The 2016 Vintage by Richard Geoffroy / I have mentioned years of extremes in the past: 2016 might be a year of extremes to the point of excess, with such a stark contrast between the seasons. The spring, during which we had to deal with hail and frost as well as the most precipitations and the least sunshine in the last 20 years, was very taxing. To the contrary, the month of August was drier and became warmer at the end, to the point of sunburn for some grapes.
All these excesses combined with the diversity of our terroirs created very heterogenous circumstances for growth and maturity. Our typical harvest pattern was profoundly modified. For once we started in the Chardonnay terroirs later than in the Pinot Noir: Avize was picked three days after Hautvillers! In the end we had to be very reactive and constantly adapt our picking itineraries to these exceptional conditions.
The harvest started in Champagne on September 13, shortly after the heatwave of late August, early September. The rainfall on the week-end of Sep 17-18 worried us at a moment where grapes were so fragile. Fortunately the sun immediately came back and we experienced once again the “Champagne miracle”: everything progressed without further delays or complications until end of September.
Without having started tasting the wines yet, our intuition from harvest is that some Pinots Noirs, in particular from the Grand Cru vineyards of Aÿ and Bouzy, could be majestic. Chardonnays will certainly show a nice citrusy freshness; but will they reach enough complexity to enter a Dom Pérignon assemblage?
The story of the 2016 vintage is yet to be written…
2002. 2003. 2004. 2005. 2006. I have already mentioned the special significance—for me—of declaring five vintages of Dom Pérignon in a row. Evidently nature was bountiful during that first decade of the millenium. There was more to it than mere chance regarding the climate, though, as I have alluded to: perseverance, dedication, teamwork.
All this ties in to the specific stance of Dom Pérignon when it comes to vintages. Our intent is to rise to the aesthetic ideal of Dom Pérignon—its singularity. The character of the year, brought on by the passing of seasons and by the whim of nature, is the constraint. The act of creation happens when the intent meets the constraint: Dom Pérignon emerges from the tension between these two poles.
I can assert that every year we perform each of our tasks with the same ultimate goal in mind: to declare the vintage. This implies tough decisions, a risk-taking mindset, innovative solutions and sometimes sacrifices. We cannot compromise on the quality of the grapes, on the maturity of the harvest. We invariably go through the whole sequence of winemaking, and rigorous selection process of the wines until we reach the assemblage. Only then, at the end of a 7-month effort, can we decide whether to declare a vintage or not.
Whenever we do, it is an accomplishment, and in itself, the reward. A new Vintage is born, contributing another stone to Dom Pérignon’s edifice: to get ever closer to harmony in our quest to create emotions.
The story of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2006 is a story of patience and confidence.
The story of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2006 is a story of patience and confidence with parallel trajectories in the vineyard and in the cellar. Taking our time was the great challenge of 2006, to give ourselves the freedom to create the vintage.
The climate of 2006 was overall hot and dry albeit irregular, with three phases over the summer: first a heatwave in July, then a sudden slowdown with a cool and humid month of August, and finally an improvement in September to which I can say we owe the vintage. The inertia of the heatwave was strong enough to guarantee remarkable ripeness, but only for those patient and discerning enough to wait until the perfect moment to harvest. As a consequence the harvest lasted nearly four weeks, one of the longest on record.
In the cellar, the maturation of Dom Pérignon 2006 vintage was slow, very slow—even slower than usual. The first signs of Plénitude didn’t appear until very late, and it was not until 2015 that the comprehensiveness and harmony of the first Plénitude were finally revealed. Time didn’t matter: we felt as confident in the vines reaching full ripeness as in the wine entering its first Plénitude.
Time is of the essence: this is as true in the vineyard as it is in the cellar. Time is not predictable: it is organic, active, and energetic. Time flows at its own non-linear pace: a constraint that needs to be transcended to open new spaces for creativity. My work as a chef de cave is to witness the action of time, to enable it to reach its full course, and to pass down this knowledge to the future generations of chefs de cave at Dom Pérignon.
Bottles of fine wine can age gracefully and improve with time, developing what the experts call tertiary aromas, usually at the expense of fruit. Assuming proper storage conditions, it matters little whether the cellars where this happens are located in Paris, New York or Tokyo: the outcome will be the same. Not (always) so much with Champagne, however.
Indeed the specificity of Champagne, since its origins, is that it undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle. This is what creates the fizz that once had Dom Pierre Pérignon enthusiastically exclaim “Come, I am drinking stars!” when he first tasted the sparkling wine that is now celebrated all over the world. The yeast performing this secondary fermentation turns into lees that remain in the bottle until it is disgorged. Then and only then is it fit to be tasted by Champagne lovers, and to be stored like any other bottle of fine wine for future enjoyment. However what happens when a bottle is not disgorged? The lees participate in a mysterious evolution of the wine in the bottle, singular to each cuvée and carefully monitored by the Chef de Cave.
In the case of Dom Pérignon, it is a slow yet active maturation, keeping each vintage alive and bafflingly— insolently—youthful. The wine continues to evolve and be magnified. A confounding process: wouldn’t we all like to mature yet remain young? This is the paradox of Dom Pérignon and it makes all the difference in the world.
Each vintage of Dom Pérignon is disgorged and (re)released only when I consider it has reached a new Plénitude, a privileged period of time when Dom Pérignon attains its radiance. Its development comes in successive plateaux which define as many windows of expression I decided to call Plénitudes: the wine then tells us a story that is new and exciting enough to be worth sharing.
After around nine years, Dom Pérignon reaches its first Plénitude and is called Dom Pérignon Vintage. The first Plénitude shows promise, completeness and harmony. Everything is in place. Our new release is Dom Pérignon Vintage 2006.
Some years later, the wine reaches its second Plénitude: this is Dom Pérignon P2. Stored deep into our cellar, the slow yeast maturation taking place in the bottle is inimitable and irreproducible. Dom Pérignon in its second Plénitude is more intense, precise and vibrant, energized by the transformation. A true metamorphosis: its universe has expanded. Dom Pérignon P2 1998 is being currently released.
Finally, the third Plénitude, Dom Pérignon P3, is reached after a longer period of over twenty five years. At this venerable age, all the components are completely integrated and the wine has become more streamlined and complex than ever. The third Plénitude reveals the heritage of Dom Pérignon, a living memory passed down through the generations of Chefs de Cave.
Many Dom Pérignon lovers like to compare the trajectories of a bottle of Dom Pérignon Vintage, stored at their place, side by side with a bottle of Dom Pérignon P2 or P3 longer stored on its lees in our cellars in Epernay. The three Plénitudes side by side is the ultimate horizontal tasting of one and only vintage. Each wine—each Plénitude—will reveal a different facet of Dom Pérignon: P2 and P3, thanks to the extra time spent maturating on their lees under our careful attention, will grant you an experience ever closer to the Spirit of Dom Pérignon.