Vincent Chaperon Dreams Of Dom Pérignon
“I’m a man of dreams,” says Vincent Chaperon, the newly installed chef de cave at one of Champagne’s most prestigious houses. “I always wanted to work in wine, but I wanted to dedicate myself to a great wine, a wine that is not just a wine to drink, but which is about culture, history, sophistication, ambition, projection, imagination…”
Realising that dream began some years ago for Chaperon. He has been working at Dom Pérignon—a brand that more than fits his ambition—since 2005. And in January this year he took the reins from the house’s previous chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, who had been at the helm since 1990.
Chaperon grew up around wine. His family hails from Pomerol in Bordeaux, an appellation where his grandmother once had an estate. With Bordeaux in his blood, it was a significant moment when he chose to head to Champagne. “I was really rooted to wine in Bordeaux,” he says – and he considered remaining there. But at the same time, he wanted to leave and explore. Finding himself in Champagne, he says it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, not only securing an opportunity to build his roots in a prestigious wine region and to establish his career with a great wine, but also to work with the right people. “At the core of everything is my relationship with Richard,” he says.
From 2005, Chaperon worked alongside Geoffroy on 13 harvests and declared four vintages with him, including the 2005, 2006, 2009 and, most recently, the 2008.
Yet it’s with some trepidation that Chaperon takes up his new role. “It’s not easy, because Richard had been working at Dom Pérignon for such a long time. He was really embodying the brand; he was the face of the brand. On the other hand, I think we have built a deep relationship between us in the last 14 years, exchanged things, learnt things together: harvest, winemaking, blending, the creative process. It was something we shared fully,” he says.
However, technique and winemaking are only part of the chef de cave’s job. Chaperon’s new role also involves being a guardian of Dom Pérignon.
“Dom Pérignon is bigger than you and has been around for a long time. It’s about respecting the patrimony and traditions; it’s about trying to add something, because the brand needs to be nourished, to be modern and to grow.”
So what will Chaperon bring to the brand? “I need time to build my own way,” he says. “But it will not be completely different from Richard and from Dominique [Foulon, Richard’s predecessor and Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave from 1975 to 1990] because there is a continuity. I must go on building the trajectory. But I come with my energy, my dream, my imagination. I want to push the boundaries, to make the wine grow, to make it more intense, deeper, longer, wider.” Dom Pérignon is Dom Pérignon, he says, but his aim is to enhance it, to make a more precise version of it, so more people can understand and embrace it.
This year’s release of Dom Pérignon’s 2002 Plénitude 2 exemplifies what Chaperon hopes to achieve.
“Plénitude 2 is the moment where the wine is being true to the personality of the vintage, but it’s a higher expression. It’s wider than it used to be, deeper, longer. The Plénitude 2 is the peak of this energy, a saturation of energy. There is so much vibrancy, precision, intensity. It expresses the harmony of the vintage in a clearer way, in a more obvious way, in a more intense way.”
Plénitude 2 is the second stage of Dom Perignon. The house’s champagnes reach the first Plénitude at around nine years, and this expression is released as the Dom Pérignon Vintage. For the second Plénitude, wines are left on the lees in sealed bottles to undergo further fermentation. They are tasted regularly and once they reach what Dom Perignon’s chef de cave believes is a fresh peak of intensity and precision – which could happen anywhere between 12 and 20 years – only then is the wine disgorged, rebottled and released. In the case of the latest, the 2002 Plénitude 2, it has undergone 17 years of maturation and the energy that has accumulated in that time is palpable in the wine. A third Plénitude can be reached after between 30 and 40 years, manifesting in another peak of energy and, in this case, a moment of full complexity.
“It’s a way to go further and reinvent ourselves, because Plénitude 2 is about Dom Pérignon, but it’s Dom Pérignon elevated to a new age of intensity of expression. We like to say the Plénitude 2 is more Dom Pérignon,” says Chaperon.
Aside from enhancing Dom Perignon through its releases, Chaperon is committed to the Dom Pérignon community and to its experiences, continuing as Geoffroy did to work with chefs, artists, designers, architects, musicians and “all the people who understand the world of design and what we are doing,” he says. Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adria, David Lynch, Jeff Koons, Lang Lang and Lenny Kravitz are among those people.
There are what could be considered sacrifices to make when choosing to work for a champagne house such as Dom Pérignon –a “great wine” – in that the opportunity to make your own mark can be limited, but this is an aspect that appears to be of little concern to Chaperon.
“You have to be really humble in front of the brand and the wine. You are very small,” he says. “I’m the sixth generation winemaker; it has been there for one hundred years [the first vintage of Dom Perignon was 1921]. I have a lot of humility in front of that, so I really want to think about the brand before myself. I am at the service of it.”