Chef de cave merry-go-round* (Part One)

Dominique Demarville off to Laurent-Perrier next year

The chef de cave merry-go-round in Champagne continues apace. It must be a bit of blow for Moët-Hennessy to lose their highest profile head winemaker, Dominique Demarville so soon after the retirement of the experienced Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon (at the end of 2018). Veuve Clicquot winemakers don’t usually depart the job until they retire, they are not meant to leave in their prime and at 53 Demarville is one of the most experienced winemakers in the appellation, arguably at the peak of his powers.

He’s done a great job in the 13 years he’s been at Clicquot, but as in the nature of the job, only his first solo Vintage Réserve wine from 2008 has been released so far (they didn’t make the straight vintage in 2006 at Clicquot, though Demarville was involved in producing the La Grande Dame 2006 white and pink, the latter one of the best rosés from Clicquot I’ve ever tasted). It takes time for your legacy to be seen and appreciated.

The 2008 has around 5% of the juice fermented and aged in oak casks, a change Demarville introduced, and in prioritising efforts to make Yellow Label a better, more consistent blend with added complexity, he’s introduced some oak in this too. He also blended and launched ‘Extra Old, Extra Aged’ a low dosage (3g/l), multi vintage blend made from Clicquot’s substantial collection of reserve wines aimed partly at shining a light on the quality elements behind Yellow Label, but also a fascinating wine in its own right.

Laurent-Perrier chef de cave Michel Fauconnet is expected to retire soon

When Demarville moves to Laurent-Perrier in January 2020 to work alongside and then take over from their current chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, the palette of flavours he works with will move from a Pinot Noir to Chardonnay emphasis, but in prestige cuvée Grande Siècle – a three vintage blend – he’ll surely find some similarities to his work on Clicquot’s Extra Old, Extra Aged. He’ll also have the chance to make a non-dosé champagne for the first time in over two decades in Ultra Brut and its new cousin Ultra Brut Blanc de Blancs. And who wouldn’t be thrilled to be taking over production of Salon.

While everyone in Champagne was shocked to hear Demarville was leaving Clicquot, it was bit of surprise to find that his former colleague at G.H.Mumm, Didier Mariotti – they worked together there for three vintages – has been lined up to take the job at Clicquot. Mariotti, takes up the position on 26 August, just before the 2019 harvest begins, working alongside Demarville initially to learn the ropes before his appointment as cellar master is confirmed in January 2020.

Didier Mariotti will still be working with mainly Pinot Noir based blends

Unlike Demarville before him, Mariotti didn’t want to leave G.H.Mumm where he had continued the good work that he and Demarville initiated together, first in greatly improving the Cordon Rouge NV blend, but more recently in sharpening the vintage offering – 2006 was his first solo effort and very decent – and making top class Blanc de Blancs Cramant (formerly known, much more helpfully, as Crémant de Cramant) and Blanc de Noirs, Verzenay.

The stylistic change facing Mariotti will be smaller than that facing Demarville, as both G.H. Mumm and Clicquot champagnes are black fruit dominant blends. Having spent time at Moët & Chandon and Nicolas Feuillatte before G.H.Mumm, Mariotti will have worked at four of the five largest brands in Champagne. He should therefore be pretty used to the way these large international drinks companies operate with the management in Paris and not in Reims.

For his part one suspects Demarville will glad to concentrate more on the winemaking side of things, rather than the international PR role the winemakers at LVMH are also expected to excel at. Fauconnet has always been allowed to stay largely out of the limelight at Laurent-Perrier, and certainly doesn’t go on global tours of major international markets every time a new vintage Is released. I’m not even sure he’s ever been to the UK in his capacity as LP chef de cave.

*This analysis column was first published by Drinks International online on 10 July 2019

Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2

Dom Pérignon 2002 P2 and the original release

Bruno Paillard, who has long championed the use of disgorgement dates on his own champagnes, and those of the brands in the wider BCC group, has an anecdote he is fond of bringing up to emphasize the importance of post-disgorgement ageing. He feels the more venerable the wine, the longer it needs to recover from the shock of disgorgement. In much the same way as an older person is likely to take longer to recover from a serious operation than a younger one. It makes sense. Champagne is unlikely to perform at its best Continue reading “Dom Pérignon launches 2002 P2”

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 Continue reading “Richard Geoffroy retires after 28 years as Dom Pérignon winemaker”

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.

Dom Pérignon 2002 rosé launch

Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy is pictured at the Dom Pérignon Rosé 2002 launch in London at Leighton House Museum

Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave at Dom Pérignon is not a believer in pink champagne that can’t be distinguished from its white counterpart with your eyes closed. “If it doesn’t taste different, what’s the point in making a rosé?” he said at the launch of 2000 pink DP a couple of years back. At that event, the first ever oenothéque DP Rosé from the stunning 1990 vintage was also released, somewhat overshadowing its decade younger sibling.

This time round in 2013 with the simultaneous release of the 1993 oenothéque DP rosé alongside the new ‘02, one could say roles are reversed. While 2002 is the most widely produced top class vintage since 1995, ’93 wasn’t much of a year for vintage champagne. But again it is the wine with that extra decade in bottle which stands out now and it is tempting to say: ‘What’s the point of drinking Dom Pérignon Rosé without at least two decades ageing?’ Let’s hope Geoffroy can persuade the accountants at LVMH to keep more DP stock back, so we can. We understand he would like to.