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Dom Pierre Pérignon

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Dom Pierre Pérignon (circa 1638–1715) was a Benedictine monk frequently credited with the invention of champagne. The famous brand of champagne Dom Pérignon is named after him.

Pierre Pérignon was born to a clerk of a local judge in the town of Saint-Menehould in the Champagne region of France. When he was 19 he entered into the Benedictine, first serving at the Abbey of Saint-Vannes in the town of Verdun. In 1668, When he was just 28, he transferred to the Abbey of Hautvilliers near the town of Épernay. He served as celler master of the Abbey until his death in 1715. Under his stewardship, the Abbey flourished and double the size of its vineyard holding. As a sign of honor and respect, the Dom was buried in a section of the Abbey traditionally reserved for only abbots.

Influence of champagne production Edit

At his time, in-bottle refermentation that gives sparkle to sparkling wine was an enormous problem for winemakers. When the weather cooled off in the autumn, fermentation would sometimes keep fermentable sugars from being converted to alcohol. If the wine was bottled in this state, it became a literal time bomb. When the weather warmed in the spring, dormant yeast roused themselves and began generating carbon dioxide that would at best push the cork out of the bottle, and at worst explode, starting a chain reaction. Nearby bottles, also under pressure, would break from the shock of the first breakage, and so on, which was a hazard to employees and to that year's production. Dom Pérignon thus tried to avoid refermentation.

In 1718, Canon Godinot published a set of wine making rules that were said to be established by Dom Pérignon. Among these rules was the detail that fine wine should only be made from Pinot Noir. Pérignon was not fond of white grapes because of their tendency to enter refermentation. Other rules that Godinot included was Pérignon guidance to aggressively prune vines so that they grow no higher than three feet and a produce a small crop. Harvest should be done in cool, damp conditions such as early morning with every precaution being take to ensure that the grapes don't bruise or break. Rotten and overly large grapes were to be thrown out. Pérignon did not allow grapes to be treaded and favor the use of multiple presses to help minimize macerations of the juice and the skins.

Dom Pérignon was also an early advocate of organic winemaking using only natural process without the addition of foreign substances.

Misconception and myth Edit

The quote attributed to him: "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!", was supposedly what he said when tasting the first sparkling champagne. However, the first appearance of that quote appears to have been in a print advertisement in the late 1800s by the producer of Dom Pérignon Champagne. While the Dom did work tirelessly and successfully to improve the quality and renown of the still wines of the Champagne, he did not invent sparkling wine, nor was he the first to make champagne. Indeed he worked hard to prevent a secondary fermentation which was seen as a fault and most likely to break the wine bottles. New documentary evidence suggests that a fizzy or sparkling wine was first made in England at least several decades before it was produced in France.

A major proponent of the misconceptions surrounding Dom Pérignon came from one of his successors at the Abbey of Hautvillers, Dom Groussard, who in 1821 gave an account of Dom Pérignon "inventing" champagne among other exaggerated tales about the Abbey in order to garner historical importance and prestige for the church. The myths about Pérignon being the first to use corks and being able to name the precise vineyard by tasting a single grape likely originated from Groussard's account.

Prior to blending he would taste the grapes without knowing the source vineyard to avoid influencing his perceptions. References to his "blind tasting of wine" have led to the common misconception that Dom Pérignon was blind. It seems that he did have a serious problem with his vision at one stage in his life but this healed in due course.

Contrary to popular belief, Dom Pérignon did not introduce blending to Champagne wines but rather the innovation of blending the grapes prior to sending them to press. However the first recorded production of bottle fermented sparkling wine is dated a century before Dom Perignon's birth, in 1531, at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire at Limoux in southern France. This abbey was also a Benedictine property and it may well be that Dom Perignon received some guidance from its winemaking techniques, but this is mere conjecture.

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