Why Champagne Brands Are Aligning Themselves With Art Fairs

The nouveau look: Shopping for art with a glass of the best bubbly in hand.
June 29, 2019, 11:30 AM UTC
Frieze LA
Frieze launched its newest annual contemporary art fair in Los Angeles in February 2019.
Michael Kovac

Upon entrance to The Armory Show in New York City, an art fair showcasing 20th- and 21st-century works, guests were immediately greeted by a massive bar pouring Pommery Brut Royal Champagne. In the middle of the lounge sat a towering blue sculpture by conceptual artist Ryan Gander, the inaugural winner of the Pommery Prize for large-scale sculpture. Guests could grab a glass and ponder the piece, sit and chat on cozy couches, or wander through the wares of dozens of galleries set up at Manhattan’s Piers 92 and 94 in March of this year. In the VIP lounge, magnums of the brand’s 2002 vintage Champagne were available.

Partnering with the fair and establishing an artistic prize was the brainchild of Pommery’s CEO Nathalie Vranken. While Vranken is a personal supporter of the arts, she also wanted to recognize Pommery’s history of collecting art since its inception with Madame Pommery in the 1800s.

It’s also convenient that the nearly 65,000 guests to The Armory Show were there to shop. Artworks typically sell for anywhere from $5,000 to several millions. If a consumer has that sort of disposable income, they can likely afford Champagne—especially from a brand with a similar customer base.

Ryan Gander
Het Spel (My neotonic ovoid contribution to Modernism) (2019), the inaugural Pommery Prize–winning sculpture from British artist Ryan Gander.Tiffany Loria/@NYCFoodPhoto
Tiffany Loria/@NYCFoodPhoto

Luxury retail has long known that a glass of wine elevates the shopping experience—and just may lower inhibitions enough for a guest to drop the credit card. Stop in any shop along New York’s Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and you’ll be greeted with a flute and a smile. Attending an art fair—such as The Armory Show, Art Basel in Switzerland or Miami Beach, or Salone del Mobile.Milano in Milan—is now no different. Gallerists arrive in hopes of promoting their artists and selling works, and art buyers and collectors clog the room on the hunt for the next addition to their halls. It’s obvious, then, that alcohol would be involved, but the difference is that the galleries aren’t supplying the drinks.

Champagne brands are sponsoring these massive events to reach a similar customer demographic: discerning consumers who appreciate the arts, but also have the liquidity to purchase thousands of dollars of art and high-end wine.

“Art collectors are passionate about aesthetics and discovering new artworks and artists,” says Fabien Vallerian, the international communications director for Champagne Ruinart. “Their lifestyle is about this curiosity and a real hedonist research. They always want the best experience and the highest quality.”

Ruinart’s Champagne lounge at Art Basel Miami Beach.Ryan Troy
Ryan Troy

Ruinart started partnering with art fairs 12 years ago, and currently collaborates with more than 30 events around the world, from Miami to Dubai to Hong Kong. Beyond Art Basel, some of the major art-circuit shows the Champagne house sponsors include Frieze New York, La Biennale Paris, Photo London, and the Tokyo International Art Fair.

It originally stemmed from the French brand’s nearly 300 years of history in the arts. The Ruinart family collected art but also commissioned pieces, including a historic piece by Alphonse Mucha that ignited the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the century. Partnering with art organizations in the present day feels like a natural extension of the brand, Vallerian explains, and has allowed the Ruinart team to connect with their consumers in the “right places.”

“Many fairgoers look forward to [enjoying] their favorite glass of Ruinart at the fairs,” Vallerian says. “It provides familiarity.” Ruinart typically brings pours of its Blanc de Blancs and Rosé Champagne, available by the glass or the bottle.

A guest sips Ruinart’s Rosé Champagne at the Frieze New York art show.Edison Koo
Edison Koo

Beyond reconnecting with loyal customers, it’s also about seeking out new ones. Art Basel in Switzerland, for instance, brought together 95,000 guests over six days for the event last June; the Miami Beach edition had 83,000 people crowd the 500,000 square feet of the Miami Beach Convention Center in December 2018. Beyond the daytime perusing, there are parties, dinner events, and, of course, the Miami nightlife. Though Art Basel doesn’t release its specific demographics, Vallerian notes that guests can range in age from 30 to 60. The common denominator is that the guests all share an interest in culture, which extends to the epicurean world as well. A person with a well-curated eye will likely also have a highly developed sense of taste; the ability to decipher tasting notes is not all that different from turning a critical eye toward a piece of art.

“Supporting art fairs is also a way for us to reach a wider audience and tell the story of Ruinart,” says Vallerian. “Champagne offers another look at artistic mastery: developing a cuvée or blending grape varieties is a world of art in and of itself.”

The Frieze Los Angeles Lounge, sponsored by Ruinart.Michael Kovac
Michael Kovac

The idea is expanding to other wine regions as well. Ca’ del Bosco, a sparkling wine brand from Franciacorta, a region in northern Italy, sponsors the nearby Salone del Mobile.Milano in Milan, as well as the Salone’s editions in Moscow and Shanghai. The brand pours their Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige and Franciacorta Annamaria Clementi. Both wines are made with the same method as Champagne and include the same grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Essentially it is Italy’s version of the French sparkling wine. And for an Italian art fair, it’s the perfect accompaniment. And Ca’ del Bosco has personal connections to the arts as well. The winery houses a massive sculptural and photographic collection. In fact, some sculptures even hang from the ceiling above the fermentation tanks.

“Through the Salone del Mobile.Milano, we got in contact with an amazing international, high-profile target, which pushes us every year to continue to invest in this sector,” says Maurizio Zanella, chairman of Ca’ del Bosco. “The link between our world and the design world is very close.”

Zanella admits that gauging the return on investment can be challenging to put into hard sales numbers, but anecdotally, he knows that customers seek them out each year at the fair. “After six years, we have noticed that loyal clients come back and look for us at our wine bar at the Salone del Mobile.Milano,” says Zanella. “I think those who appreciate Italian design, craftsmanship, and style are naturally and instinctively passionate about the best of Italian bubbles.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Vranken, who says that it’s a commitment to be a part of an international art fair. While it may not directly correlate to sales, it does say something about brand loyalty. So much so that it leads to what Vallerian identifies as one of Ruinart’s biggest challenges in sponsoring art fairs: “Ensuring there is enough Champagne for everyone to toast with!”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Alcohol-free bars caught on in the U.S. and U.K. But can they go global?

Gin sales are booming and it could be thanks to the growing plant craze

—Know what to look for to find a great rosé

—The 6 most interesting new whiskies you should be drinking right now

—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

Follow Fortune on Flipboard to stay up-to-date on the latest news and analysis.