Illustration from the back of the 1925 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue.

In order to drink wine in the nineteenth century and during the reign of Louis XVIII (monarch of the House of Bourbon, King of France 1814 – 1824), one had to drink it on the spot in cabarets or wine shops. To drink wine at home, the option was to buy a barrel of wine from a merchant. A man named Louis Nicolas, created the concept of bottled wine that transformed the habits of consumption.

Louis Nicolas founded Maison Nicolas (Nicolas House) in 1822 and has the distinction of being the first wine retailer in France. His first wine cellar shop, or cavistes (Fr. term) was opened on the Ile Saint Louis in Paris at 53 rue Sainte-Anne and two other Nicholas shops were opened that same year.

Louis Nicolas was definitely a pioneer in selling wine; he was also known as the “father of food preservation” as he sold food products in packaging to his customers. He had the distinction of being one of the best wine merchants in France as he provided a consistent quality at a reasonable price. We are not sure when the first “Liste des Grands Vins Fins” (List of the Great Wines of France) was first available.

As a celebration of 100 years in business, Maison Nicolas created an advertising campaign using a logo or emblem for their company. A frail deliveryman with a mustache and wide eyes, loaded with bottles in each hand was the Maison Nicolas logo. So, beginning in 1922, films, posters and the annual catalogue presented “Nectar”, the fictional deliveryman, or livreur. “Nectar” carried 32 bottles using both hands. Not long after “Nectar” was created, his helper, “Glou-Glou” was introduced. From that date on, any chosen artist who illustrated the annual “Liste des Grands Vins Fins” catalogue had to include “Nectar” in their artwork. Between 1922 and 1975, some of the most famous French illustrators competed to reinvent this character. Between these years Maison Nicolas owners commissioned artists to illustrate the annual catalogues providing a synergy between wine and art. Because of the fine art used in the content of their annual catalogues, these historic catalogues are highly collected and valuable. As of 2018, Maison Nicolas has approximately 500 stores in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and Poland.

Maison Nicolas merchants were known for being the first:

  • to sell wine in bottles (1822)
  • to provide home delivery (1840)
  • to use advertising cartoons (1921)
  • to propose the scale of Beaujolais Nouveau (1966)
  • to have the availability of fresh wines (1988)
  • to have ice service (2012)
The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County currently has in their collection five of the Maison Nicolas catalogues. Four of these catalogues are from between the 1928 and 1973 timeframe when the commissioned artists were featured. The French contemporary artists included for these catalogues include: Charles Loupot (1928), Paul Iribe (1930), Bernard Buffet (1963), Andre Derain (1972).

1925 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue

4¾” wide x 8¼” high

Published prior to commissioned artists this smaller catalogue features the embossed initials of Louis Nicolas.

1928 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue

5¼” wide x 12½” high

Commissioned artist Charles Loupot (1892 – 1962) was a French graphic artist, lithographer, and graphic designer. He was a major creator of posters during the period of the two World Wars (WWI, WWII) and created more than 60 poster projects for Swiss printers between 1917 and 1923.

1930 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue

7¼” wide x 9½” high

Commissioned artist Paul Iribe (1883–1935) was a French illustrator, jewelry designer, costume designer, and designer in decorative arts. He contributed to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, participated in the development of journal and poster art, and was Coco Chanel’s lover from 1931 to his death.

This Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue was printed by Draeger, a French art printer.

Draeger was a French art printer and publisher of typographic design that focused on pictorial works, biography, periodicals, history and catalogs. The company was established August 13, 1886 by Charles Draeger (1844-1899) and originally equipped with steam typographic presses. After his death, his wife changed the name to Draeger Fréres (Draeger Brothers), switched to electricity for the presses. The Draeger family (sons and brothers) controlled printing and produced some of the most esteemed French advertising. They created the Draeger Process 301, which transformed printing. It allowed for the reproduction of vibrant objects in color from three films (yellow, red, blue) and the ability to replicate pieces of art with reliability.

1963 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue

9” wide x 11½” high

Commissioned artist Bernard Buffet (1928–1999) was a French painter known for drawing and printmaking. His art was drawn in the Expressionist style, yet he was regarded by Picasso as a joke. Buffet was the most popular French artist of the 1950s, known as the “Modern Mega-Artist.”

1972 Nicolas House Annual Wine Catalogue

10½” wide x 12¾” high

Commissioned artist Andre Derain (1880–1954) was a French artist, painter, sculptor, writer, set designer, illustrator. The co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse, he had an interest in tribal art, primitive masks, and color. His efforts were also important to early Cubism.