wine is the history and stories behind it – Happy New Year Lucie!

Joanne Wadsworth

Why am I not surprised….Londolozi is First Class all the way! Raising my own glass of champagne this evening and while toasting in the New Year, I will also lift my glass to each of you with wishes that 2018 holds nothing but good things in 2018!

Kim Drake

Cheers to that Joanne, Happy New Year!

Gemma Kemps

Happy New Year Kim!! Thank you for the great blog. I wish you and all of the Londolozi staff a safe and loving 2018!

Kim Drake

Happy New Year Gemma!

Michael & Terri Klauber

Kim, Beautifully written and informative! There are lots of bottles popping here tonight too! I reminded in lore of the famous quote that the blind monk Dom Perignon said when he had perfected his Champagne process. He was heard saying “I am drinking stars in my wine!” – how perfect a description of this heavenly beverage! We think of Londolozi daily and are wishing all of our “family” there a fabulous 2018!!!!

Kim Drake

Thanks Michael & Terri – I saw some of the pics from Sarasota last night and the event looked stunning! “I am drinking stars in my wine” – the best description for those beautifully crafted bubbles! Happy New Year!

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