Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/765

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THE AMERICAN CHAMPAGNE DISTRICT.

THE AMERICAN CHAMPAGNE DISTRICT.
By LEE J. VANCE.

TWO hundred years ago a pious monk, Dom Perignon by name, held the post of cellarer to the fraternity of monks of the Order of St. Benedict, in the hamlet of Hautevillers, situated on the river Marne, four or five miles from Epernay and about fifteen miles from Rheims. His was an important position, for the revenues of the abbey depended entirely on its vineyards, and consequently on the taste, judgment, and skill of its cellarer. Consider what this pious monk did to increase the revenues of the abbey.

The important contributions that Dom Perignon made to the art of wine-making were the result of observations and experiment. Thus, he noticed that the wine which was made from the grapes growing in the different vineyards of the district showed, as might be supposed, different characteristics. For example, the black grapes produced a white wine that improved with age, instead of turning yellow and deteriorating as did the wine made from white grapes. This set Dom Perignon to thinking. Then the happy idea suggested itself to him of "marrying" the different wines produced in the vineyards of the district. Why not blend the juice of the black grapes with that of the white grapes? Now, Dom Perignon, be it said, was an artist. He tried many different mixtures until he obtained one or two wines that satisfied his nice and cultivated taste.

If Dom Perignon had been content to manufacture wine by the ancient and time-honored methods of his predecessors, he would never have discovered the light, sparkling wine which has made the Champagne district of France known the world over. His first discovery, the blending of certain wines, which was the result of care and thought, led in turn to his second and greatest discovery—the secret of sparkling wines—which, oddly enough, came by accident. One day a tightly corked bottle in the cellar exploded, and lo! to the monk was revealed the mystery of effervescence, and vin mousseux—what we call champagne was the glorious result.

The new wine met with immediate favor and great success. It revolutionized the art of wine-making; it was a revelation to wine-drinkers. Sparkling wine was so far beyond the old-style still wine that the two could not be compared in the same breath. The delicious and original qualities of vin mousseux are a fine color, a snap, a sparkle, and "beaded bubbles winking at the brim," a quick, fleeting taste to the tongue, an almost imperceptible bouquet, and last but not least a subtle, exhilarating effect.