At the risk of going against popular opinion, Dom Perignon did not invent champagne. He was justly famous for his superb skills as a blender–but his legendary wines did not have bubbles.
He is supposed to have been so delighted with the bubbles that he turned to his sandal-shod brothers and called “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” This is one of the great deceptions of wine history. It only made sense that Dom Perignon wanted to rid champagne of its bubbles, since there was no market for sparkling wines yet. In France, nobody wanted them.
Over the course of the next decade, Dom Perignon dedicated himself to experimenting with ways to stop the development of bubbles.
In fact, the idea that Dom Perignon invented champagne was always just imaginative marketing. It was a brilliant but misleading sales pitch. The popular legend has its origins in a late-nineteenth century advertising campaign.
In her book, When Chanpagne Became French, scholar Kolleen Guy shows how it wasn’t until the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris that the region’s champagne producers saw the marketing potential and started printing brochures about Dom Perignon. From that time on the celebrated monk became a legend.
For those who enjoy the romance of the Dom Perignon legend, there is even worse news. Wine historians now claim that champagne did not even originate in France. Champagne was first “invented” in Great Britain, where there was already a small commercial market for sparkling champagne by the 1660’s.
Monks like Dom Perignon knew that local wines could sparkle, even if they considered it a nuisance. If there was no market for bubbles, why try and sell them? The effect of unusually cold weather stalled the fermentation process in the winter and allowed for the natural unwelcome emergence of bubbles.
Even if Dom Perignon and his predecessors did not discover champagne, by the end of the seventeenth century the royal court at the Palace of Versailles certainly had. King Louis XIV of France now wanted nothing more than bubbles in his wine.
Suddenly winemakers on both sides of the English Channel were scrambling to find ways to make champagne sparkle.