St Cross Alumnus Wins International Award for Champagne Book

St Cross alumnus Dr Graham Harding has won the 2022 OIV AWARD in the history category for his book Champagne in Britain, 1800-1914: How the British Transformed a French Luxury. 

Awarded by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine’s jury members, who are eminent personalities in the vitivinicultural field, the award recognises outstanding works of reference in 12 categories. 

I’m enormously pleased, of course. The OIV prize has been won in the past by important books and authors. But I also hope that it might inspire others who, like me, come to academia late in life, whether it’s to do a first – or a further – degree. It shows that it can be done. 

Dr Harding’s book delves deep into the history of champagne in Britain, chronicling the iconic drink’s role in forming the foundations of the luxury market and illustrating how the British fondness for this particular variety of wine enabled champagne to become a symbol of luxury and celebration. He was inspired to write the book because it gave him the opportunity to combine his interest in branding and strategy with his passion for wine and a lifelong love of history. 

champagne in britain

“When I realised there was not much academic work on the history of wine, that was the opening,” he says. “And – even at that very early stage – it was clear that if I was looking for wine, then the champagne trade was the place to look: the world’s biggest and first set of luxury brands conceived and managed as such.” 

In the book, Dr Harding examines how attitudes in London in the 1860s and 1870s mirror those that exist in present-day Silicon Valley – “We rule the world, we we’ve got the money, and we want the best” – and he explores how that outlook transformed the history of champagne. 

Dr Harding found the process of writing Champagne in Britain an incredibly rewarding experience that led to him being welcomed into a “fascinating” worldwide community of wine scholars, with many exciting projects to collaborate on. Meanwhile, from an academic perspective, he relished the opportunity to demonstrate how champagne developed the first real model of luxury marketing. 

“I was able to show that the luxury marketing ‘rules’ pronounced by today’s marketing academics and practitioners were being practised – almost to the letter – by (mostly) French marketing men living in London in the 1860s and 1870s,” he says. “Their insights laid the foundation for the brand names that still dominate the champagne trade today.” 

While the process was tremendously gratifying, it took a great deal of persistence and perseverance, particularly when reading some of the source material – a series of copies of 19th century letters that were made by pressing damp tissue paper onto handwritten originals to get a mirror image of the letter. The idea is that you can then reserve the sheet and read the letter from the other side. 

“Easier said than done!” Dr Harding says. “A faint image, unfamiliar handwriting, and lots of business and winemaking jargon – all in French.” 

Dr Harding, who holds the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Diploma, regularly hosts wine tastings for the St Cross community as well as running an annual wine appreciation course, helping College members to gain a greater understanding of what they like and why. 

He is also responsible for the St Cross cellar – both buying wine for the College and programming the wines to match our Kitchen Team’s wonderful food.