Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Origin of the Champagne

According to legend, the development of Champagne came about thanks to a 17th century monk, Dom Pérignon. It was through his inventiveness and his refinement of taste that the men of Champagne learned to belend their wines and give them a delicacy that they had never had before. Add to this the know-how and perseverance of the great landowners, who wanted their wines to compete with, and outstrip, those of Beaune, and the wines of Champagne were on their way to becoming the wines we know today.
Of Dom Pérignon, Champagne´s inventor, there remains but one memoire, written by his pupil and successor, Brother Pierre of the Abbey of Hautvilliers. The title of his treatise, Of the Culture of Champagne Vines Located at Hautvilliers, Cumieres, Ay, Epernay, Pierry, and Vinay, gives an idea of the extent of the abbey´s holding, and thus of its wealth and influence. The chronicle tells of the founding of the abbey:
¨Toward the middle of the 7th century, if one believes in tradition, St. Nivard, Bishop of Reims, and his nephew, Berchier, planned to found a monastery on the banks of the river Marne. The walk was long, the day was hot, and the two holy men were tired. They sat down and St. Nivard promptly went to sleep. He saw then, in a dream, a dove flying away and sitting on a tree –and St. Berchier saw the same dove, though he remained awake.¨ This was a good omen, and the two saints selected this place as the site for their new abbey, which was to become famous as the Abbey of Hautvilliers.
The fame it ows to Dom Pérignon, whose religious superior wrote: ¨This precious man is forever dear to the land of Champagne for having made wines reach the degree of delicacy, of reputation and of vogue, where we see them to be now, and dear to France herself for having so spread this first branch of her trade, and so increased her wealth.¨ Other writers even claim that the use of cork in closing the bottle, wine making in cool cellars, the shape of the bottles, the tying of the cork, and the long tulip-shaped crystal glass –the flute- come from Dom Pérignon´s initiative.

 Frontispiece of the book Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines, by Henry Vizetelly. Image from Project

Alexander Dorzvnski, Bibiane Bell. The Wine Book. Wines and Wine Making Around the World. New York. 1969

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