Like many other legacy brands these days, Dom Pérignon is undergoing a generational shift in leadership. But the roots for this change had been planted long ago.
Vincent Chaperon will take over as the new Chef de Cave, the French term for head winemaker, effective January 1, 2019, picking up the torch from his mentor Richard Geoffroy, who has served as the house’s cellar master for 28 years. The transition has the potential to go down as smoothly as the liquid gold they bottle given that the two have worked side-by-side since 2005.
Geoffroy’s departure coincides with the release of Dom Pérignon’s next vintage, the 2008, which Geoffroy described recently during an interview in New York City as an overcast year, quite similar to the house’s 1996 vintage. 2008, as Geoffroy explained, actually stood out with different weather patterns over the course of a decade, requiring the vintage more time to mature. (Thus, the 2009 was actually released first.)
Vintage champagnes are different from non-vintage champagnes—and your average white and red wines—in a number of ways, including how the grapes are sourced and for how long they are aged. One stipulation is that vintage Champagnes must be aged for at least three years in the bottle to achieve maturation. Vintages also come from grapes sourced during a single year—versus a blend of multiple years—meaning there is less produced, thus why they are typically more expensive.
Dom Pérignon’s vintage bottles serve as the prestige Champagne for Moët & Chandon, one of the world’s largest and most prominent winemakers as well as co-owners of luxury goods conglomerate LVHM.
During his tenure, Geoffroy, a native to the Champagne region, has overseen the production of at least 15 vintages.
Geoffroy also pushed the storied brand, which produced its first vintage in 1921, further into the 21st century with a number of branding and marketing partnerships under a glittery umbrella, dubbed “Drinking Stars.” The program conveniently coincided with the rise in popularity for celebrity chefs, seeing Dom Pérignon launch tasting menus with the likes of Michelin-starred chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adrià, and Jean-François Piège.
Chaperon, who moved to Champagne from Bordeaux years ago, has already been with the house for nearly two decades, participating in 13 harvests and declared four vintages. Given how closely Chaperon and Geoffroy have worked together over the years, it’s inevitable that many of the same lessons and principles Geoffroy instilled will be applied by Chaperon as well.
The pair first met in 1999 after Chaperon had then recently graduated from the Montpellier oenology school, subsequently joining Moët & Chandon. Chaperon’s first assignment, which lasted a little over a year, was to manage the supply of natural cork stoppers for the entire Moët-Hennessy group.
“At the time I was really focused on the technical aspects of wine, and I found his request really inspiring, because it took my thinking to another level,” Chaperon says. “It gave me the luxury of dreaming and the energy to excel.”
Chaperon acknowledges that he and Geoffroy have different training and backgrounds, but he insists they share the same values: creating not just meaning, but also depth. Both of them, he continues, also value listening and respecting what the other person is saying.
“I intend to continue along the path that Richard has marked out, the path that leads from the land to the champagne lover,” Chaperon says.
Nevertheless, Chaperon acknowledges the need to push the brand further into the next decade for the next generation of oenophiles, keeping customers simultaneously satiated and wanting more.
“We are on a constant quest for perfection,” Chaperon explains. “It’s a lot like art: when you look at a work of art you experience something. Looking at it again—or tasting a wine again—becomes a new experience each time.”
The Legacy Limited Edition bottle will be the first release of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2008, available in the United States on November 1 for $179.99. There will be another bottle release in 2019.