The world of wine and winemaking is one of deep passion and romance—so it’s not surprising to hear all manner of fables and legends related to the art. Whether you’re discovering the mythology of wine gods or stories of rare wine bottles from the bottom of the sea, you’re bound to find something intriguing that has nothing to do with the taste of the grapes on your tongue.
Many people may not realize that Dom Pérignon, that most famous and respected of sparkling wines, was named after an actual person. Those who did know about the real-life Pérignon may have a number of misconceptions about him and his role in producing the first sparkling wines. Here’s a short list of fact and fiction about the noted champagne pioneer.
Dom Pérignon was a Benedictine monk.
TRUE. Dom Pierre Pérignon entered the order of Benedictine monks at age 19, and gradually rose to the position of cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers. During his tenure, the Abbey’s vineyards doubled in size and production—an accomplishment that so impressed the order that, upon his death in 1715, he was buried in a section of the Abbey typically reserved only for abbots.
Pérignon invented Champagne.
FALSE. In fact, Pérignon’s life’s work was involved in removing the bubbles from the fine wines of Champagne. The same process that caused the bubbling to occur had also, during Pérignon’s time, made the bottles likely to uncork or even explode, causing a dangerous chain reaction that injured workers and destroyed an entire cellar’s worth of wine. Pérignon was not the first person to intentionally make sparkling wine, although his research into the nature of such wines would allow later winemakers to perfect the process.
Pérignon made most of his own wines from white wine grapes.
FALSE. Pérignon declared that fine wine should only be made from the red grapes of Pinot Noir. Due to the tendency of white wine grapes to enter the refermentation process that produced bubbles, he discouraged their use in winemaking.
Pérignon was a passionate advocate of “natural” winemaking.
TRUE. In addition to Pérignon’s rules against the use of white wine grapes, he also established a number of rules against using “foreign substances” in the making of wine. Among his other strict rules of cultivating a vineyard: all grapes were to be harvested in cool, damp conditions such as those to be found during early morning. All vines were to be aggressively pruned, and not allowed to grow more than three feet high. Pérignon also frowned upon the tradition of “trodding” grapes into wine, preferring to use multiple presses instead.
Pérignon was blind, but capable of determining simply by taste the origins of a wine’s grape.
FALSE. This particular story about the talents of Dom Pérignon does have its roots in truth. Although it is most likely that Pérignon’s powers were exaggerated by monks looking to gain prestige for the Abbey, he did believe in not knowing where a grape came from before it was pressed into wine. Pérignon’s intentions were to remove his own bias for certain regions and simply taste the wine that was offered. The myth that he was himself blind is probably a misconception of the idea that this practice was known to his fellow monks as “blind” tasting.
Winemakers are constantly attempting to achieve a type of perfection in their wine production, and although Dom Pérignon was merely a man, his legend, both fact and fiction, may be just the sort of inspiration that a winemaker needs.