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The story of Dom Pérignon, Benedictine monk at Hautvillers Abbey

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Spiritual father of champagne.
Legend has it that this Benedictine monk was the brilliant inventor who first frothed the wines of Champagne and sparkled the little bubbles that, in our glasses or raised flutes, are the symbol of celebration, shared joy and the exaltation of victory from one end of the planet to the other.

That was nearly three centuries ago, and we're still not sure. Some dispute the exact role of Dom Pierre Pérignon in the "invention" of Champagne, as few documents survive and the legend is more recent than its hero.

We are, however, certain not only of his existence, but also of his exceptional talent as a manager and negotiator, which served his heavily indebted monastery well, and of his rare qualities as an oenologist before his time, at a time when everything was still left to empiricism.

As early as 1716, the man's surname was so closely associated with his wine that a hasty author, Claude Brossette, Boileau's commentator, listed the grands crus as the name of "one of the most famous Coteaux in the vicinity of Reims, which produce the Champagne wine [...] Pérignon, Sillery, Hautvillers, Aÿ, Taissy, Verzenay and Saint-Thierry".

More judicious in his praise, an anonymous author wrote in 1718 in a treatise on the Manière de cultiver la Vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins: " Dom Pérignon [...] Never has a man been more skilful at making wine; it is he who has put the wine of this abbey on the map.

As Dom Jean-Baptiste Grossard wrote more than a century after his death, did he have "the secret of making sparkling and non-sparkling white wine, and the means of clarifying it without having to unpack the bottles"?

Nevertheless, "secret" - even if it's no more than the discretion of a Benedictine monk who has left the world to devote himself to Opus Dei - is a mystery, and mystery leads to legend.

The child of Sainte-Menehould

Pierre Pérignon was born in late December 1638 or early January 1639 at Sainte-Menehould in Argonne, a stronghold on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine facing the Empire. He was baptized on January 5, 1639, as attested by his parish church register. Itstates that "this fifth was baptized Pierre Pérignon, son of Master Pierre Pérignon, Provost Clerk, and Marguerite Le Roy; godfather and godmother Pierre Joseph, Jeanne Pérignon".

The newborn belongs to a family of judicial officers about whom we have precise information. We know all the members by name, we have the address and even a description of the family home, which was destroyed by fire in 1719. This gives usas concrete a picture as possible of this family from the good urban bourgeoisie of Richelieu's France, living through the serious troubles of the French period (1635-1648) of the Thirty Years' War.

Little is known of her childhood, except that her father was in charge of the clerk's office at the Prévôté and that her mother came from the same background as her husband and enjoyed a certain personal affluence. Seven months after his birth, she died. Three years later, his father married Catherine Beuvillon, widow of a local merchant. The young boy undoubtedly enjoyed a happy childhood in a well-to-do family of seven children. His father and one of his paternal uncles owned vineyards, where he may have taken part in the grape harvest and learned how to care for the vines.

He entered the Jesuit College in Châlons-sur-Marne at the age of thirteen and a half, in October 1652, to study for his humanities, and left at eighteen to become a monk, thus forgoing the career as an officer of the law that awaited him. The Archives départementales de la Marne (notarial minutes of Sainte-Menehould) holds a will signed by Pierre Pérignon before a notary on May 3, 1657, in which he states his intention to enter religion, "for this purpose having the intention to join the order of the Reverend Benedictines and enter day after day the convent of Saint-Vanne in Verdun, in order to attend more carefully to the salvation of his soul and one day return it to God his Creator".

Of all the religious orders in the region available to him, the future novice chose the mother abbey of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint-Vanne et Saint-Hydulphe in Verdun, another French stronghold facing imperial lands. The choice of this abbey had a militant meaning: since the end of the Wars of Religion in the last years of the 16th century, it had been a very active center of the Counter-Reformation in Lorraine.

Ten years of religious and intellectual training followed for the young man, who took his vows as a monk in 1658 and was ordained a priest in 1667. What we do know,however, is the precise rule of life of these refounding monks, and the nature of the teachings they received.

Existing works on this period of Dom Pérignon 's life are full of pieusery: the call to God, rejection of the century, monastic asceticism, burial in prayer, it's all there. This pieuserie was perfectly conceivable in the 19th century: after all, it was the triumphant Catholic bourgeoisie after the Restoration that exhumed the character of Dom
Pérignon, who had been buried by the Revolution, to establish the Epinal image we know today. By contrast,it came as a surprise in 1968, when René Gandilhon's otherwise excellent book was published.

Far be it fromme to deny for a moment that the young man's entry into religion was not prompted by his faith, but I reject as anachronistic the idealistic discourse on his "vocation" and his "renunciation of the world". It is indeed because he believes in God that the young Pierre Pérignon takes the bure, but by doing so in the middle of a warring 17th century and in a fortress of the Counter-Reformation, he does not intend to "turn his back on the world", as the philosophers of the Enlightenment would reproach the monks a century later, but rather to take a personal part in "building the city of God on earth". As we shall see, his actions at Hautvillers Abbey are in themselves striking proof of the validity of this thesis.

Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers in 1668.

Around the middle of the 7th century, in the year 662 to be precise, according to tradition, Nivard, bishop of Reims, and his godson Berchaire conceived the project of building a monastery on the banks of the Marne, not far from the city of Épernay.
Here is the account given by the chronicler Flodoard, in his Histoire de l'Église de Reims:



One day, as Blessed Nivard was returning from Épemay (the town of Épemay had belonged to the city of Reims since it was acquired by Saint Remi in the time of Clovis), accompanied by his beloved Berchaire, he felt the need to rest for a moment on the slope of the hill he was climbing; from this enchanting spot, the view is immense and most magnificent.

As they sat down on the soft grass, the blessed man laid his head on Berchaire's lap and fell into a mysterious sleep: it seemed to him that a dove was flying around the forest, and that when it had completed its circle, it went to rest on a beech tree, that in its flight, this dove left flashes of light so pure and vivid that the whole forest was resplendent with it, then, with graceful, light flight, three times it renewed the mysterious orb, three times it rested on the beech tree, and finally, with rapid flight, it darted into both. Now, the same vision that Blessed Nivard had had in his dream, Berchaire also saw in his waking hours [...] Having both recounted their vision and the reflections it had secretly awakened in each of them, they believed that God was manifesting his will through the mysterious flight of the bird, and that this was where a monastery was to be built - none other than the famous Abbey of Hautvillers

In keeping with the custom of religious orders, the site combines calm and beauty, making it easier for the soul to perceive the divine message. Backing onto the forest, it overlooks the Marne River by some 80 meters, which enters the limestone cliffs of the Ile-de-France region through a sort of gorge after crossing the Châlons plain. From the terrace of what was once the convent's park, you can enjoy one of the finest views in Champagne. Beyond an amphitheatre of well-ordered vineyards, the river flows lazily through a lovely valley, bordered on the opposite side by the slopes of its left bank and, in a bluish mist, by the northern end of the Côte des Blancs. In the center lies the town of Épernay, some five kilometers away. The landscape is serene. As Jean-Paul Kauffmann writes in his remarkable Voyage en Champagne,

it's from this vantage point that the Champagne region best reveals the full sweep of its hillsides

adding that

seen from Hautvillers, the Champagne vineyards appear to be a world in order

In 1668, twelve monks toiled to restore an almost forgotten monastery.

A millennium separates the mysterious flight of its creation from its audacious modern reconstruction. Where Pierre Pérignon's life will be buried, this period of depth was an invisible but powerful spring in the evolution from champagne to champagne. That's because the monastery knew the power and influence of the Carolingian era until it was pardoned by Leo IV for hiding the precious remains of St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, the founder of official Christianity, who was condemned by Friar Theutgise His mausoleum was stolen from Pignattara in Rome between 835 and 845 AD. But the dangerous drakkars of the Normans were transported by the Marne into the heart of Champagne, wiping out his virtuosity 1,000 years ago. As for modern times, they were not spared by an anonymous tour of the austere medieval abbey: the Great Guilds sacked it in 1366, the English burnt it down in 1449, the empire of Charles V and François de Ranouet (François de La Noue, lieutenant to Admiral Coligny, destroyed what remained of it in 1544 and 1562, forcing the monks to abandon it entirely in 1603.

This tragic evocation is not for nothing: it directly serves a future understanding of Pierre Pérignon's adventures. That's it. In the spring of 1668, the radical of the Counter-Reformation climbed the road to Hautvillers, responsible for the earthly destiny of this tiny monastic community, both near and far from the pioneers of God before him. A thousand years have passed. The same path after the pigeon's flight. Similar beliefs, similar ideals, similar rules: two priests don't live at all in the same reality, and obviously can't have the same imagination. The hopes of the rationalist belligerents of the great century may be very close to those of the mystical pioneers of the High Middle Ages, but they no longer target the same society. And the fate that awaited Pierre Pérignon at the top of the Hautvillers ravine was more in keeping with the times than with his faith project. Colbertism locked in the monk's vision; his destiny would somehow escape him...

The enormous gaps in the information available on monastic life force me to abandon the idea of presenting chronologically the 47 years from Pierre Pérignon's entry into the office on May 23, 1668, to the Hautvillers era in 1715. Died September 14, 2009. I therefore propose to follow a logical scheme organized around the different trades that the monastic community's secular "patrons" have exercised for half a century with perseverance and talent: procurators, builders and winegrowers - Winegrower - businessman.

bas-relief-dom-perignon

The prosecutor

The term "procureur" can be confusing, but it is a historical title. In many documents, Pierre Pérignon, who is never called Dom Pérignon but Dom Pierre, is referred to as the "Father Procurator" or even "Dom Procurator". This has a clear legal meaning: he has been given power of attorney by the members of the monastic community to conduct their affairs, in short, he is the "social mandatary", the "boss", temporal of course, because above or beside him exists the prior clerical, the spiritual head of the community.
In an excellent page of his Naissance du Champagne, René Gandilhon defines the importance of the functions that had just fallen to the twenty-nine-year-old monk:

"Don't imagine the reverend Father Dom Pierre Pérignon going down to the cellar every morning, his bunch of keys in one hand, his jug in the other, to fill the refectory pitchers. He has other things on his mind, and if he's interested in the cellar, the storeroom and the vines, it's in a completely different, more useful way. Running the estate, providing the staves and casks needed for the wines; buying and selling horses and cattle; contracting leases and seeing to their execution, collecting in kind or in cash the income from acensed lands or tithes; providing declarations to the farmers of the Aides, surveying and demarcating plots; selling the products of the soil and buying those that cannot be harvested from the land, providing for the various needs of the monastery and the almshouse ; overseeing building maintenance and repairs, awarding contracts, supervising work, taking care of workers and servants; and directing legal officers, guaranteeing the rights, preeminences and honors of the monastery; all this work of daily administration would be little if the world did not include recalcitrant debtors, unscrupulous farmers, operators slow to pay, and also a host of quibblers, among whom certain parishioners dependent on Hautvillers stand out, alongside parish priests and perpetual vicars of churches subject to the monastery, and above all the agents of M. l'abbé.

The marvel is that Dom procureur retained enough freedom of mind to understand what was the monastery's main wealth, to take an interest in the yield of the vines and the improvement of the wines, in other words to rise above the toils of the trade and elevate himself to the class of great administrators."

A remarkable fact, already mentioned, is that Dom Pierre, appointed to his position by the prior with the approval of the monastery's superior fathers, and whose day-to-day expenditure register must be approved every month, and whose accounts and affairs scrutinized every quarter, is "reposed" (renewed) there every year for forty-seven years, when priors change every three years. This is of course proof of the exceptional satisfaction he gives, but it is also the sign of a particular authority, inseparable from the importance that the management of men and estates takes on in Colbertist France.

Thanks to the court documents, we have interesting and precise information on the various acts passed by Dom Pierre and the incessant procedures he conducted. For Molière's France was passionately quarrelsome, which to my mind testifies less to an addictive French temperament than to a bourgeois fear of violence, and a small-to-large relationship with power, the notion of which democracy has made us lose. What emerges from these legal documents is something I find fascinatingly obvious, and which has completely escaped my learned and pious predecessors: the Father Procurator reveals himself to be an effective and lucid anticipator of modern civil and commercial law practices.

Thus, to avoid the cumbersome and costly notarial deeds that the entire community of monks must sign in the presence of an officer of the King, Dom Pierre concludes as many private deeds as he can on behalf of his own people. He also stirred up the jumble of feudal rights from which his thousand-year-old monastery benefited, and worked doggedly through the legal thicket of Ancien Régime regulations and customs, with the aim of rationalizing all this, and putting his community at the head of a clear and, as far as possible, compact universe of rights. The systematic exchange of relatively distant exercise rights for more neighboring rights bears witness to a "pré carré" policy that prefigures modern Champagne.

There's plenty of room for life in this paragraph, whose legal subject matter could wrongly lead one to believe that it's off-putting. For on May 30, 1670, Dom Pierre himself threw a punch at his close neighbors in the hamlet of Champillon, over two bells they wanted melted down to make a new one, even though they bore the mark of the great abbey. And he rides up the sente d'Hautvillers with a bloody nose, but with one of the holy bells firmly tied to the back of a horse, snatched from the "devils of Champillon"! No way!

A very remarkable fact has already been mentioned that Dom Pierre, appointed by his predecessor and approved by the monastery's priest superior, the daily register of his daily expenses must be approved monthly and the accounts and business reviewed quarterly. the monastery's "rests" (updates) every year for forty-seven years, at which time the predecessor changes every three years. Of course, this testifies to the extraordinary satisfaction it brings, but it is also the sign of a particular authority, inseparable from the importance of men and field management in Colbertist France.

Thanks to court documents, we have interesting and precise information on the various acts passed by Dom Pierre and his ongoing litigation. Because Molière's France quibbles passionately, which I believe is less a reflection of the seductive temperament of the French than of the bourgeoisie's fear of violence and its relationship to power, democracy has lost this notion. From these legal documents emerges an evidence that fascinates me and completely escapes the comprehension of my learned and pious predecessors: Father Procureur proved to be an effective and sober preacher of the modern practice of civil and commercial law.

Thus, in order to avoid the burden and expense of the notarial deed that the entire monastic community had to sign in the presence of the king's officers, Dom Pierre concluded as far as possible that the deed was accomplished under private seal under his authority . Likewise, with astonishing zeal, he challenged the chaotic feudal rights enjoyed by his thousand-year-old monastery, and worked relentlessly within the judicial apparatus of the statutes and customs of the ancien régime to rationalize everything. the result was a community at the forefront of universal rights, clear and collected as far as possible. The systematic exchange of relatively distant exercise rights with closer ones justifies the "square front" policy that prefigured modern Champagne.

This segment has a living space, and its legal problems could falsely make it objectionable. Ever since Dom Pierre himself launched an attack on his immediate neighbors in the hamlet of Champillon on May 30, 1670, these fanatics have wanted to melt around two bells to make a new one, with the abbey's imprint. He came up the Hautvillers road with a bloody nose, but he was tightly tied to a horse, a holy bell snatched from the "demon of Champillon"! No way!

The builder

On his arrival at Hautvillers, Dom Pierre found a cloister that had already been largely rebuilt. He finished it, furnished it and strengthened it, but the structural work had been completed before him. In fact, the community expected the "patron" it received in the second half of the Grand Siècle to devote himself to housing the monks and building the business premises: the soldier of God from Verdun, who proved to be a remarkable businessman from the outset, was firmly committed to the temporal.

We have precise information on the work he commissioned between 1669 and 1700, right up to the rebuilding of the abbey: repair of the abbey presses in 1669; reconstruction of the dormitory, partial or total construction of the cloister, repair of the roof structure and roofing in 1675; enlargement of the refectory and chapter house, renovation of the organs in 1684; installation of the library woodwork and acquisition of two arm-reliquaries in 1688; erection of a large stone altarpiece in 1691; purchase of two paintings for the choir and three clock gongs in 1695; erection of the fourth floor and completion of the new bell tower in 1700, to name but the most important.

In addition to the cloister buildings, more substantial work was required from 1672 onwards: the perimeter walls had to be raised, and cellars, barns, stables and granaries had to be built. - The grand Porte Sainte-Hélène, built in 1692, remains the finest example of this activity. Many of the restored buildings still exist today, and are owned by Moët & Chandon.

When Dom Pierre turned a blind eye, his monastery remained as it was until the expulsion of the monks in November 1789, and the sale of the monastery and its former possessions in March 1791. The plan surveyed in 1777 by Dom Laurent Dumay gives us an idea of its layout, with a few minor details.

Access is via the western entrance, on the opposite side of the village. Past the Porte Sainte-Hélène, a first courtyard stretches between cellars, barns, stables and attics, right up to the front of the church. On the left, a passageway leads through a barn to the garden; on the right, a gate leads into the second courtyard, known as "l'Aubroye", in the middle of which is the watering place. Presses and cellars, with cellars, surround l'Aubroye on three sides, the last side being the conventual buildings.

These correspond to three sides of the cloister, the fourth being bounded by the church, or more precisely by a gallery running from the front of the church to the corner of the bell tower. The cloister opens onto the courtyard with eight arcades on each side, according to the specifications, whereas the plan indicates nine on the short sides and ten on the long sides. The eastern wing contains the chapter house, refectory, kitchen and staircase; the library occupies the first floor of this building: it is enclosed by an iron grating the height of the corridor leading to it; inside, the monks find shelves of books stretching out in front of the walls and a "long table made into a lectern". The southern wing has undoubtedly undergone changes in use. In 1791, there was a large vaulted woodshed for community use, and fireplaces for the abbot's use. Upstairs are the cells, the suite of which continues in the west wing. They all open onto a gallery that runs around the courtyard, like the cloister on which it is built. At the end of the west wing, against the church, the grand staircase leads down to the entrance to the regular premises, which opens onto the Aubroye courtyard. On the first floor, near the staircase, the porter has his lodgings; next door, the procurator holds his offices, while the archive room is on the floor above the porter's office. Beyond the procurator's office are several rooms reserved for foreigners, servants and pressmen, and finally an external dining room.

Extending from the southern wing, the infirmary building extends eastwards, above double cellars that compensate for the sloping ground. Service buildings joining the outer corner of the infirmaries to the treasurer's house, near the iron cross, delimit a garden in front of the church chevet. The abbot's dwelling is to the south of the monastery.
Best of all, these buildings bear witness not only to the investments they called for, but above all to the spirit that presided over their design, the comfort and ornament with which they surround the men they house. However, modern construction structures, basket-handle arches, wide bays and beautifully sculpted decorations are also far removed from Romanesque mysticism, Cluniac symbolic sophistication or powerful Cistercian austerity: the spirit of this elegant yet utilitarian architecture is clearly civil.

The glory of all this structural work does not lie with the Father Procurator alone, nor can he claim sole credit for the community's development. The fact remains, however, that he was able to finance these costly works and provide his brothers in the cloister with the framework and conditions necessary for their spiritual life to flourish, even if he had to endure the timeless mistrust of a Christianity that links commerce and money to diabolical practices.

With the tools of prayer and work restored, the great movement of money they imply can only have been sustained by a fruitful trade, and for many reasons we can attribute no other origin to it than wine.

The winegrower-winemaker-merchant.

It's now well established that the prosperous business run by the d'Hautvillers procurator father was based on the production of still wines from "la Montagne" and "la Rivière", not sparkling wines. Admittedly, we can't rule out the possibility that, at the end of his life, he was familiar with "saute-bouchon" wine, but surely then as an imperfect wine rather than a delicious marvel. But never mind! Dom Pierre Pérignon is in fact the inventor of the modern Champagne wine trade, which is much broader and more important than the strict idea of prise de mousse, and even explains why it has been attributed to him.

In any case, there is no shortage of material for deftly substituting the true description of a creator for the hagiography of a pseudo-inventor. I will therefore deliberately deal last with what lies at the heart of the Epinal image of Champagne's "inventor", which owes more to the positivist imagination of his merchant "heirs" in the last century than to historical reality.

Before wines can be made and sold, the raw material - grapes - must be grown and harvested. In the absence of any details provided by his contemporaries on Dom Pierre's viticultural work, we are reduced to suppositions. We can, however, get an idea from what Brother Pierre, his pupil and successor, says in his Traité de la culture des vignes de Champagne situées à Hautvillers, Cumières, Aÿ, Épernay, Pierry et Vinay, and from the treatise written by an anonymous author on the Manière de cultiver la Vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins, published three years after his death.
The first care of the Father Procurator is to keep his vineyard in the best possible condition at all times.

He pulls up the vine when it no longer produces anything, either because it is too old, or because it has been forced too hard, or because of the poor quality of the plant.
II only puts "plants with roots in the ground, pulling up a small part of the old plants every year; in this way, a vine would always be renewed, so to speak, and in perfectly good condition".
The grape varieties he cultivates are certainly those praised by Nicolas Bidet in his Traité sur la culture des vignes, sur la façon du vin et sur la manière de le gouverner: " [...] the Morillon noir which is known around Paris for making the best wine, [...] even better in Burgundy and Champagne, the Meunier, [...] and the Fromenteau which is a very exquisite grape and well known in Champagne [...] ".
He practices provignage, which aims to fill gaps and increase the number of vines in a given area. To achieve this, he had "longuettes, also known as marcotter, [...] and ditches prepared, each one a foot deep and wide enough to easily bury the marcotte". In subsequent years, he continues to "make provins until the vines are sufficiently covered, always adding manure", then refraining from doing so, "so that the vines produce a delicate wine.

Abbaye bénédictine d'Hautvillers - Dom pérignon

Amends his vineyards by "taking care to add manure and new earth from time to time, but avoiding excess: too much would make the wine soft and bland, and easy to grease", by taking care to use only "cow manure, because it is less hot than horse manure" and by having stores prepared where "a bed of manure and a bed of new earth are mixed, leaving the whole to rot well during the winter".


He prunes his vines wisely, not like "certain winegrowers who try to over-manage their vines, preferring large quantities to good quality, which are incompatible", and according to tradition, "only starts pruning on the eighteenth of February, and never when there is frost, or when it freezes hard, especially in the evening, or when it rains, the best pruning being in March".


From time to time, he "pulls up the weeds that grow in the vineyards. And if there are any spades, which are harmful to plants, he has them peeled, put in bags and burned a little way from the vines, burying the ashes.
With the return of spring, he "spades the vines in March and provides himself with workmen with good, large hoes to be able to work the soil well, to dig in and straighten the vines, to separate those that are too close together" and "to put a stile (probably made of quarter or heart oak, given the considerable means at his disposal) at each vine, to support it".


After fichage, Dom Pierre had the vines ploughed, trimmed (to concentrate the sap in the useful part of the vine, by removing the ends of the shoots), de-budded (to remove all superfluous growth) and tied to the stiles.


A second ploughing operation is carried out after tying. "It is used to remove the steps that have trodden on the vines by trimming and tying them, which would make the soil too hard if this work were neglected. And it's also very necessary to trim the vines about three weeks after they've been tied, as this benefits the grapes, which are still tender."


In August, he has the vines "ploughed and trimmed of any brush or greenery that may have grown since the second trimming, the latter being necessary to ensure that the grapes ripen properly. It gives quality to the wine, prepares the soil to receive the warmth of the sun, and cleanses it of weeds and other vermin


Then finally comes harvest time, generally at the end of September, during which Dom Pierre has had to endure the constraints imposed by picking black grapes when they are intended to give a colorless juice. These constraints are described in detail by the anonymous author of the treatise entitled Manière de cultiver la Vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins :


"We don't pick grapes indiscriminately, nor at all hours of the day, but we choose the ripest and most azure ones. The best grapes are those whose berries are not tightly packed, and which are even spread out a little, because they ripen perfectly. These make the most exquisite wine. Those that are tightly packed are never fully ripe. They are cut with a small, curved knife, as cleanly and with as little tail as possible, and placed very gently in the hosts, so as not to crush any of the grapes.


"In wet years, you have to be very careful not to put any spoiled grapes in the hosts. And in any weather, you have to be very careful to cut off any grapes that are rotten, crushed or completely dry. But the grapes must never be de-stemmed. We start harvesting half an hour after sunrise. And if the sun is cloudless, and a little hot around nine or ten o'clock, you stop harvesting, and make your "sac", which is a cuvée, because after this hour, the grapes being heated, the wine would be colored or tinted red, and remain too smoky.


"When the presses are close to the vines, it's easier to prevent the wine from turning color, because the grapes are gently and cleanly carried to them in a short time. But when they are two or three leagues away, as we are obliged to put the harvest in barrels [...] that are constantly being taken away on carts, so that they can be pressed as soon as possible, we can hardly avoid the wine being colored, except in wet and cold years. It is a certain principle that when the grapes are cut, the sooner they are pressed, the whiter and more delicate the wine, because the longer the liquor remains in the marc, the redder it becomes. Therefore, it is extremely important to hasten the picking of the grapes and the pressing."


Let's turn now to Dom Pierre's winemaking and trading activities. As Patrick Demouy, senior lecturer in medieval history at the University of Reims, is wont to argue to anyone who broaches the subject:


"No one in the world expected wine from a depopulated abbey whose cellars and wine presses had also fallen into ruin just a few years earlier. With the equipment restored, we could now offer our customers an esteemed wine. But it still had to be produced, and a breakthrough achieved in a world where all the niches seemed firmly occupied, in particular the two most important ones, the wealthy customers of the first two orders who could afford the luxury of drinking it: the clergy and the nobility, to which we'll add the upper bourgeoisie."


I'd like to add the following comment. It's important to bear in mind that we're living in a closed economy, and that in these circumstances, trade is above all a matter of personal relationships. From generation to generation, a family buys its wine from the same owner and his descendants, and acquires the product of a "clos", which undergoes the climatic variations inherent in each year and a vinification that is more a matter of nose than knowledge.


In those days, word of mouth worked wonders: the bishop drank at the canon's, the prince at the marquis's; the word "competition" was not yet part of the vocabulary. The clerical lobby, firmly established in the region with the Abbey of Saint-Thierry northwest of Reims and the Abbey of Saint-Basle in Verzy, and a major supplier of scattered wines, slyly weighed in on purchases. Given this state of affairs, Dom Pierre's only hope of salvation was to bring to market a much better, even different product of consistent quality. To achieve this, he was going to tactfully shake up nature, before whose whims winegrowers kneel. He dares to break the sacrosanct trinity of harvest, vinification and the hand of God.

Amends his vineyards by "taking care to add manure and new earth from time to time, but avoiding excess: too much would make the wine soft and bland, and easy to grease", by taking care to use only "cow manure, because it is less hot than horse manure" and by having stores prepared where "a bed of manure and a bed of new earth are mixed, leaving the whole to rot well during the winter".


He prunes his vines wisely, not like "certain winegrowers who try to over-manage their vines, preferring large quantities to good quality, which are incompatible", and according to tradition, "only starts pruning on the eighteenth of February, and never when there is frost, or when it freezes hard, especially in the evening, or when it rains, the best pruning being in March".


From time to time, he "pulls up the weeds that grow in the vineyards. And if there are any spades, which are harmful to plants, he has them peeled, put in bags and burned a little way from the vines, burying the ashes.


With the return of spring, he "spades the vines in March and provides himself with workers with good, large hoes to be able to dig the soil well, dig in and straighten the vines, separate those that are too close to each other" and "put up a stile (presumably quartered)"

or oak heartwood, given the considerable resources available) to each vine, to support it".
After fichage, Dom Pierre had the vines ploughed, trimmed (to concentrate the sap in the useful part of the vine, by removing the ends of the shoots), de-budded (to remove all superfluous growth) and tied to the stiles.


A second ploughing operation is carried out after tying. "It is used to remove the steps that have trodden on the vines by trimming and tying them, which would make the soil too hard if this work were neglected. And it's also very necessary to trim the vines about three weeks after they've been tied, as this benefits the grapes, which are still tender."


In August, he has the vines "ploughed and trimmed of any brush or greenery that may have grown since the second trimming, the latter being necessary to ensure that the grapes ripen properly. It gives quality to the wine, prepares the soil to receive the warmth of the sun, and cleanses it of weeds and other vermin


Then finally comes harvest time, generally at the end of September, during which Dom Pierre has had to endure the constraints imposed by picking black grapes when they are intended to give a colorless juice. These constraints are described in detail by the anonymous author of the treatise entitled Manière de cultiver la Vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins :


"We don't pick grapes indiscriminately, nor at all hours of the day, but we choose the ripest and most azure ones. The best grapes are those whose berries are not tightly packed, and which are even spread out a little, because they ripen perfectly. These make the most exquisite wine. Those that are tightly packed are never fully ripe. They are cut with a small, curved knife, as cleanly and with as little tail as possible, and placed very gently in the hosts, so as not to crush any of the grapes.


"In wet years, you have to be very careful not to put any spoiled grapes in the hosts. And in any weather, you have to be very careful to cut off any grapes that are rotten, crushed or completely dry. But the grapes must never be de-stemmed. We start harvesting half an hour after sunrise. And if the sun is cloudless, and a little hot around nine or ten o'clock, you stop harvesting, and make your "sac", which is a cuvée, because after this hour, the grapes being heated, the wine would be colored or tinted red, and remain too smoky.


"When the presses are close to the vines, it's easier to prevent the wine from turning color, because the grapes are gently and cleanly carried to them in a short time. But when they are two or three leagues away, as we are obliged to put the harvest in barrels [...] that are constantly being taken away on carts, so that they can be pressed as soon as possible, we can hardly avoid the wine being colored, except in wet and cold years. It is a certain principle that when the grapes are cut, the sooner they are pressed, the whiter and more delicate the wine, because the longer the liquor remains in the marc, the redder it becomes. Therefore, it is extremely important to hasten the picking of the grapes and the pressing."


Let's turn now to Dom Pierre's winemaking and trading activities. As Patrick Demouy, senior lecturer in medieval history at the University of Reims, is wont to argue to anyone who broaches the subject:


"No one in the world expected wine from a depopulated abbey whose cellars and wine presses had also fallen into ruin just a few years earlier. With the equipment restored, we could now offer our customers an esteemed wine. But it still had to be produced, and a breakthrough achieved in a world where all the niches seemed firmly occupied, in particular the two most important ones, the wealthy customers of the first two orders who could afford the luxury of drinking it: the clergy and the nobility, to which we'll add the upper bourgeoisie."


I'd like to add the following comment. It's important to bear in mind that we're living in a closed economy, and that in these circumstances, trade is above all a matter of personal relationships. From generation to generation, a family buys its wine from the same owner and his descendants, and acquires the product of a "clos", which undergoes the climatic variations inherent in each year and a vinification that is more a matter of nose than knowledge.


In those days, word of mouth worked wonders: the bishop drank at the canon's, the prince at the marquis's; the word "competition" was not yet part of the vocabulary. The clerical lobby, firmly established in the region with the Abbey of Saint-Thierry northwest of Reims and the Abbey of Saint-Basle in Verzy, and a major supplier of scattered wines, slyly weighed in on purchases. Given this state of affairs, Dom Pierre's only hope of salvation was to bring to market a much better, even different product of consistent quality. To achieve this, he was going to tactfully shake up nature, before whose whims winegrowers kneel. He dares to break the sacrosanct trinity of harvest, vinification and the hand of God.

Cellarer at Hautvillers Abbey, Dom Pérignon (now blind), tastes grapes from different crus
to compose his Cuvée. Genius of blending Champagne's crus and grape varieties,
its concepts are still applied today by the Grandes Champagne brands.

The idea is simple, as always: to blend grapes or wines sometimes produced by different grape varieties on different terroirs. However, as far back as the 16th century, it was common practice to mix black and white grapes in the same vineyard, with the bunches gathered in the same press. But a century later, this practice was considered harmful.


Dom Pierre's innovation consisted in combining grapes from different origins before pressing, rather than from a single vineyard, either because they had been harvested in different parts of the abbey estate, or because they came from deliveries covering the tithe owed by several villages in the surrounding area (rather than blending musts or wines, a method later used in Champagne). He thus had a very wide choice of "crus", which he carefully blended in the monastery's presses, in order to harmonize or sublimate their qualities and reduce their defects. It was an ingenious idea, and the source of Champagne's sparkling wine fortunes.


Père Pérignon, a Benedictine monk from Hautvillers sur Marne," we read in interview XIV of Spectacle de la Nature ou Entretiens sur les particularités de l'Histoire naturelle qui ont paru les plus propres à rendre les Jeunes Gens curieux, et à leur former l'esprit de l'abbé Noël-Antoine Pluche, who took his inspiration from a memoir written for the occasion by Canon Jean Godinot, based on a treatise written by an anonymous author on the Manière de cultiver la Vigne et défaire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins, was the first to apply himself successfully to matching grapes from different vines in this way. Before his method became widespread, people spoke only of the wine of Pérignon, or Hautvillers".
In a factum drawn up by the inhabitants of Pierry, who were at the time in dispute with the monks of Hautvillers Abbey, the monks were criticized for hindering the handling of declinables, "when they had the inestimable advantage, which we owe to Father Pérignon, their author, of being able to mix Pierry grapes with those from Hautvillers on the press, and by this means, according to the same Father Pérignon, to give their wine yet another degree of excellence".
In 1783, Dom Nicolas Le Long, another Benedictine monk from Hautvillers, wrote in his Histoire ecclésiastique et civile du Diocèse de Laon:


"The white wines of Hautvillers owe their renown to Dom Pérignon, who died in his seventies in 1715. Through his fine taste, this monk introduced the Champenois to the art of blending wines and giving them a delicacy that was unknown before him".


Here, according to the treatise left to us by Brother Pierre, his pupil and successor, is how the father prosecutor proceeded:


"Father Pérignon didn't taste the grapes in the vineyard, even though he went there every day when they were approaching maturity. Instead, he had grapes brought in from the vines he intended to use to make the first cuvée, and only tasted them the next morning, after letting them air out on his window overnight, to judge their taste. Depending on the year, not only did he compose his cuvées according to this taste, but also according to the disposition of the weather, early, late, cold, rainy years and according to the vines well or poorly supplied with leaves; all these events served him as rules for the composition of his so distinguished cuvées."


This reputation as a fine wine taster is confirmed by Dom Jean François, in the article he devotes to him in his Bibliothèque générale des écrivains de l'ordre de Saint-Benoît, patriarche des moines d'Occident:
"This unique man preserved into his decrepit old age a delicacy of taste so singular that he could discern without mistaking, when tasting a grape, the canton that had produced it. He would be presented with a basket of grapes collected from all the vineyards in his territory and that of Cumières; he would taste them, arrange them according to the soil from which they came, and confidently mark the species that should be combined to obtain the best quality wine, and this in relation to the heat or humidity of summer and autumn."


Although Father Procurator was a subtle oenologist, he did not invent blending. All abbeys produced blended wines through the payment of tithes on vines in kind. The decimator collected the grapes "au permis du clos". Dom Pierre brought this blending to perfection, as the reputation of his wines testifies. He did it for the prosperity of his community, and no doubt for the glory of God. All work well done, out of love, takes the form of praise to the Creator.


With a heritage strengthened by a thousand years of bequests, the abbey estate is also a collection of diverse assets spread over a vast territory.


As dispersion breeds anarchy, Dom Pierre's approach is one of method. No secret weapon, just summary theses providing obvious solutions to questions deemed unsolvable. A lawyer, an accountant, a day-to-day manager, and too overworked to waste his time in the chatter that so many experts indulge in, the Father Procurator of Hautvillers translates into Cartesian form - statistics, meticulous accounts, research into cause and effect, studies of climatic variations and their influence on the different terroirs, sketches of an experimental approach, etc. - the infused science and inspiration of the old cellar masters. Within his means, he demystified wine to bring it closer to science, and succeeded so well that Champagne wines took a clear lead over all others in this field, being the first to emerge from empiricism.


The inventory of the Hautvillers estates shows that he had a large number of tithes at his disposal, enabling him to blend and market a considerable quantity of wine. However, he did not do so, collecting their value in money in order to extend his own estate (1663: 21 arpents, or 10 and a half hectares of poorly tended vines -1712: 48 arpents, or 24 hectares divided into 68 parcels of vines with improved soil). The average harvest was 300 hl, which explains the wine's high prices in the early days of its renown.


Figures rather than words (though!...) testify to its success. Whereas red wine produced in the same region sells for no more than 200 livres a bottle (around 400 l in Champagne), the abbey's wine fetches 700 livres and even peaks, in 1691, at 950 livres, suffocating the Intendant of Champagne, who speaks of "outrageous prices which, apparently, will not last long". And as is often the case in such cases, administrative forecasts are contradicted by the facts, since in 1700, the famous Spartan wine merchant, Adam Bertin du Rocheret, wrote to his client the Count of Artaignan: "The good and most excellent wines are selling for 400, 450, 500, 550 livres a bottle [...] I forgot to tell you that, after these high wine prices, those of the monks of Ovillers (Hautvillers) and Saint-Pierre (Pierry) are at 800 to 980 livres...". It's true that towards the end of Dom Pierre's life, prices fell, but we mustn't forget that these were the darkest years in the reign of Louis XIV, who, like many Champagne wine lovers, was forced to sell his gold and vermeil crockery in the face of the expenses incurred by incessant wars. In 1712, however, the price of the first cuvée from Hautvillers Abbey remained fixed at 750 livres a cue.


But does this give a religious the right to behave like a tireless servant of the golden calf? Certainly, the rule of Saint Benedict prescribes selling the products of the monastery "a little more cheaply than the seculars do, so that God may be glorified in everything". Isn't Hautvillers' policy just the opposite? Doubtless, but the Father Procurator had a ready-made answer, which René Gandilhon found unstoppable: "Out of solidarity with other producers, he cannot lower his prices". In fact, Dom Pierre knows how to make wine. He sells it even better.


For, in addition to his mercantile skills, Hautvillers' procuratorial father is endowed with a knack for interpersonal communication that naturally also works wonders in a field closer to wine than one might think: negotiation, the sister of blending, and here too, it's necessary to know how to compose. "Dom Pérignon"He proved to be a peacemaker, whether by arranging for the businessman of the Notre-Dame congregation in Nancy or the fathers of the Compagnie de Jésus to support the Congrégation de Saint-Vanne, or by facilitating delicate negotiations with the English court


Maréchal de Montesquieu, a convinced epicurean, paid little heed to these "states of mind", writing to Adam Bertin du Rocheret on November 9, 1715: "M de Puysieulx, who arrived yesterday, told me that Father Pérignon had died, and that he had been much talked about during his lifetime. [...] On the first wines of this abbey, think of me because frankly, they're the best." A delicious funeral oration! And yet Dom Pierre remains the only hero that, after several millennia of emptiness, winemakers everywhere can pit against ancient mythology, Dyonisos and Bacchus.

The Dom Pérignon legend in motion

That we beatified a man about whom we knew almost nothing, that while he was alive he was locked up in a hillside like a satyr in his tree, that after his death he was portrayed as blind as Homer, seems to me to be the effect of one of those survival operations to which humanity owes its own. We regularly need soul supplements. Poetry takes them from wherever it can, and in taking its lantern to the cellars of a monastery, it was not mistaken in its address.
Because of Father Procurator's talents and popularity, on the one hand, and his potential as an asset to the promotion of sparkling wine, which was then taking off, on the other, he was attributed with deeds and actions that are more fable than reality, and all the more questionable in that it was only in the second half of the 19th century that these allegations were made.

It all comes from a letter from Dom Jean-Baptiste Grossard, the last procurator of Hautvillers Abbey, dated October 25, 1821, addressed to a certain M. d'Herbes, deputy mayor of Aÿ, in which he writes that: "it was the famous Dom Pérignon [...] who found the secret of making sparkling and non-sparkling white wine, and the means of clarifying it without having to unpack the bottles ".
Given that we know of no document from before this date attesting that he was the "inventor", i.e. in the period when his deeds and actions were still remembered by his contemporaries and the generations that immediately followed them, we can only deny him this credit. Nonetheless, the legend was launched, and since the mysterious nature of its birth, the embellishments that could be added to it, and the marvellous aspects attached to it lend it a charm that the truth does not have, many have since supported and embellished it.

In his twilight years, Jean-Baptiste Grossard (the last procurator of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers, dismantled during the French Revolution) was the first to put forward the idea that Dom Pérignon was the father of sparkling wines: "It was the famous Dom Pérignon who found the secret of making sparkling white wine and the means of clarifying it without having to unpack the bottles ... before him, our monks only knew how to make grey or straw-colored wine.

His love of oenology, his in-depth knowledge of wine, his keen sense of observation and research and, perhaps, monastic greed, encouraged him to study this natural phenomenon. But did he produce it, at a time when science was barely born, when the physical and chemical nature of wine was almost completely unknown, and when people had only erroneous ideas about fermentation?

It's hard to see how a reasonable man in his seventies could have embarked on such a risky production venture, too risky to offer his abbey an assured profit. He would have needed the audacity of youth and the knowledge of a lifetime to undertake the marketing of a wine as disconcerting as the new sparkling wine, uneven in quantity and quality due to irregular harvests and a lack of knowledge of production techniques. The result was considerable losses (almost 120 years after Dom Pierre's death, according to information provided by Moët & Chandon, breakage in Épernay still stood at 35% in 1833 and 25% in 1834), resulting in a scarce product and high selling prices.
Champagne does, however, owe him the techniques of blending vintages and grape varieties.

Dom Pérignon observing the foam at Hautvillers

In an inventory of the cellars and storerooms at Hautvillers Abbey drawn up in 1713, two years before the death of the Father Procure, and preserved in the Archives de la Marne, mention is made only of old and new wines kept in poinçons (barrels whose capacity varied from 178 to 184 1 for white wines, and from 201 to 206 1 for red wines), in other words still wines.
It has been claimed that he was the first to use cork stoppers. Dom Jean-Baptiste Grossard is the originator of this fable, writing in his aforementioned letter to M. d'Herblès d'Aÿ: "It is still to Dom Pérignon that we owe today's corking. Only hemp was used to close wine bottles, and this type of cork was soaked in oil". An inaccurate assertion, since cork stoppers were used in Champagne from 1665 onwards, i.e. before his arrival in Hautvillers.

Dom Pérignon is said to be the inventor of sparkling wine, the father of bottling and the creator of the cork stopper.

At the end of the 19th century and especially in the 20th century, many people brought the "secret of the famous P. Pérignon's secret", implying that it concerned sparkling wine, whereas the treatise written by an anonymous author on the Manière de cultiver la Vigne et de faire le Vin en Champagne et ce qu'on peut imiter dans les autres Provinces, pour perfectionner les Vins (1722 edition) on which they rely clearly proves that it was merely an empirical recipe aimed at improving the quality of still wines in barrels:

All that remains is to talk about the secret of the famous Dom Pérignon [...] . A fairly reliable person has claimed that this father confided his secret to him a few days before his death; however hard it may be to believe, we will give this secret here as this person says he wrote it under this religious, as he was at the end of his life. In about a pint of wine, dissolve a pound of candy sugar, throw in five or six peaches separated from their pits, about four sols of powdered cinnamon, a nutmeg also powdered: after all is well mixed and dissolved, add half a setier (0.23 1) of good burnt brandy. The colature is passed through a fine, clean cloth, and the liqueur, not the marc, is thrown into the piece of wine, making it delicate/ripe. As much of the above must be done for each piece, and intoned as hotly as possible, as soon as the wine in the barrel has stopped boiling.

The use of this "colature", as the treatise calls it, has a certain analogy with vinage, but at the time people were reluctant to add too much eau-de-vie, for fear of altering the wine or robbing it of its natural properties. This method, attributed to Dom Pierre, was widely used in the region at the time; applicable to both white and red wines, the colature into which the juice of five or six peaches was pressed undoubtedly contributed to giving the wine of Aÿ that peachy taste, "of the most exquisite pleasantness", according to the Marquis de Saint-Évremond. Bottled in this way, the wine may have attracted attention for its exceptional breakage or for its fine mousse. In any case, it's worth noting that Brother Pierre makes no allusion to the secret that may have belonged to his master and predecessor.

In keeping with the principle that only the rich get credit, Dom Pierre has been credited with many other initiatives, such as being the originator of Champagne cellars, and even the inventor of the Champagne flute! In any case, the affabulation doesn't matter, since the historical truth is sufficiently well-founded for the famous Father Procurator to be rightly considered one of the great figures of Champagne.

Here lies Dom Pierre Pérignon, for forty-seven years cellarer in this monastery, who, after having administered the goods of our community with a care worthy of all praise, full of virtues and first and foremost of a paternal love for the poor, died in the 77th year of his age, in 1715. May he rest in peace. Amen.

This is the epitaph engraved in Latin on his tomb in the choir of the abbey church at Hautvillers. It sums up the exceptional life of this learned, intelligent and thoughtful monk, who masterfully carried out the task entrusted to him. What's more, he was an exemplary religious who lived his faith both within and outside his community, in a milieu that was certainly austere and penetrated by Jansenism.

However, it remains extremely regrettable that he did not write to share the fruits of his observations and long experience with his contemporaries and subsequent generations. He would undoubtedly have accelerated the progress of the Champagne wine industry, and would thus have earned himself unquestionable recognition from Champagne winegrowers and merchants. His work benefited above all his abbey; the details of his discoveries have been forgotten, and have unfortunately been lost to Champagne and Champagne wines.

Let us leave it to Marc Brugnon, former president of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons, to conclude: "He is the ancestor of tens of thousands of winegrowers whose names will remain forever unknown, the shadow that continues to watch over the proper use of the Champagne hillsides, the sublime expression of all those men who worked for a wine they would not taste".

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Dom pérignon origine

Dom Pérignon began producing Champagne wines in 1668. He invented secondary fermentation in the bottle, making him the founder of Champagne as we know it today. Dom Pérignon was also the first winemaker to produce a white wine from black grapes.

The answer to this question seems obvious: Dom Pierre Pérignon, a Benedictine monk who was procurator (i.e. in charge of property management) at Hautvillers Abbey, near Épernay, from 1668 until his death in 1715, was the brilliant inventor of champagne.