Although it’s hard to imagine now, the appearance of bubbles in wine used to be considered a major flaw. Dom Pierre Pérignon, a 17th century Benedictine monk who devoted his life to improving wine making, served as cellar master to the Abbey of Hautvillers near Épernay.
Contrary to popular opinion, he didn’t invent sparkling wine, nor was he the first to make champagne. Quite the opposite! He worked hard to prevent secondary fermentation in the bottle which was seen as a fault and very likely to break the wine bottles. Which is a pity, because the story that he accidentally invented champagne and then yelled “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars,” has a nice ring to it. Apparently, this quote first appeared in a print ad in the 1800s, long after the good Dom’s death.
Another likely untrue story about Dom Pérignon is that he was blind. He was said to have an excellent nose and prior to blending he would taste the grapes without knowing the source vineyard to avoid influencing his perceptions. References to this “blind tasting” are believed to have led to the possible misconception that he was blind. In the same vein, Dom Pérignon was said to have been able to name the precise vineyard by tasting a single grape!
Some of these rumours were apparently encouraged, if not actually created, by one of his successors at the Abbey of Hautvillers, Dom Groussard, who was keen to enhance the historical importance and prestige of the Abbey.
While there is much debate about the stories, there is no dispute about the enormous contribution Dom Pérignon made to champagne. He can be credited for developing the technique that finally produced a successful white wine from red wine grapes, something vintners had been trying to accomplish for years. A major step toward the development of champagne.
He also established many of the fundamental practices of vineyard management that remain in use today:
- Using only the best grapes and discarding those that are damaged
- Pruning vines in the spring to avoid overproduction
- Picking in the cool temperatures of the morning and;
- Keeping the juices from each pressing separate.
Regardless of the embellishments, we owe a lot to Dom Perignon and I for one am grateful to him every time I drink the stars!