It all started with a dream...
Out of a prophetic vision, frequently called "the dove vision", Bishop St Nivard, then in charge of Rheims area, founded the Benedictine abbey St Peter of Hautvillers in 650, the Middle Ages period.
The Marne river sides down the valley were the ideal location for villages settlements. They were also the favourite road for invaders on their way through Europe. Near by village of "Villare" (simply meaning "village" in latin) took shelter up the hills in 658 as a way to escape the threat. The community then became "Alta Villare". "Hautvillers" in modern French.
The abbey went through a troubled path...
Destroyed by the Normans in 882, reconstructed and then burnt down by the British in 1449. Erected once more and washed away by the Huguenots in 1564. Eventually, the third reconstruction appeared and was made out of the gracious donation of Catherine de Medici.
Despite this agitated history, the fame of St Peter of Hautvillers went increasing, helped by the local wine production in which the abbey held the first position.
While the "Champagne Method" discovery has been dated from 1668, Dom Perignon appeared ten years before, in 1658.
He'll remain in Hautvillers until his death in 1715.
With patience and passion, he established among others:
The mix of different wine types so particular to the Champagne production.
A unique way to press fruits in order to get white juice out of black grapes.
He ordered caves to be excavated in the chalk soil, so as to keep a constant temperature.
He showed huge capacities in administrating the site of Hautvillers and quickly took the wine production in charge. Since so many elements are missing from that period, one has to keep an open mind regarding his position as the "Father of Champagne". Yet, before Dom Perignon's experimentations, empiricism in the wine process was complete. Therefore, "Father of Oenology" might be a more appropriate term.
The wrought iron signs
The iron signs used to be commercial indications. Back to the Middle Ages, untutored people would then know the activity that was going on in the place.
Nowadays, you'll notice an average of 140 of them hanging from the walls of most houses. Though some still deal with commercial matters, (Champagne production being the predominant theme), many are just impossible to "read" at first sight. The idea, below decoration, is to express a passion, tell a story, give some information about the inhabitants.
The scenic site of Hautvillers is located within the Rheims Mountain's Natural Park. Walking through small alleys such as the "Cul de Lampe", "du Dessous les Clos" "de Bacchus", takes the visitors to the heart of the village's history that so many call "the Pearl of Champagne".