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September 12, 2012

Dom Pérignon Renovates an Abbey

By Rory Tolan | Wine

Dom Pérignon Renovates an Abbey
Courtesy Dom Pérignon

When it comes to fine wine, many consider the question of terroir or provenance neither here nor there, accepting any glass as long as it packs a punch. (The proof is not in the pudding—the pudding is in the proof.) But to a certain order, the experience approaches the religious, and to close one’s eyes and drink deeply from a renowned vintage is to see the face of God. If you count yourself among the enlightened, a pilgrimage to a certain abbey near Epernay, France—freshly restored in loving historical detail—may be a source of spiritual ecstasy.

The Abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers—a Benedictine monastery founded around 650—has attracted pilgrims for more than a millennium. While most have visited to pray at the relics of St. Helena, zealots of a different sort have also crowded its cloisters in modern times. The abbey happens to be the resting place of Dom Pérignon, the namesake of Moët & Chandon’s prestige cuvée and a leading contender for the patron saint of sparkling wine. Though Pérignon did not invent Champagne, he is often cited as its father because he perfected nearly all the techniques that go into making it—and he did so right in this monastery, whose vineyards and wine cellar he directed in the late 17th century. 

This month, more oenophiles than ever will come to pay their respects as Moët & Chandon completes the massive renovations it began in 2009. The project, in collaboration with architect François Chatillon, required the use of master craftsmen, 17th-century methods and specially commissioned, antiquated tools. In a stunning feat of piety, Moët & Chandon has managed to restore the cloisters, the gardens, the wine rows, the library and the abbey’s famed Saint-Hélène portal to the state of grandeur that Brother Pierre Pérignon would have recognized.

Visitors seeking the vine inspiration will be happy to learn that the miracle is ongoing. Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave of Dom Pérignon, frequently walks the grounds when in search of new ideas. “The Hautvillers Abbey continues to inspire the creation of Dom Pérignon vintages,” he says. “It is essential to my work. This is where it all began.” For a tour, call the Moët & Chandon visitor’s center in Epernay at 31-3/26-51-20-00; moet.com.

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