This leading expert in Reims Cathedral is also a historian of Champagne wine, exploring what he considers its “prehistory”. One of his key contributions to Maison Taittinger has been lending his expertise to tracing the history of Thibaut IV, a figure closely linked to the emblematic Comtes de Champagne cuvee.
He happily describes himself as a “Rémois AOC” (an inhabitant of Reims AOC) when speaking about the unbreakable bond that he has always felt with Reims Cathedral. For several decades now, he has been the undisputed global specialist in the subject. Patrick Demouy has harboured this passion for a long time – ever since his childhood years spent as a choir boy, when he would serve the liturgy at different times of the day. “I remember being moved by the quality of the light that enters the cathedral and varies according to the time of day. As a teenager, I was desperate to understand what the statuary was telling us.” He was still a young history student when he wrote his first book on the cathedral, aged 21. Many others would follow even though, for this tireless researcher, there is still a lot to learn about Notre-Dame de Reims. “In spite of the enormous progress we’ve made in the last twenty or so years, there needs to be even more in-depth work carried out on the iconography. A cathedral’s façade is an open book, the message of which sometimes still requires deciphering.” With this in mind, he is currently delving into the archives in an attempt to “rediscover the clergymen’s philosophy and intellectual construction at the time.”
Studying champagne is his other passion, his “indulgence”, he says. The medieval scholar is committed to “filling a knowledge gap” in the pre-17th century period and the invention of the champagne method. “It’s the prehistory of champagne,” he explains. “But you realise very quickly just how embedded the genealogy of the plots is. Basically, it has hardly shifted at all.” He is currently rifling through the Parisian archives to look at the growing importance of Champagne wine in the French capital since the Middle Ages. “From the 14th century onwards, there was a shift where the ‘wine from the river’ – that’s what they used to call wine from the Marne Valley – started to take some of the market share from the ‘wine from Beaune’, the prevailing wine at the time. This wine was under the radar but already held in very high regard.” The same theme came up time and again during Patrick Demouy’s exploration of the texts: “In the Middle Ages, Champagne wine was already recognised for its finesse, clarity and elegance. These are the terms most frequently used to describe it.” His next mission is to identify the real place that it occupied in the Court of the French Kings before it even became a sparkling wine.
Maison Taittinger and Patrick Demouy have already worked together on a number of occasions, striving for the recognition of the Champagne terroir, in particular for the classification of its Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today they are involved in a reconstruction project for the façade of the Maison des musiciens in Reims. The building was dismantled and partly salvaged in 1917 before being destroyed by the bombings and fires of the following year. It was rebuilt in 1982 in a room of the Musée Saint-Remi, displaying its incredible statuary. The medieval scholar is particularly fond of this space, owned by Maison Taittinger. “More than just a historical and architectural point of interest, it was also my grandmother’s birthplace,” he says. The circle is almost complete…