During the second half of the 19th century, a new wine claiming to heal whatever ailed you and provide the energy boost needed to get through a day’s honest work took the United States and Europe by storm. Among the elixirs biggest fans were Thomas Edison, Ulysses S. Grant, Queen Victoria, and even the pope.

“Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” – 1 Timothy 5:23

In 1863, French chemist Angelo Mariani became intrigued with the leaves of the coca plant and the effects they had on those who consumed them. Interested in the economic potential, he invented Vin Mariani, a tonic mixture of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. The alcohol of the wine acted as a solvent to extract the cocaine from the coca leaves, producing a strong drink containing up to 7.2 milligrams of cocaine per ounce.

In efforts to advertise his new concoction, he had posters printed up, newspaper ads ran across the world, and a case sent to every famous person he could think of. While celebrity endorsements are seen as a banal marking technique today, it was groundbreaking during his time. Many extolled the virtues of his drink, but his most glowing endorsement came from none other than the pope himself.

His Holiness Pope Leo XIII enjoyed the invigorating effects of the wine and coca leave mixture so much, he carried Vin Mariani “in a personal hip flask to fortify himself in those moments when prayer was insufficient.” Pope Leo XIII appeared on posters advertising it, even awarding it a Vatican gold medal.

A poster with Pope Leo XIII’s endorsement of Vin Mariani.

Leo’s successor, Pope Saint Pius X was also known to indulge and drink Vin Mariani.

A Vatican gold medal awarded to Angelo Mariani for his wine.

Interestingly enough, if it weren’t for the popularity of Vin Mariani afforded by the pope’s glowing endorsements, we might never have had one of the most popular soft drinks today – Coca Cola. John Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia created his own competitor to Vin Mariani in 1885 called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Later that year when Atlanta passed prohibition legislation, he responded by creating a carbonated non-alcoholic version of the drink: Coca Cola.

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