The Profile of Monasticism in the Development of the Champagne Region

This article will outline the role of monasticism in the development of the Champagne area by studying Dom Pérignon, a notable monk who contributed significantly to the region’s development.

A Short Description of the Region

As of today, Champagne covers the northeastern region of France, a historical and cultural territory that has been there for centuries. Most historians agree that the Romans were the first to plant vines in the Champagne region. Champagne may have gotten its name from the Latin term Campania, which means “land of plains” in English. In the 10th Century, Troyes and Meaux, two Vermandois-controlled counties, were combined to form what is today known as Champagne, France’s first political entity. As early as the 11th Century, Champagne was held by the Counts of Blois and Chartres[1].

Champagne wine has been around for roughly 7,000 years, about the same length of time that humans have been producing wine. Many people credit Dom Pérignon, a cellar master at Hautvillers Abbey, with improving the method for eliminating hazy bubbles from sparkling wine. As a result of the revolution at France’s Rheims Abbey, the area and the sparkling wine itself would be forever altered.

green grapes on tree

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The Long Road to Perfection

In the first century CE, the Romans transported the Champagne grape to the northern parts of Gaul. Because of their prior experience as viticulturists, they knew that adjusting the climate and soil conditions might significantly impact the quality of the resulting wines. Champagne grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France, which has a cold climate.

Champagne’s ascent to global prominence may be attributed to the annual trade fairs held in the region starting in the 13th century. To encourage people to attend these lengthy trade shows, the Champagne aristocracy subsidized them financially and provided other incentives. These individuals encouraged English, Spanish, and Italian businesses to import Champagne to new markets. Vines had taken over much of the land in the Rheims area of France at that time.

Despite its worldwide appeal, Champagne wine was still the same murky beverage. It was necessary to utilize multiple methods to clarify the wine since the environment in Champagne is favorable for cultivating dark grapes that only slightly color the wine. Cultivating dark-colored grapes in Champagne is also feasible because of the favorable environment. They tried to generate sparkling wines on purpose rather than the primarily accidental production that occurred when winemakers attempted to manufacture sparkling wine. Instead of developing still wines, winemakers are now making sparkling wines as a byproduct. To prevent carbonation in the finished product, red wine must be bottled before fermentation is complete. Among the Hautvillers monks, Dom Pérignon, one of the world’s most famous winemakers, was the first to mix the two processes[2].

The Profile and Contributions of Dom Pérignon

Since he was the first to introduce Champagne to the world, Dom Pérignon’s name is synonymous with the beverage. It is a shame because the mythology surrounding him obscured the achievements of others who came before him and those who lived and worked at the same time. It has been up to Moet & Chandon to take care of this monk’s storied legacy since they bought the Hautvillers Abbey in 1823. It was not long before Pérignon profoundly affected the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Vanne when he came there in 1658.

For over half a century, “vins de Pérignon” was the term given to wine produced by this meticulous monk at Hautvillers Abbey.

Champagne Region

Figure 2. Dom Pérignon

For Dom Pérignon, mixing wines from a broad range of vineyards into one unique and consistent blend was an art form he excelled at. In the labor-intensive process of making Champagne, Dom Pérignon was a master at wine blending, which is still a vital stage and is frequently considered the most crucial step in the production of good wine. Because of this, it is possible that he was not the first person to make natural sparkling wine[3].

However, Monk’s assistance in speeding the process toward the beverage we know today, even though it was his duty to remove the bubbles that were not wanted in red wine, was welcomed by many people. In a dissertation, he claimed credit for creating the first authentic still red wine. While this may be his most notable accomplishment, he was also responsible for inventing the classic champagne press. The wine’s clarity improved significantly because the skins were not in contact with the juice for as long[4].

Cork stoppers were an essential alternative for Dom Pérignon, who opted to return to using them. Cork stoppers have replaced wooden and hemp plugs in the past because they provide a superior seal. Because of this, the wine’s signature sparkle was diminished, and the quantity of carbon dioxide was lost[5].

Because of the high temperatures in the cellar and the pressure created by fermentation, fewer of the English glass bottles he used were likely to burst. His ability to brew crystal-clear white wine from black grapes was the most significant of his accomplishments. This was the last of his successes, but it was by no means the least[6].

The Champagne: Dom Pierre Perignon

This Day in Wine History

14 September 1715: France’s Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Pérignon died in the village of Hautvillers[7]. He substantially improved the production and quality of Champagne wine in an era when most of the region’s wines were still red. Early in Champagne’s history, this Monk had a significant impact on the popularization of Champagne around the world.

References

[1] Mark Cartwright, “The History of Champagne,” World History Encyclopedia, December 22, 2021.

[2] “The Catholic Roots of the ‘Italian Champagne,’” Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture, January 5, 2022

[3] Metanexus, “Medieval Monasticism as Preserver of Western Civilization – Metanexus,” Metanexus, May 31, 2008

[4] “The Early Middle Ages – Union Des Maisons de Champagne,” Maisons-champagne.com, 2022

[5] “The Catholic Roots of the ‘Italian Champagne,’” Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture, January 5, 2022

[6] Metanexus, “Medieval Monasticism as Preserver of Western Civilization – Metanexus,” Metanexus, May 31, 2008

[7] “The Early Middle Ages – Union Des Maisons de Champagne,” Maisons-champagne.com, 2022

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