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. 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].

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.

Champagne Region

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 Reims area of France at that time.

Champagne wine at this time was nothing like the wine of today, it was a murky, still red wine. Because of Champagne’s cold climate the grapes often didn’t ripen all the way, so the red wine produced was acidic and only lightly colored. The wine would also not always finish fermenting before the cold weather arrived. These cold temperatures would stop the fermentation. So the monks unaware the wine had not fully fermented would bottle the wine. Then in the spring as temperatures increased the fermentation would start again producing carbon dioxide in the bottles. This gas would build pressure in the bottles, causing some to burst. The ones that didn’t burst were often discovered to be bubbly. At this time many monks were actively trying to find ways keep the bubbles out of their wines.

The Profile and Contributions of Dom Pérignon

Dom Pérignon’s name is almost synonymous with Champagne. 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].

French Wine History

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.

Want to read more about Champagne Region? Try these books!

Champagne [Boxed Book & Map Set]- The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region Super Cheap Champagne Region Travel Guide 2021- How to Enjoy a $1,000 Trip to The Champagne Region for $140

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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