An Interview with Vincent Chaperon, Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon

Bordeaux Index

1 July 2024

Vincent Chaperon was made Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon in 2019. We caught up with Vincent to discuss the release of the 2015 vintage: "intention is so important. Give the things you do an intention, and the wine will have direction."

Thank you for joining us today, Vincent. This is, of course, the first vintage of Dom Pérignon to be released since the 2013 and as such it is highly anticipated. How would you characterise the 2015 Dom Pérignon?

As you say, we didn't do the 2014 as the vintage was not easy. We had some acetic problems with the grapes, so we decided to not take the risk and make a Dom Pérignon which might not reach the usual 30 to 40 years in ageing potential. So, we shifted to the 2015.

2015 is in the lineage of the warm years we've been facing very frequently in the past decade, the 2000 decade - 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, and so on. We were in that movement 10 years ago, starting with 2003, where we were rediscovering and exploring new conditions in the evolution of the climate. 15’ is one of those warm vintages, characterised by the high temperatures, by sunny conditions and by dry conditions. It‘s an interesting wine that shows a lot of body, structure, concentration, and density.

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You’ve talked about the dry conditions, and the fact that 2003 ushered that new era in, of hot, dry conditions. How did the vines cope with those conditions in 2015, if you compare it with the likes of 2003?

I remember that during the harvest everybody was talking about 2003, and here was 2015. There were similarities as there had been a kind of trauma in 03 and we were shocked and surprised when discovering these new conditions and harvesting in August for 2015. There are similarities between 2003 and 2015 but also a few differences.

For example, in 2003 we had a lot of frost which led to very low yields in the Chardonnay. When we look away from the climate and instead to the figures, when talking about the balance in the fruit, the juices, the acidity, the pH, 2015 is closer to 2002, 2005 or 2006. This is where we’re talking about richness and ripeness. Speaking about the perception of the 2015 wine today, it really reminds me of 1995. There are similarities in the trajectory of the wine, they share very linear, driven qualities with dimension and organisation on the palate and a strong structure which makes for a very intense and robust wine. 2015 has an unwavering presence.

On that note about structure, how do you think champagnes from warmer vintages, like this, age and develop in bottle; what's their longevity?

This is one of our two most important questions we ask ourselves. The first being, it the wine true to the operating Dom Pérignon style? The second is does it have the ageing potential? We do everything we can from the beginning to convey the ageing potential of the wine. I would say that our warmer vintages, like 2003, 2005, they have this stronger structure which gives them a very stable base. The wine is very rooted, so has more resilience to oxidation and evolution whilst ageing.

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Do you think we maybe sometimes put too much emphasis on the need for acidity in wines for ageing potential? When maybe we need to think more about the structure perhaps?

This is a perfect question and has been the debate in Champagne for 30 years or more now. Certainly, outside of Champagne people are talking about it too for example in the Loire Valley. Acidity does not evolve through ageing. You can’t oxidise acidity, it is the backbone, and it stays the same – it keeps the freshness. The harmony of the wines through ageing is not only reliant on the acidity otherwise after 30 years you’d have no flesh or harmony to the wine.

You need much more than acidity to keep the balance and liveliness of the wine. Aromas can bring vibrancy and freshness. If you’re talking about minerality, dustiness, smokiness, all these elements bring vibrancy to the wine. Obviously, freshness is not the only thing you’re looking for to provide potential ageing. You’re also looking to keep the balance between structure and freshness. You need to find a way in your wine to maintain the fleshiness, the roundness and volume, not just to have an evolution of the structure.

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To zoom out from the 2015 vintage and talk briefly about your role as Chef de Cave. What are the biggest challenges in your role, and what's your favourite element of what you do?

I think the biggest challenge is to find the balance between the heritage and the ethos of Dom Pérignon, and the modern times we live in. There are things you have to respect, to transmit and to continue, that comes with the responsibility of being the cellar master, and you must balance that with your own sensitivity and personality.

At the same time, you need to add something from yourself to the wines. This is what makes Dom Pérignon alive and of its time still. You are embodying the wine. I’ve worked hard to understand the tension between these two things and to understand it perfectly. It is the most difficult thing but also the most exciting.

I love my job, it’s so diverse but the thing I like most is the harvest. It’s an overlap between the growing season and the creative winemaking part of my job. I love being amongst the vines, picking, touching, tasting the grapes, using your intelligence of the body but also, it’s very conceptual because it’s a matter of projection. You’re starting this long project. It’s this relay between the seamless transition of what nature is giving you, and what you’re going to try and enhance and embody in the wine in the future.

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And in your case, the release of that wine as a final wine, as a final champagne, is so many years in the future and so it's an interesting thing that you're in the moment of harvest, living here, but you're also, as you say, conceptually a decade ahead as well.

I have this image of ski jumping. That moment of jumping will affect the trajectory of the rest of the jump. That is what wine is like. You’ll see different points of impact at 1 year, at 5, 10 and 15 years in the future. Fine wine is a matter of dynamics and movement.

You need the right movement with the right direction and the right precision, the right pace and energy to make the best wine. You’re using the intention of your body, your brain, your gesture, everything to reach that one goal.

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I love that image and it makes us realise the precision of everything you are doing at this point in time.

Intention is so important. Give the things you do an intention, and the wine will have direction.

Just one final question, what three words capture the spirit of Dom Pérignon?

It's a very important question. Certainly, I would say: ‘creative quest’ because it's about creation and that special something we’re always reaching for. Second is harmony, because that's the goal we need. We want to reach harmony. And the third is emotion, because that's what we want to provoke at the end of the day. It’s not just wine. We want wine to be the bearer of an experience that brings emotion and people together.

That's brilliant. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Vincent.

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