Pérignon, Dom

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Pérignon, Dom (1639–1715), Benedictine monk who has gone down in history as ‘the man who invented champagne’. The title is the stuff of fairy-tales: the transition from still to sparkling wine was an evolutionary process rather than a dramatic discovery on the part of one man. The life of Dom Pérignon was in fact devoted to improving the still wines of Champagne, and he deserves his place in the history books for that reason. Father Pierre Pérignon arrived at the Abbey of Hautvillers, north of Épernay, in 1668. His role was that of bursar, and in the 17th century that included being in charge of the cellars. He collected tithes from surrounding villages in the form of grapes and wine, fermenting and blending until he created wines that sold for twice as much as those of the abbey’s rivals. Dom Pérignon introduced many practices that survive in the process of modern wine production, among them severe pruning, low yields, and careful harvesting. He also experimented to a great extent with the process, and was one of the first to blend the produce of many different vineyards. Dom Pérignon produced still white wines, favouring black grapes because a second fermentation was less likely. Ironically, he was often thwarted in his endeavours by the refermentation process, which produced the style of wine that was eventually to prove so popular. His fame as the ‘inventor’ of champagne probably spread after his death, embellished by Dom Grossard, the last bursar of the abbey, which closed at the time of the French Revolution. More modern champagne producers have jumped on the bandwagon, promoting the idea of a founder figure. Eugene Mercier registered the brand name Dom Pérignon before moët & chandon acquired it and used it to launch the first champagne marketed as a prestige cuvée, a 1921 vintage launched in 1936.