7 Fascinating Facts About Dom Pérignon and How It Became the World's Premier Champagne Maker
From birthdays to anniversaries, bottles of champagne have become the non-negotiable drink of choice when marking a celebration. But what makes this bubbly beverage worth its place on the table? We take a closer look at the heritage of Dom Pérignon, the French house that refined and popularized the drink.
The luxury label’s namesake, Dom Pierre Pérignon, was a monk with a mission.
In 1638, Pierre Pérignon was brought into the world in Sainte-Menehould, a town in the northeastern region of France. At the age of 19, he joined the Benedictine order and was stationed in the Abbey of Saint-Vannes. Under a decade later, he moved to serve the Abbey of Hautvillers. As the abbey’s official cellar master, he took it upon himself to create “the best wine in the world.” It was under his tenure that the abbey’s wine production “flourished and the vineyard doubled in size.” He was also behind several winemaking techniques during an era where still and red wines dominated the production. The Dom spent a total number of 47 years dedicated to making wine. While he technically did not formulate Champagne, he was responsible for refining the drink and is considered its “godfather.”
The Sun King’s love for the wine created sparks between the Champagne and Burgundy regions.
Pérignon was the first winemaker to segregate wines by its grapes and was the pioneer in blending white and red grapes and pressing white juice from red grapes. The abbey proved to be a fruitful plot for the Dom, who used Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes sourced from the oldest vines in the vicinity. He would later find a loyal fan in Louis XIV, or the “Sun King,” who adored his “straw colored wines.” He particularly favored the Red Bouzy and the Rosé des Riceys, cites Charles Frankel in Land and Wine: The French Terroir.
Since the French king drank Champagne almost exclusively, the region of Burgundy to the south of France felt rejected. The region waged a war of words and began to spread defamatory statements about Champagne through pamphlets. The uneasiness between the two parties went on for almost 130 years and had almost sparked a civil war.
Dom Pérignon goes by a manifesto.
Pérignon drafted a Manifesto, which lays out the procedure and the law for creating the house’s wine. The beauty of Dom Pérignon Champagne is that its wines are produced only in outstanding vintage years. It can also only ever be blended. It uses only grapes sourced from the best vineyards in Champagne, France with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay variants at its heart. For Pinot Noir grapes, Pérignon would not allow the grapes to grow past three feet, and believed it was best to prune them in the morning. What gives these wines its dimensions is the slow ripening process of the grapes. The aromas are derived from the aging process.
The brand was launched under Moët in 1936.
Before 1927, Dom Pérignon was registered under the ownership of Eugene Mercier, but was given to Moët as a wedding present, when Francine Durant-Mercier wed Paul Chandon, thus unifying the two families. It was in 1936 that Robert-Jean de Vogué, a count and a military man, launched the luxury wine label, distributing the 1921 vintage. De Vogue was appointed managing director of Moët & Chandon in 1930. His wife, Ghislain d’Eudeville, was a descendant of wine trader Claude Moët, who established the company in 1743. De Vogue’s family owned numerous vineyards around France, and he served the company for 40 years before his death in 1976.
The chef de cave takes on the Dom’s work.
Dom Pérignon’s work would go on to inspire the future generations of winemakers after him, and now three centuries later, the daunting task of reproducing his craft lies in the hands of the Chef de Cave, the head winemaker the headquarters in Champagne. Current chef de cave Vincent Chaperon is in charge of the assemblage and also gets to decide when a year’s crop is exceptional enough to produce a remarkable vintage. The role is a big one, as the chef de cave manages all aspects of production, up until the wine is bottled and distributed. Chaperon recently succeeded Richard Geoffrey, whom he has worked with since 2005.
Unlike other Champagne houses, Dom Pérignon has the privilege of quality and source control.
The house’s parent company, Moët & Chandon, owns most of the best vineyards in Champagne, making it easier for the brand to monitor their grape production.
Dom Pérignon Champagne is made only six times every 10 years.
Chaperon still uses the abbey’s iconic 18th-century Caves as its cellar, which stretches for 29 kilometers underground. These limestone caves were carved by hand. Another manual technique is the act of “riddling,” which is rotating each wine bottle by an eighth at a time, twice a day, to rid the liquid of any dead yeast cells remaining from the fermentation process. These vintages age for a minimum of seven years.