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.

My WSET tasting looks at styles of Champagne

Earlier this week I ran a Champagne masterclass tasting at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and promised the participants, many of them WSET diploma students, to publish some of the detailed information about the wines, plus up-to-date statistics on the grape varieties planted in different areas of the appellation.

The idea of the tasting was to explore some of the varied styles of non-vintage champagne, taking wines from eight Continue reading “My WSET tasting looks at styles of Champagne”

Whose champagne is Majestic enough?

Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.

What they are drinking over at Kensington Palace is Continue reading “Whose champagne is Majestic enough?”

Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last

Tesco’s deal offering 25% off on all its wines and champagnes – on purchases of six bottles or more – comes to an end this coming Monday (31 October) but is only running in tandem with one other discount on Taittinger Brut Réserve (down to £20.25 if you buy at least six bottles). As November nears the discounts are likely to sharpen on the main brands sold through all the grocers, but now may be the time to stock up on a few bottles of vintage Champagne.

There are2016-04-12 12.23.18 some very fine vintage champagnes around, with 2008 an impressive wine in the Continue reading “Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last”

Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts

Grapes on the north side of rows haven't suffered
Grapes on the north side of rows haven’t suffered

Last month we reported that the harvest in Champagne was likely to be well down on the maximum yield set of 9,700 kilos per hectare, with some regions like the Côte des Bar, particularly badly hit. As picking begins in half a dozen crus today (12 September) – two villages one in the Aube and one in the Marne départements actually started picking black grapes on Saturday (10 September) — it seems that the average expected level of yield is no more than 7,000kgs/ha. And there are major differences between different areas of the appellation. In parts of the Aube/Haute-Marne, devastated by frosts, average yields are unlikely to be higher 4,000 kg/ha, whereas in some crus of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs yields could reach as high as 10,000 kg/ha. Continue reading “Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts”

Prices remain low despite weakness of pound

At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s no surprise to hear that the vast majority of champagne in the UK take home trade is sold at a discount. In the total champagne category Continue reading “Prices remain low despite weakness of pound”

Moët Grand Vintage 2006

Because of strong demand, the deal on Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 at Majestic due to run until 9 May has ended prematurely. The best prices for this serious, vintage champagne are now £35 at Morrisons and £39 at ASDA.

Moet GV 2006 - high res picAlthough it was not officially launched until May 2014, I first tasted Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 on 23 January in 2014 with winemaker Benoît Gouez. He described it as “a very attractive, ample vintage that’s more open than 2004”. The blend is made up of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Meunier is to bring the freshness to the blend normally delivered by the Chardonnay which Gouez says in ’06 were “ripe and Burgundy like in style”.

When first tasted over two years ago, it was already showing attractively, Continue reading “Moët Grand Vintage 2006”