St Hilaire Abbey, The beginning of the Sparkling process?

St Hilaire Abbey, The beginning of the Sparkling process?

For a while a dispute opposed the fervent defenders of the Blanquette and those who defended the champagne as the precursor of the sparkling.

It’s now clearer in the light of the last research carried on, the oldest record of sparkling wine being made is 1531. His name is Blanquette of Limoux.

Limoux is in the southwest part of France between Carcassonne and Toulouse.
Indeed a parchment dated on 1544 certifies a delivery of Blanquette of Limoux in 1531. This is the only written evidence kept records so far. All archives have been unfortunately burnt or destroyed.

At the origin the monks grew vines essentially to be used as sacramental still wine.
One of the monks involved found out accidentally that a second fermentation started inside the bottle. The phenomena might be explained by a sudden temperature rise in the cellar especially at the beginnings of the spring season.
However bottles regularly blew up or corks popped.

The story would have stopped here without the divine intervention of Pierre Perignon aka Dom Perignon (1639 – 1715) one century later. Possibly the most well-known “fact” about bubbly turns out to be fiction. Dom Perignon may have created techniques to stabilise the bubbles during the ageing process but he didn’t invent the method “champenoise”.

Member of a Benedictine congregation in Champagne during the 17th century, Dom Perignon was in a way the cellar manager of it. The legend said as part of a pilgrimage to St Hilaire abbey where he took inspiration of the natural bubbly process. Back to Champagne he developed and improved it by experimenting the method to local grapes. The legend was born.

Other protagonist contributed throughout the centuries to stabilise the process and make it surer, like an English physician and scientist, named Christopher Merrett was the first to document the deliberate addition of sugar to produce sparkling wine.

English also invented the bottling process and the sparkling glass bottle.
To finish, the sparkling making process as it’s today is the result of a common experimentation throughout the centuries as well as a long term undertaking where Dom Perignon has been one of the major parts of the chain.

Chris has visited the place in 2017 and took the below photos during her journey.