Dom Perignon launches 2008 vintage as Richard Geoffroy announces retirement

The much vaunted 2008 vintage of Dom Pérignon was launched earlier this month at a spectacular event in Hautvillers, appropriately close by the cellar in the vineyard – ‘Cave Thomas’ -- where Dom Pérignon himself made his wines.

The blend, which varies slightly from release to release, is precisely 50:50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 2008 for the first time since the top class 1990 vintage.

Coming out of sequence - the ripe, forward, 2009 Dom Pérignon vintage was released in May 2017 - with nearly nine years on its lees, plus over 12 months post-disgorgement ageing on the cork. By the time the wine is made available to the trade in the run-up to Christmas 2018, it has had longer in bottle than any recent release.

Showing the characteristic intense, vibrant acidity of the vintage, the task of the winemaking team was to “bring out the fleshiness and richness of the wine, to temper this bracing acidity,” says chef de cave of 28 years standing, Richard Geoffroy. It needed that extra time before the initial release, he believes.
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.

The launch party was also the time chosen to announce that Geoffroy is retiring at the end of the year, after nearly three decades in charge and that Vincent Chaperon, who joined Moët & Chandon in 1999 and has worked at Geoffroy’s side on Dom Pérignon since 2005, will be his successor. While Geoffroy took up the reins 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 is 41, will be responsible for both brands from the outset.

Geoffroy, who has now overseen the release of 15 white Dom Pérignon vintages and 11 rosés he himself has made, 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 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, says Champagne Guru and Drinks International’s champagne correspondent, Giles Fallowfield. 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,” he said.

Chaperon has already been presenting the wines to journalists for a number of years, particularly Dom Pérignon rosé releases. He was put in charge of red wine production on his arrival, partly because he hails from Pomerol in Bordeaux, Geoffroy says, tongue in cheek. Geoffroy is one of number of very experienced chef de caves who are planning, or close to, retirement currently and his departure is seen by some as the end of an era in Champagne.