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The legendary monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715) of the Benedictine order (with the same dates of birth as King Louis XIV) joined the Abbaye Saint Pierre d'Hautvillers in 1668 in the function of cellerar. This abbey was located in the Département Marne, the core area of Champagne, in the middle of vineyards on a hill near Paris. Due to its central location, the abbey and the vineyards around it were repeatedly the victims of devastation and destruction by armies marching through. Two decades before Pérignon's entry, the Thirty Years' War had come to an end, bringing about a decline in viticulture not only in France but throughout Europe, from which many areas have still not recovered. But it was precisely at this time that the great upsurge of Champagne as a very special wine-growing region began. The area of Aÿ, still the most famous wine town in the region today, was already at that time considered the abbreviation for excellent wines and was used as a synonym for high quality for the whole region

Abbaye Saint Pierre d’Hautvillers - Champagne

The invention of champagne is often attributed to the well-read and educated Dom Pérignon, whose statuette stands in the head office of Moët et Chandon in Épernay. But this is only one of the many legends surrounding him. Other parts of France and Spain also claim this invention, and in fact sparkling wine was already available long before champagne. Already in 1531, the Blanquette de Limoux was mentioned in a document. In France, intensive research was carried out to determine the point at which a sparkling drink, i.e. champagne, was deliberately produced and the result is dated to the middle of the 17th century. This was achieved by adding sugar during bottling, which led to secondary fermentation in the bottle and thus to the famous pearls. It is not known whether at all - and if so, when - Pérignon specifically engaged in the production of sparkling wine. The fact that he was the first to make champagne foam is therefore to be assigned to the realm of fable. But he is undisputed as the inventor of the assemblage, the artful blending of vintages, vineyards and grape varieties.

Pérignon - Relief in Abbaye Saint Pierre d’Hautvillers und Statue in Épernay

Almost forgotten is the monk Jean Oudart (1654-1742), who was cellarmaster of the Hautvillers subordinate abbey of Saint-Pierre aux Monts de Châlons. He worked closely with Dom Pérignon and after his death he made an important contribution to the champagne process. Pérignon increasingly turned to viticulture, studying the pruning of the vines and making experiments in pressing and pruning. The vines were cut back sharply, so that they yielded less. He only used dark grapes, as the white ones did not have enough flavour and tended to ferment in the spring. The grapes were harvested only in the early morning, in cold weather. All damaged or rotten berries, leaves and other impurities were removed and only flat wine baskets were used for picking. The grapes were kept cool and pressed as quickly as possible. Even before pressing, Pérignon mixed the grapes according to their degree of ripeness, taste and vineyard location. He rejected the usual crushing, which was common until then, because it added too many colourings to the must. He therefore developed a special press with which the grapes were gently pressed.

As an opponent of barrel storage, he introduced early bottling. He was confronted with the problem of secondary fermentation and thus a "sparkling wine". Therefore, Pérignon replaced the traditional hemp-wrapped wooden bottle stoppers with corks, which was a novelty at that time. These withstood the pressure in the bottle better. He fought the problem of foaming by taking appropriate measures, because he wanted to make a still wine. Due to the northern exposure, the grapes in Champagne rarely reach full ripeness and therefore there are different qualities. This was one more reason for Pérignon to compensate for this by artful blending of different sites and vintages. Even then, mainly red grape varieties were cultivated. However, the only pale reddish red wines were not of sufficient quality.

Pérignon succeeded in making white wine from it through various measures, which means that he can be considered the "inventor" of the Blanc de noirs. The monk, who became blind and ascetic at an early age, lived only on cheese and fruit, never drank wine himself and recognised every vineyard site by the taste of a single grape. As the saying "I drink stars" also comes from him, this is questionable, as he had to taste his products. Incidentally, Dom Pérignon is the originator of the 0.7 litre bottle, which was widely used until the 1970s and which he calculated as the average amount for male adults at dinner. The former abbey of Hautvillers, together with the surrounding vineyards, was bought in 1794 by Jean-Remy Moët (1758-1841), who founded a winery from it. This still belongs to the Champagne House, renamed Moët et Chandon in 1832. Of the former monastery, only the abbey church of Saint-Sidulphe, renovated in the 17th century, remains today. The church contains the tomb of Dom Pérignon. The cuvée de prestige of the house has borne the name "Dom Pérignon" since the 1921 vintage.

Abbaye St. Pierre: From October Ends - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Relief Pérignon: Blog Brigitte Rebollar
Statue in Épernay: From victorgrigas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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