Imbibe caught up with the chef de cave at the launch of Dom Pérignon 2009 to discuss the most memorable vintages of his 27-year career
What do you look for in your champagnes?
‘I always compare wines to individuals – and what I’m after with individuals is presence. Champagne has got to be more playful. Life is too short to be shy!’
What has been the most challenging vintage during your time at Dom Pérignon?
‘Technically my most challenging vintage was 2006. The weather was mixed, but warm and dry overall. While July was scorching hot, August was unusually cool and wet. Then what I call “The Champagne Miracle” struck again: the weather turned fine at the end of August and stayed fine. The almost summery weather in September made the vintage possible by drying out the few patches of botrytis and maturing the grapes far more than usual. The resulting wine had a striking, bright, juicy dimension of fruit, like a raw white light.’
I keep referring to risk at Dom Pérignon, to step outside one’s comfort zone: to me it’s the essence – an element of magic comes out of it
What has been your favourite vintage?
‘I’m often asked what my favourite vintage is from my 27 years at Dom Pérignon. But for me it’s not about pedigree, it’s about challenges – and so it’s 2003. That year was such a singular vintage. It’s the least conventional vintage of all my time at Dom Pérignon. After a particularly cold, dry and severe winter, the spring frosts left a lasting mark in Champagne. Summer was immediately scorching, the hottest for 53 years. Anything that had miraculously escaped the frost and hail was subjected to intense heat until harvest. The crop was perfectly ripe and healthy, like those of 1947, 1959 and 1976.’
What do vintages like 2003 teach you?
‘Dom Pérignon 2009 would certainly not be what it is without the experience I gained while producing Dom Pérignon 2003… I call it the vintage game; it’s up-stream winemaking. There’s an element of gambling and betting. I keep referring to risk at Dom Pérignon, to step outside one’s comfort zone: to me it’s the essence – an element of magic comes out of it. Though it kept me sleepless for a few nights. I’m an anxious guy – it’s pretty difficult for me to be at peace!’
What changes have you noticed during your 27 years at Dom Pérignon?
‘Climate change is a fact. There’s no point denying it. We’ve been working with the CIVC and we can see that the tipping point was the mid-80s. To me, on the whole, it has been beneficial to Champagne: we get more consistent yields and a higher frequency of good years.’