Dom Pérignon L'Abbaye de Hautvilliers

On August 4th, 1693, so the story goes, the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon opened the first bottle of Champagne, tasted the fizzy wine and shouted, “Eureka!” or “Fiat lux!” or something appropriate. He then went on to invent the cork and establish the Champagne industry. That’s the story, anyway. It’s all nonsense, of course, but it sounds good.

There actually was a monk named Dom Pérignon, however, who was a member of the Order of St. Benedict and the vintner at the Abbey of Hautvillers in northeastern France. The problem with the story about him extolling the virtues of Champagne wine was that he was actually trying to get rid of the bubbles. Sparkling wine naturally occurs when wine is bottled before fermentation is complete; as the remainder of the sugars in the wine, a natural product of the pressed juice from grapes, continue to ferment (that is, convert into alcohol), carbon dioxide gas is produced. This builds up inside the sealed bottle and, if the pressure of the gas is too great, the bottle will burst. What’s worse, when one bottle bursts, others near it on the wine racks – also under pressure – will often be set off in a chain reaction.

Pinot noir grape
Pinot noir grape

With a cellar full of broken glass, the monk was anxious that this wasteful (and dangerous) catastrophe be stopped. Though Pérignon wasn’t able to solve the problem entirely, he did establish a set of rules for winemaking at the Abbey, which are still used as the basis for making Champagne to this day. The most important advance he made was to harvest grapes from the vineyards in several passes, selecting only the grapes at the peak of their maturity. He also used the black Pinot noir grape to make white wine, having found that wine from white-skinned grapes had a tendency to cause bottles to explode. Other varieties of grapes, including chardonnay and Pinot meunier, are also combined with Pinot noir to make modern champagne, the grapes being blended before pressing. The good monk also insisted that pressing be just that: The juice was extracted gently with presses and not by stamping.

Pérignon is often mistakenly credited with “inventing” the wine cork. In fact, cork had been used as far back as Roman times as a material for bottle stoppers, but over the centuries this practice had fallen into disuse. By the late 17th century, wooden stoppers wrapped in hemp fibers were often used, although they were not very satisfactory. It was the English wine merchants who reintroduced the cork, using material from Spanish trees. The English also advanced glassmaking, allowing them to make thicker, stronger bottles, which could better withstand the high pressures produced by Champagne. One can almost see Pérignon giving a Gallic shrug and adopting these English innovations.

Phillippe II, Duke of Orleans
Phillippe II, Duke of Orleans
wine Cellar
wine Cellar

Ironically, it was in the same year that Pérignon died, 1715, that Champagne – with the bubbles – became wildly popular. In that year, Phillippe II, Duke of Orleans, became Regent of France. Since he was a great admirer of Champagne, that particular type of wine became (ahem) the toast of France. The craze soon spread to England, where it has taken root (the British are still the top per capita consumers of Champagne in the world), and the tradition is now world-wide. Production of Champagne has risen from about 300,000 bottles in 1800 to over 330 million bottles in 2007, the most recent year for which there are statistics.

It’s a good thing to have a product that is in strong – and increasing – demand, but there are dangers, too. The vineyard owners in Champagne realized that they had to protect the name of their wine, otherwise any old sparkling wine would begin to call itself “Champagne” and undermine the special status of true Champagne. In 1891, the Treaty of Madrid established international organization, now called the World International Property Organization, to protect trademarks including, of course, Champagne. The French government went one step further by establishing the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) in 1905 to define and regulate the names of specific products grown or made in France, including wine, cheese, butter, even poultry (the Poulet de Bresse comes under their shield).

Even this was not considered protection enough. In 1927, the INAO defined the specific vineyards in the district of Champagne from which – and only from which – true Champagne can be produced. Regulations regarding growing, harvesting, pressing and aging were also established, all of which strictly controlled which bottles of wine can be labeled “Champagne.” Any bottles which use the name “Champagne” on their labels, but contain wine not from the defined area and not produced according to these strict conditions can be legally seized and destroyed under the authority of the Treaty of Madrid.

Naturally, the geographic restrictions and high quality standards limit the number of bottles of Champagne that can be produced in any given year. In response to the danger of a Champagne drought, the INAO announced in 2003 that it would consider expanding the number of vineyards within the Champagne-producing boundaries to begin using the appellation “Champagne.” With billions of euros at stake, you can imagine how currently authorized Champagne growers are still reacting to that news.

It seems fitting, somehow, that the history of Champagne is very much like the drink itself: Mysterious, bubbly, explosive, celebratory and awfully ticklish. À votre santé!

Jangaplanet ©

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Comments 24 comments

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Thank you for this information on one of my favorite beverages. It was very interesting to read and learn. Here is a toast to your Hub!


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

It's my pleasure Hyphenbird. I enjoy Champagne as well. I was interested in knowing how this all came about, so I just had to write about it.:) Thank you so much for stopping by and your kind comment.

Cheers!:)


Lorena 5 years ago

I love Champagne! You're description the Bubbly make me wanna go buy a bottle right now. lol. Better not!! I'll just wait for the New year!!


ArgentinaDanila profile image

ArgentinaDanila 5 years ago

Hey, did you ever try dunking a potato chip in Champagne? It's real crazy! lol! I just quoted Marilyn Monroe!oh my Goodness! The Seven Year Itch! :)

Beautiful Hub! up and beautiful and interesting!


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Danila that''s a good one! here's one for you! "My dear girl there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon 53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!:)

Thanks for vote and the email! lol


ArgentinaDanila profile image

ArgentinaDanila 5 years ago

I love that one! :)


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Brindisi con spumante o champagne! Lorena thank you!


Alexa 5 years ago

I love any excuse for champagne :)


Taniatravels profile image

Taniatravels 5 years ago

You need to look up the quote about what Dom Perigon said the first time he tasted champagne! What a beautiful hub this was! I learned a great deal! But I don't need to remind you of that:)

Up, useful and interesting!


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Come quickly, I am tasting the stars! ~Dom Perignon, at the moment he discovered champagne!:) Thanks Tania for stopping by and commenting!


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Alexa, some consider a weekend a total failure if they don't drink champagne at least once! Thanks for stopping by, appreciate.


Fortaleza profile image

Fortaleza 5 years ago from Fortaleza, Brasil

I like Dom Perignon! If it's available I drink it. I don't wait for a special occasion. But I must admit something- I didn't know he was a monk! (smiling)! Loved this articles ! I love the old fotos of the women and the Champagne bottle!

Voting it up, beautiful for the fotos, Useful because I learn something and awesome for the style of writing. :)


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Nel nome del Padre, del figlio e di Dom Perignon! That's only an Italian saying !lol. Not many know he was actually a Monk. Some just think it is but a fancy label on a bottle! Thanks for stopping by Flavia! :)


François 5 years ago

Very well article! Informative much and belles photos. À votre santé!


Sunnie Day 5 years ago

Thank you Jangaplanet..This was most interesting. I had no idea he was a monk..You did a wonderful job in writing this wonderful hub,

Thank you

Sunnie


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Thank you Sunnie Day ! It is an honour to have you stop by my hub and commenting on it! I appreciate it!


buythebook profile image

buythebook 5 years ago

Like Madame Lilly Bollinger said: "I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it–unless I'm thirsty."

PS: I didn't know he was a monk :)


Raquel 5 years ago

I have always loved good French Chardonney. Dry but fruity. Champagne always gives me headaches for some reason. But I'll always have Dom Pérignon on special occasions. France has so much rich history and fine wine. Your articles are always top shelf Jangaplanet. Thank you so much for this :)


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

I just love that quote by Madame Lilly Bollinger!

I know! not many new he was a Monk. It's always fun hearing from you Eluisa!


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 5 years ago Author

Raquel thanks for your kind comment. It's to bad you get a headache when you drink it :/ bummer. But at least it's nice to look at in the glass :) Thanks for stopping by!


Rastamermaid profile image

Rastamermaid 5 years ago from Universe

Beautiful and informative.

Thanks for sharing!


Veronica 4 years ago

It was nice to read your account of this region and its history. I like Champagne and Cognac but white Chardonnay is by far my favorite.


savvydating profile image

savvydating 4 years ago

Janagaplanet, I'm beginning to think you know everything! One of my goals in life is to visit Champagne, France and have "real" champagne, should fortune decide to smile upon me. For now, I remain contented with my sparking wine.

I propose a toast: "Cheers to my favorite "know it all." Thanks for another beautiful and festive hub.


Jangaplanet profile image

Jangaplanet 4 years ago Author

Thanks Rastamermaid! It seems that I was not receiving my comment notification, I apologize for the late reply.

Thank you Veronica for stopping by as well, I appreciate it.

Thanks you very much savvydating! Although I don't actually no everything :) though I wish I did! but this is one of the reasons why I do not post often, I try to gather and spend lots of time researching before I write and publish any type of article. Though, some of it comes from living the experience as well. Thanks for the kind comment. It is so good to have you stop by!

Champagne France is a wonderful province- known for its sparkling white wine that bears its name! I hope you do get to visit! Thank you for the toast, I appreciate that alot, Cheers! :)

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