When one thinks about the discovery and popularity of Champagne, naturally, the name of Dom Perignon comes into mind. He is highly regarded and even idolised by the French wine-loving population for his contribution and promotion of Champagne during a time when there were only still and red wines.
However, digging deep into Champagne history, it is revealed this may not be entirely true. Two versions of the story negate Dom Perignon’s contribution to Champagne.
The Accidental Version
Historical records suggest that the sparkling version of Champagne wine was accidentally discovered in the Champagne region of France. At that time, Champagne winemakers were trying to make a red wine to compete with Burgundy reds. However, they were unable to do so because the cold winters in Champagne region caused the wine in the cellars to stop fermentation process before the fermentation naturally finished.
Some of the winemakers observed that in the warm spring season, yeast cells awoke again from their cold-induced sleep, causing the fermentation to restart. By this point the wine had already been bottled, so this fermentation was happening inside a sealed bottle. The fermentation produces carbon dioxide which created bubbles in the wine while also building pressure in the bottles. This would cause some of the bottles to spontaneously explode, but the bottles that survived contained a sparkling wine. It is thought that Dom Perignon spent much of his time trying to make his wine still rather than sparkling.
However eventually the sparkling version became accepted and popular. And was eventually introduced to the rich and famous around 1715 by the Duke of Orléans.
The Englishman Version
One of the many different stories that negate monk Dom Pérignon’s contribution to the invention the Champagne is the English version. This version of the story describes that an Englishman had already produced sparkling wine before Dom Pérignon tried to eliminate the bubbles in the wine. The bottles would break under the pressure of the second fermentation.
In 1662, an English physician and naturalist Christopher Merrett documented the “méthode champenoise”, or method for making sparkling wine. To give English wines a bubbly feature, Winchcombe-born Merrett described adding sugar to wines in a paper he wrote and presented to the newly formed Royal Society.
So then, why is Dom Perignon wrongly attributed by the French? One would say that Dom Perignon symbolises luxury and culture. In addition, Dom Pérignon was very influential to the production of wines in the Champagne region in 1668.