Period: 1874

Smith’s visionary idea: Champagne for the masses

In the 1870s, L.O. Smith’s budget champagne called Gulddroppen had a lot of attention. Were the people of Sweden ready for a “sparkling wine for the masses”?

Through the company Vin & Spirituosa AB, L.O. Smith imported and sold his own selection of champagnes, including Gulddroppen. They were sold at half price compared to more exclusive brands – but were just as good, as he was often quick to point out.

In French, the word for “Gulddroppen” (which means “the gold drop” in English) is “Goutte d’Or”. The phrase can be traced back to the name of a French vineyard from 1474. Since then, it has appeared in many places. A street and a district in Paris are both named Goutte d’Or. In the middle of the 19th century, the name was also used by the champagne house Koch.

L.O. Smith used advertising to challenge several of the great champagne houses. He accused them of being shamelessly overpriced and of misleading competing companies. Some companies were engaged in a price war, including the related family businesses G. H. Mumm & Co. and Jules Mumm & Co. According to L.O. Smith, a reputable brand is by no means a guarantee for decent quality in relation to the price.

On January 28 1874, Smith voiced his opinion in the national newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Although Jules Mumm & Co.’s champagne was cheaper than that from GH Mumm & Co, he informed the readers, it was still ”of such ordinary character that it was comparable to the champagne that we used to sell under the name Goutte d’Or (Gulddroppen) at almost half the price, or 2 ¾ Swedish krona per bottle, and which according to several sommeliers is superior, and whoever wishes to compare the two, will find out for himself.”

Adverts from the 1870s show that the affordable Gold Drop champagne was sold for three Swedish kronor per bottle. The people of Sweden, however, were used to strong liquor. The time was simply not ripe for Smith’s idea of a budget champagne. The Swedes rather bought spirits for 70 cent per liter.

As the consumption of affordable Champagne has decreased significantly this year, we have decided to sell our stock of Guldlejon, Gulddroppen and Guldkronan champagne tax free at 1 ½ Swedish krona per bottle, and original crates of 30 or 60 bottles will be bought at the original cost price.

In early January 1878, Smith’s patience had run out. In an advert, Vin- & Spirituosa AB announced that the company would release the remaining stock: ”As the consumption of affordable Champagne has decreased significantly this year, we have decided to sell our stock of Guldlejon, Gulddroppen and Guldkronan tax free at 1 ½ Swedish krona per bottle, and original crates with 30 or 60 bottles will be bought at the original cost price.”

The advert assured that the price had been reduced simply to ensure a quick sale and did not reflect inferior quality. In spring 1878, a large wine auction took place at the Stockholm island of Reimersholme. The auction attracted eager traders who hoped to lay their hands on some fine wines at bargain prices.

L.O. Smith’s attempt to create a buzz around champagne in Sweden had failed. In hindsight, it is clear that he was more than a hundred years ahead of his time. It is also likely that his efforts planted a seed for future generations. At the beginning of the 20th century, the idea behind Gulddroppen was revived through Pommac and Champis, two soft drinks created to resemble champagne.

Today, champagne and sparkling wine are natural choices for Swedes who want to add a festive touch to any event. In the thirty years between 1986 and 2016, sales at Sweden’s Systembolaget liquor stores have increased by 380 percent. We now enjoy a glass of bubbly any time of year, not just for New Year’s and other special occasions.