The History Of Dom Pérignon Champagne

by • November 14, 2010 • Food, HistoryComments (0)7178

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Dom Pérignon is a brand of vintage Champagne produced by the Champagne house Moët & Chandon, and serves as that house’s prestige champagne.  It is named after Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk who was an important quality pioneer for Champagne wine but who (contrary to popular myths) did not discover the champagne method for making sparkling wines.

Dom Pérignon (1638–1715) was a monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers. He was the first to blend grapes in such a way as to improve the quality of wines and deal with a number of their imperfections, in 1670.  He also introduced corks, which were fastened to bottles with hemp string soaked in oil in order to keep the wines fresh and sparkling, and used thicker glass in order to strengthen the bottles (which were prone to explode at that time).  The development of sparkling wines as the main style of production in Champagne occurred progressively in the 19th century, over one century after Dom Pérignon’s death.

Dom Pérignon was the first prestige cuvée Champagne introduced, an idea proposed by Englishman Laurence Venn. The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was made in 1921, and was only released for sale in 1936.  The first buyers of Dom Pérignon 1921 were 150 customers of Simon Bros & Co, the company that imported Moët in the United Kingdom, which ordered the first 300 bottles.  The wine got immediate attention in the marketplace and 100 boxes were shipped to the United States shortly thereafter.  James Buchanan Duke, the billionaire who had founded the American Tobacco Company, ordered 100 bottles for himself.  The 17 bottles sold at an auction at Christie’s in New York City in June 2004 were part of that order (Doris Duke, the billionaire’s daughter, had kept them in her cellar). According to Dom Pérignon cellar master Richard Geoffroy, the 1921 vintage had a “distinctive bouquet comprising sandalwood, vanilla and praline”.

Until the 1943 vintage, Dom Pérignon was produced from regular vintage Moët & Chandon Champagne that was transferred to the special 18th Century-style bottles after extended cellaring.  It was thus effectively an oenothèque release of Moët & Chandon Vintage Champagne in a different bottle.  From the 1947 vintage, Dom Pérignon has been produced separately from the start.  The number of bottles produced in each vintage is not precisely defined (a couple of millions). As a result, the final composition changes every vintage: at times a blend in perfectly equal proportions (i.e. 1990 Rosé), at times up to 60% Chardonnay (1982) or 60% Pinot Noir (1969), and only once going over 60% (with 65% Chardonnay in 1970).  According to Richard Geoffroy’s Manifesto : “Dom Pérignon expresses its first plenitudes after seven years in the cellar.” As of 2010, the current release of Dom Pérignon is from the 2002 vintage and the current release of Dom Pérignon Rosé is from the 2000 vintage.

The current 2010 winemaker is Richard Geoffroy, who has been Chef de Cave for Dom Pérignon since 1998.

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