Although they never met, the world’s most famous monk was an exact contemporary of the world’s most famous king, Le Roi Soleil. Pierre Pérignon was born four months later than Louis XIV and died just two weeks after his monarch. When he was just 29 years old, the Catholic church sent him to a small abbey that had stood for more than a thousand years watching over the Marne Valley, between Reims and Epernay. Thanks to the Holy Crusades, this diocese had gradually inherited the very best vineyards in Champagne. In fact, Hautvilliers Abbey had once been a stopping place for important visitors on their way to Reims, but invaded, plundered, burned and ransacked for centuries, it was finally reduced to ruins in 1562, so when Dom Pérignon arrived in 1668, the abbey was a shadow of its former self. His instructions were clear − improve the vineyards and improve the champagne – ie. get rid of the bubbles (at that time, fizzy champagne was a popular fad at the English Royal Court but, otherwise, bubbles were considered a sign of poor wine-making and undesirable).
As procurator and cellarmaster, Dom Pierre Pérignon was responsible for management, administration and sales − as well as making the wines. He immediately set about restoring the vineyards and reclaiming rights and privileges such as the religious tithe (1/10th of crops owed to the clergy in France) and luckily he turned out to be a very skilled winemaker. During his lifetime, vineyard holdings were more than doubled and, by the end of the 17th century, Pierre Pérignon’s champagne was regularly served at Versailles and widely known as “the best wine in the world”. The work of Dom Pérignon not only ensured the monastery’s material prosperity but also introduced many notable improvements in wine-making which are still practiced today. The champagne that bears his name: Moët & Chandon Cuvee Dom Pérignon (the wine) is an equally audacious but altogether different story…
Cuvee Dom Pérignon was originally inspired by a talented English publicist at Simon Brothers, Moët & Chandon’s (M&C) London agency − Laurence Venn came up with the idea of creating an exceptional quality champagne to be sold on allocation (at a higher price) to the British aristocracy. The Dom Pérignon brand had originally been registered by one of Moët’s main competitors, Champagne Mercier, but passed into family hands as a wedding gift in 1927. A legend’s name for a legendary wine seemed like the perfect fit! The house of Moët & Chandon had been famous since the days of Madame de Pompadour, but this was still a radical and risky new departure for Champagne’s most established brand during a period of global recession. In 1935, each of the family descendants of the M&C London agency’s top clients received a basket containing two sumptuous 19th century styled bottles of the 1926 vintage, sealed with wax and string. The customers’ reaction was so enthusiastic that the same tactic was employed in the US market the following year. In fact, Cuvee Dom Pérignon proved so popular there that it was reserved exclusively for the US market until 1947. In 1959, Cuvee Dom Pérignon was recognised by the world press as the most prestigious champagne in the world. In the 21st century’s current age of ‘glamorous globalism’, Cuvee Dom Pérignon continues to lead the market with its own vision of fashionable contemporary luxury. Think Marie Antoinette with a modern twist − last year, Moët & Chandon’s enfant terrible Karl Lagerfeld released a limited edition Dom Pérignon glass modelled on Claudia Schiffer’s breasts. You can check out the making of Karl Lagerfeld’s Dom Pérignon video starring Claudia Schiffer on CJ’s facebook page.
Tasting Note − Dom Pérignon Key characteristics: Exquisite balance, elegance and creaminess, very fine tiny bubbles and complex flavours. Blend: 50% chardonnay/50% pinot noir, aged minimum six years before release.
Ironically, champagne industry colleagues often refer to the man responsible for creating the Dom Pérignon style today as ‘the monk’. Celebrating his 20th vintage as chef de caves for Dom Pérignon in 2010, Dr. Richard Geoffroy originally trained as a medical doctor, but coming from a long line of growers in the region, champagne was always in his blood. His first vintage as Dom Pérignon cellarmaster was 1990. One of his many innovations has been the creation of a library collection of mature Dom Pérignon vintages, called Oenothèque, which Moët & Chandon leverages to release three vintages of perfectly-aged Dom Pérignon to the market at the precise moment when Geoffroy has determined these vintages to have developed the secondary characteristics that make them particularly attractive to drink. This has to be the ultimate in effective aspirational marketing. It’s pure genius. Having long aspired to share his passion for Dom Pérignon and his amazing experiences of the culture of enjoying the pleasures and emotions provided by luxury products around the world, at the beginning of 2010, Geoffroy launched an insightful personal blog, Making Dom Pérignon. Just like the inherent qualities of the wine, the distinctive online identity created is masterful. Here is a platform for the most loyal fans to interact directly with the brand. As well as recounting interesting stories about his global travels as ambassador, one of Geoffroy’s first postings (filed under the ‘looking forward’ section) was about the launch of the first ever Dom Pérignon Oenothèque Rosé based on the fabulous 1990 vintage, which he elegantly described as “a paradox to the point of contradiction”. http://www.richardgeoffroy-domPérignon.com/category/looking-forward/ Richard even personally answered my question posted about the 1950s vintages of Dom Pérignon discussed in the James Bond movie, Dr No. After all, Dom Pérignon was the first prestige champagne I ever purchased − simply because I knew James Bond liked it. What does Dom Pérignon mean to you?
Meet The Champagne Makers Ep 4: Champagne Dom Perignon
Meet Richard Geoffroy – Chef de Caves at Dom Perignon since 1990 and a living legend in Champagne – often referred to by industry colleagues as “The Monk”. Richard takes Champagne Jayne TV through a tasting of 4 expressions of the world’s first prestige cuvee