db profile: Dom Pérignon’s Richard Geoffroy

New horizons: Richard Geoffroy will hand over the reins at Dom Périignon to Vincent Chaperon in January

In one respect Geoffroy has been lucky. Climate change has ensured that at least a small quantity of Dom Pérignon, which relies for much of its basic quality from being produced exclusively from seriously ripe grapes, can now be made virtiually every year, whereas it was produced only three times in the 1940s. Geoffrey recognised this when he said: “In an ideal world I’d make a vintage wine every year.” But, he added: “It’s about taking a risk and reinventing ourselves with every vintage” – recognising that the key element in its production is the rate at which the vintage matures, each one of which is different.

The result is that at least once he released two vintages in the same year – a small quantity of the 2005 and a much larger amount of the 2006. Geoffroy was not content with a substantial increase in production. For the first time in the brand’s eighty-year history he widened the range, enabling him to offer even more expensive wines. He soon increased production of the rosé expression. The reputation of Dom Pérignon as a ‘blingy’ product had been strengthened in 1971 when it offered its first rosé at a time when, generally, it had a deserved reputation as a rather overly rich inferior wine.

Changing of the guard: Vincent Chaperon will become DP’s new cellar master next year

It did not help that a significant proportion of the inevitably small first vintage was sold to the Shah of Persia to be offered to guests at the super-bling celebrations of the 2,500th anniversary of the creation of the Persian empire.

Nevertheless, today’s rosé is a classic assemblage with a stout red wine element, not necessarily from Bouzy but from other serious communes. The result is a deliciously crisp and fruity wine. But his most ambitious extensions are based on the French word plénitude, which is officially translated as ‘fullness richness, completeness’.

To Geoffroy it signifies the age at which the drink has fulfilled its maturation process. Geoffroy immediately appreciated that, “the challenge of making Dom Pérignon lies in carving out the time needed to blend it, then giving it time to reveal its full oenological quality”.

With the ‘basic’ expression he feels that, depending on the qualities of individual vintages, a window of opportunity arrives once the wine opens, at about seven or eight years old. This is opposed to 12 to 15 years for a P2 expression, and a breathtaking 30 years for the much rarer P3, far and away the oldest Champagnes on the market, apart from truly exotic rarities like those produced by Bollinger from its pre-phylloxera vines.

But there is another dimension to Geoffroy’s influence. As his colleague, Moët cellar master Benoît Gouez puts it: “He taught me that beyond technique was the winemaker’s personal sensibility that gives Champagne its soul.”

Geoffroy has been happy to share his feelings as well as his techniques more openly than any other winemaker in Champagne. He has been happy to work with experts in a number of creative fields, including chefs like Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià, artist Jeff Koons and musician Lenny Kravitz. Mercifully, he has managed to combine these experiments in publicity and appreciation without damaging his winemaking standards.

On January 1 2019 a changing of the guard will take place at Dom Pérignon, when its much-admired cellar master, Richard Geoffroy, hands over the reins to his protégé, Vincent Chaperon, after 28 years at the helm of the house. Bordeaux-born Chaperon has worked closely with Geoffroy since 2005, so the transition should be smooth. He began his wine career in Montpellier, where he studied oenology, and after graduating cut his winemaking teeth at Concha y Toro in Chile before returning to Bordeaux to work in Saint-Émilion and Sauternes.

Feeling slightly claustrophobic in his birthplace, Chaperon made the move to Champagne in 1999 when he joined Moët & Chandon. In just a year he had worked his way up to the role of assistant winemaker for the house. Chaperon believed his Champagne sojourn would only be temporary, as the climate was too cold for him and he longed to be near the sea, but something kept him there, and in 2005 he joined the Dom Pérignon team, Geoffroy taking him under his wing.

During his time at DP he has taken part in 13 harvests and declared four vintages with Geoffroy: 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2008. Asked how he plans to make his mark on the Champagnes, he admits that any changes he makes will be subtle, slow and continuous; “like adding a small touch to a picture”. “It’s important to keep a sense of balance, but there has been movement in the Dom Pérignon style since the 1990s,” he told Nuvo magazine.

*This is the final published article by respected wine and spirits writer Nicholas Faith. Shortly before it appeared in the October issue of The Drinks Business, Faith passed away. The Cognac authority and senior business editor of The Sunday Times died in late September aged 84. You can read his obituary here

One Response to “db profile: Dom Pérignon’s Richard Geoffroy”

  1. Michael Tschuertz says:

    Been tasting DP back to the 50s. alos compared to the other good stuff and this was looked at as the “cheap” stuff? Damn people have questioned Dp new way for the post 2000 world but lets see. good bottles from all the way back to the 50s drink good today. i hope to revisit the 2000s in my 80s again then.

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