Richard Geoffroy retires after 28 years as Dom Pérignon winemaker

Yesterday morning, the peace and tranquillity of the quiet, pretty village of Hautvillers was broken as a cavalcade of 17 black Mercedes people-carriers from Paris swept into town. The occasion was a momentous one for this, the Champagne cru most closely associated with Dom Pérignon; a change of winemaker and the launch of a great vintage.

After 28 harvests in charge and the release, so far, of 14 white vintages and 11 rosés he has made, Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave Richard Geoffroy is handing over the keys of the cellars to 41 year-old Vincent Chaperon. While Geoffroy took over at Dom Pérignon in time to make the classic 1990, he had to wait for Philippe Coulon’s retirement in 2005, before he was also put in charge of production at Moët & Chandon. Chaperon, who himself began working at Dom Pérignon later that year (2005), will be responsible for both brands from the outset.

To mark Geoffroy’s retirement and Chaperon’s accession to the ‘throne’, friends of the brand from around the world were invited to Hautvillers for a series of tastings, kicking off with the spectacular launch of the keenly awaited 2008 Dom Pérignon, which took place mid-slope in a steep, south- facing vineyard overlooking Cumières and the river Marne. This followed a visit to the nearby historic ‘Cave Thomas’, the cellar set in the Hautvillers hillside vineyard where Dom Pérignon made his wines.

From there, we walked to the spot where 100 or so glasses were laid out on individual mirrored stands amid rows of vines and a group of sommeliers appeared to fill our glasses at each individual tasting station. As expected the 2008 vintage, a blend of roughly half and half Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as is normal, which will have over 12 months age on the cork when it officially released in a few months’ time pre-Christmas, is impressive. The notable acidity of the ’08 harvest has, as Geoffroy says, been partially tamed, but refreshing acidity, still forms the backbone of this wine, which while noticeably linear, has that extra concentration, density, mouthfeel and considerable length, that marks it out as a very special vintage.

Three generations of Moet winemakers

Geoffroy has been in charge at Dom Pérignon during a crucial period in the brand’s development and over a period of great change in Champagne generally. He has already been responsible for more than one third of all the white vintages of Dom Pérignon ever made, and there are at least another four white vintages that he has blended awaiting release. In terms of rosé releases, his influence is even greater and he’s already responsible for 11 of the 25 that have ever gone of sale and he’ll soon have accounted for half.

But perhaps his greatest achievement for Moët Hennessy has been in successfully overseeing the Dom Pérignon oenothéque release programme, which was started experimentally in 2000 and has transformed the profitability of the brand, while putting a general and very welcome spotlight on champagne’s ability to age gracefully over many years. Now the incumbent Dom Pérignon winemaker, providing he or she stays in the job long enough, has the opportunity to launch the same wine three times over, during a period of two decades or more.

The 2008 vintage and Geoffroy himself will be a very hard act for Chaperon to follow, but Geoffroy has complete faith in his protegee. “You will see. He has the technical ability, talent, imagination and management skill to lead the team.”

Geoffroy is one of number of very experienced chef de caves who are planning, or close to, retirement currently and his knowledge, good humour and genuine love of Champagne will be sadly missed by those lucky enough to get to know him over the past three decades.

Dom Pérignon launches P2 2000: an exploration of extra lees ageing

Vincent Chaperon, right hand man of Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, was in London earlier this month to launch the P2 version of Dom Pérignon 2000. Interestingly, he also bought along the original 2000 release aged on the cork since its disgorgement several years ago in 2007. We went along to see him and asked him to talk us through the quite considerable difference in tasting profile the same wine has when it gets a decade and a half of lees ageing.

See the interview video:

Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002

The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one.  Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?

I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and Salon are two further acclaimed ‘02 releases, and I’m pretty sure Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne will feature (see my piece on the recent Finest Bubble vertical tasting of Comte 1996-2006 which included the 2002). To these eight we can probably add Continue reading “Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002”

Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996

Comte line up 4 VerticalHistorically Champagne has not been seen as a wine appropriate for investment purposes, certainly not in the same way as say red Bordeaux. The three most commonly traded prestige cuvées have in the past been Dom Pérignon, Krug and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. Vintage Krug and Cristal, both produced in far smaller volumes than Dom Pérignon, tend to have the higher values, though which comes out on top depends on the Continue reading “Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996”

Moët launches prestige cuvée MC111

Benoit Gouez of Moet at 2006 launch in 2014
Benoît Gouez

Released at a price premium well above ‘sister’ brand Dom Pérignon and produced in significantly smaller quantities, Moët & Chandon has launched its own ‘prestige cuvée’ named MC111. This wine has been a long time in the planning and harks back to Moët’s L’Esprit du Siècle – a blend of 11 top vintages of the 20th Century (1900, 1914, 1921, Continue reading “Moët launches prestige cuvée MC111”

Winemaker Richard Geoffroy on Dom Perignon rosé

When Dom Pérignon launches a new vintage, winemaker Richard Geoffroy likes to bring along some other bottles so you can compare and contrast. When I met up with him last month, as well as the soon to be released 2005 vintage, we tried again the so called ‘P2’ 1998 Dom Pérignon, the second release of DP that comes onto the market after further lees ageing (typically another 8 to 10 years) and now really showing its considerable class. We also looked at the latest Rosé release, the 2004, comparing that with the ‘P2’ pink from 1995, fast becoming my favourite vintage of that decade and these days regularly outclassing most ‘96s.

This was a great chance to look at how pink DP develops and evolves and in this short video I ask Richard to talk about the two rosés and their differences.

Richard Geoffroy shows new Dom Pérignon 2005

When I was organising the in depth tasting of Blanc de Blancs champagnes, vintage and unvintaged, for the on-trade magazine Imbibe last September,  I was questioned if there was an all Chardonnay Dom Pérignon cuvée to include in the mix. No I said, winemaker Richard Geoffroy would never do that, for him DP is all about blending the two pre-eminent varieties grown in Champagne’s vineyards, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Contrasting their different characteristics in a roughly 50/50 blend is what makes Dom Pérignon special, you couldn’t make a single vineyard or single varietal Dom Pérignon, he leaves that territory to Krug.

Contrary to what I said yesterday originally in this post, Dom Pérignon still isn’t making a Blanc de Blancs style. The wine I tasted this morning with head winemaker Richard Geoffroy was in fact the regular, if we can call it that, first release of the Dom Pérignon blend from 2005. And while the blend by coincidence has a relatively high 60% Chardonnay portion to 40% Pinot Noir, it is still a blend of the two, not a Blanc de Blancs.

We also tasted the the second release, newly dubbed P2, of Dom Pérignon 1998 which is now really strutting its stuff as well as two DP rosés, the new 2004 and the re-released, sublimely complex 1995 rosé, the first ‘P2 rosé’ (although there was a re-release of the 1990 DP rosé in 2010). There will be more about these wines shortly, although the new 2004 white Dom Pérignon will not be commercially available until around April. There’s also a short video with Richard talking about the two rosés that will be put up on the site in the next few days.