“I think the whole notion of luxury is continuously evolving, particularly as we speak,” Richard Geoffroy, Cellar Master of Dom Pérignon, tells me as we sit over coffee in his suite in Claridge’s. “Luxury is less about status, it's more about the experience. In terms of wine, the experience has been there forever. It's difficult to have anything more experiential than wine — you ingest and you absorb — and now experience seems to be the ‘buzz’ thing. There's a real aspiration for Dom Pérignon and its emotions, sensorial journey and experience. So to me, this makes Dom Pérignon ‘luxury revisited’.” Undeniably, Dom Pérignon is at the zenith of the luxury wine world, and on that note, the oenophile “unashamedly” believes this and underlines his point with: “Dom Pérignon is the most progressive wine brand of all.”
I can’t help but be impressed at Geoffroy’s passion for fine wine, life and his work as he eloquently reels off charming comments with wit and the occasional “voila!”. Born and raised in Champagne, his family has always been in the wine business and it was as if his path had already been written. Yet as with a lot of us, he had his rebellious moment, despite it being a rather tame one. Rather than following his friends to Kathmandu in the 1970s (“who went there to smoke who knows what”), he went and studied medicine and graduated with a doctorate. Has it helped him? You’d think that a degree of scientific understanding would be beneficial to his line of work? “I would say it has helped me in developing the intuition, instinct and understanding of a living substance,” Geoffroy replies.
"There's a real aspiration for Dom Pérignon and its emotions, sensorial journey and experience."
In 1990, Geoffroy became Cellar Master (or ‘Chef de Cave’) of Dom Pérignon and has been at the helm of the luxury conglomerate LVMH’s most prestigious wine label ever since. Dom Pérignon is of course strictly vintage-only champagne that’s aged for a minimum of seven years. Each vintage is created from the finest grapes grown in that particular year but is dependent on the harvest, which is in turn dependent on perfect weather conditions. Many winegrowers are able to forecast whether it’s going to be a vintage year, but for Geoffroy it’s not necessary. “I don't even need to forecast,” he says. “I just have to do my job in that time [six to seven months following the harvest] and I will be fine. I know that in Champagne, many winemakers pride themselves on being able to forecast and foresee the future. I am not interested in forecasting anything, why? To control and to master.”
So what determines the harvest? “Well, most of all, sunlight. Often people think heat, but heat is not necessary.” Geoffroy continues, and explains that grapes react to sunlight, rather than heat because the ripening process is determined by photosynthesis and of course “sensible” rainfall is a crucial factor. The whole process sounds rather temperamental, reliant on perfect weather, but it only serves to reinforce how Dom Pérignon refuses to settle for anything less than perfection. “We have a constant reminder from Mother Nature that we are totally at the mercy of the weather,” says Geoffroy, who believes it is this reliance on the elements that makes Dom Pérignon a truly “humble brand”. Dom Pérignon’s vineyards produce two variants of grape, Pinot noir and Chardonnay, which then form the basis of the champagne. Yet there is no strict ratio of grape-to-grape variety, as each vintage differs from the preceding and succeeding year. “Depending on vintage, it could be as high as 60% Pinot noir, and other years 60% Chardonnay. For instance, our 2003 was 60% Pinot and our 2002 was 60% Chardonnay.”