In 1863, an obscure chemist named Angelo Mariani from Corsica arrived in Paris. Coming from a long line of doctors and chemists, Mariani set up shop in a modest Parisian quarter and began unlocking the secrets of Erythroxylum coca, the Andean coca leaf, then a legal drug.
Three years later, at age 25, Mariani had mastered the art of extracting cocaine and blending it with wine. Delighted with the results of his experiments, he launched Vin Mariani two years later.
The Start of Vin Mariani (Cocaine Wine)
With Marie-Anne, his wife and an assistant chemist, Mariani invested in a barrel of Bordeaux and bought several kilos of Peruvian coca leaves of three different varieties. He then rented a shop facing the opera house.
Singers, actors, and literati all enjoyed Mariani's shop. Artist Louis Vallet created prints and posters for the public eye. Once Mariani's domestic sales skyrocketed, he began to explore overseas markets.
Mariani adapted his elixir for foreign sales and upgraded it from 6 grams to 7.2 grams per ounce. In 1880, Mariani opened a successful New York and constructed a massive factory on the outskirts of Paris. The sprawling complex included two greenhouses, workshops, warehouses and a new home for Mariani.
Mariani's name was now a household word. Among his followers were none other than Queen Victoria, Sarah Bernhardt, Émile Zola, Thomas Edison, Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, President William McKinley, composer Charles Gounod and Robert Louis Stevenson, whose dark tale of Jekyll and Hyde was largely inspired by the author's experiences with coca wine.
Pope Leo XIII even awarded Mariani a gold medal and permitted him free use of his image in advertising.
Vin Mariani to Coca-Cola
Now established, Vin Mariani imitators started to appear. One was named Colonel John Pemberton, a Georgia native. Pemberton became addicted to morphine after suffering battlefield injuries during the Civil War. With severe and constant pain, he found relief in morphine.
Pemberton, a doctor and a chemist, blended cocaine and wine to temper his dependency. In the process, he founded Pemberton's French Coca Wine in 1885, an American clone of Vin Mariani.
After a year, Colonel Pemberton removed the wine from his recipe to comply with state laws, and substituted carbonated water to introduce Coca-Cola, now one of the world's most popular soft drinks. Every bottle of Colonel Pemberton’s popular beverage contained 3.5 grams of cocaine until it was removed in 1930.
Vin Mariani Today
Shortly before World War I, Angela Mariani, died at age 76. After the founder’s death, Mariani's son, Jacques, continued his father's work until 1930 when many of its products fell to the wayside. Soon, Elixir Mariani was the company's sole offering. In 1954, the firm changed hands and sold Terpine Mariani, a cough medicine with 56 grams of cocaine per bottle until it was discontinued in 1965.
Few vestiges of Mariani’s legacy remain, but coca wine (and other coca consumables) are sold in of Latin America. Today, Bolivia's coca industry offers cocaine-infused wine such as Andante Vino de Coca, a Vin Mariani clone, and Coca-Cola rival that contains cocaine, Coca Colla, an energy drink and remedy for altitude sickness.
Before becoming Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales served as the General Secretary of the Cocalero Union of Bolivia's coca growers. As the nation's first indigenous president, Morales proclaimed, "I hope that the new pope will resume the use of Vin Mariani."