By Roberta B. Turner
History is not clear about his actual birth date. Some records reflect that he was born in December 1638 and others January 1639. He was baptized on January 5, 1639. He was born in the town of Sainte-Menehould in the ancient Province of Champagne in the Kingdom of France. Perignon was a French Benedictine monk who made important contributions to the production and quality of Champagne wine in an era when the region’s wines were predominantly still red.
As a child, Perignon became a member of the boys’ choir school operated by the Benedictine Abbey of Moiremont until the time he went to study at the Jesuit college in Châlons-sur-Marne. When he was 17, he entered the Benedictine Order near the town of Verdun at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The congregation was a reform movement of monastic life, and he followed a regimen of prayer, study and manual labor, as prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict. In 1668 he was transferred to the Abbey of Hautvillers, where he served as cellarer for the rest of his life. During his stewardship the abbey flourished and the vineyards doubled in size.
Contrary to the popular belief, the monk did not invent sparkling wine, nor was he the first to make Champagne.
At the Abbey of Huatvillers, Perignon spent 47 years of his life dedicated to making the best wine in the world. His contributions were to invent and perfect techniques to make a better quality of wine. In 1718, a set of wine-making rules were published by the abbey that were said to be established by Dom Perignon. The rules stated that fine wine should only be made from the grape Pinot Noir, and the vines should be pruned to grow no higher than three feet so they produce a smaller crop. In order to insure the grapes did not bruise or break, harvest was done in the early morning when the weather was cool and damp. Perignon did not allow grapes to be trodden and preferred the use of multiple presses to create the juice. Overly large grapes were not used. Perignon was also an advocate of wine-making using only natural processes without the addition of foreign substances.
Perignon was one of the first wine makers to blend grapes. He would taste the grapes without knowing the precise vineyard to avoid influencing his perceptions to establish the blend. References to his “blind tasting of wine” have led to the common misconception that Dom Perignon was blind.
He lived to be seventy-six years old and died in September 1715. As a sign of honor and respect, he was buried in a section of the abbey cemetery traditionally reserved only for abbots.
The famous Champagne Dom Perignon from Moët & Chandon is named for him. The monastery where he spent his adult life is now the property of the winery.
Dom Perignon, the wine, is always a vintage Champagne, is not made in weak years, and all grapes used to make the wine are harvested in the same year.
Dom Perignon is always an assemblage of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The actual composition changes with every vintage. Sometimes a blend can be in equal proportions. The production of Dom Perignon Champagne varies but it is estimated that over two million bottles are produced during each year.