At the announcement of Richard Geoffroy’s retirement, which took place in June last year during a hand-over ceremony at the Abbey of Hautvillers, Chaperon honoured his mentor with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. “I had to find a few words to describe my relationship with Richard,” says Chaperon. “And it’s not so easy.”
Geoffroy quietly pushed the envelope at Dom Pérignon, and managed a brand evolution while staying true to the wine’s heritage. It was he who introduced the Plenitude programme, which replaced the Oenotheque releases and labels. His vision was to select an optimum moment for the late disgorgement of a Dom Pérignon that has aged – on the lees – in a reductive way. The goal is to highlight three different phases of Dom Pérignon: the initial release, with disgorgement after six years of ageing; the P2 label, with disgorgement after 12 to 16 years; and P3, with disgorgement after 20 to 30 years.
Chaperon, 42, has a Bordeaux wine–family background. He studied oenology at the University of Montpellier and practiced winemaking at wineries around the world before joining Moët & Chandon in 1999, working on a project to study cork supply. In 2000, he returned to Champagne as part of Moët & Chandon’s winemaking team before transitioning to focus on Dom Pérignon exclusively in 2005. 18 years later, he’s in pole position at Dom Pérignon.
Is he the right man for the job?
“Getting this job was a dream for me. In the last 18 years I’ve been trying to find my place. Is it in wine? Is it in champagne? Is it Dom Pérignon? It’s a big thing, taking over from Richard – it’s a moment I’m proud of.
“I had a need to project myself into a permanent creation. As humans, we need to be able to dream and to create – to bring energy to what we are doing, and elevate ourselves. The joy of this work is that appeals to so many fields – agronomy, wine-making, research, science, art… I have the humility to understand that I am learning and building every day.”
Will Geoffroy’s eyes always be on him? Will he do his own thing?
“At a certain moment in your trajectory you have to be free. There will always be constraints of sorts – that’s life. But in terms of personal freedom – you need to choose it. You need to understand who you are.
“I’ll add my own style, while respecting the brand. So it’s the story of an encounter with the brand which is a shooting star – because it’s much more powerful than you, starting a long time ago and it will go much further than me. I need to understand where it’s going and understand my own trajectory, and where I will meet this shooting star.
“Life is a permanent reinvention but it’s based on a language of DNA. We are all built with DNA and it’s been mutating and transforming in order to adapt to nature and life. It’s the same for the Dom Pérignon brand. We have a DNA. We use the past – the genesis – to create our modern DNA. We reinvent ourselves every year, with every vintage.”
Is it strange to work on a product that will come out years in the future?
“You understand that you are not working for you. You are working for those who follow you. I believe very strongly in the legacy – with the transmission with Richard – I’ve been observing for 13 years.
“Consider Richard. He is leaving the company with all the vintages he has been working on for the last 20 years and giving them to me. Today, we are at one of the most fantastic moments for Dom Pérignon – it’s the alignment of the stars: Dom Pérignon vintage 2008, Dom Pérignon vintage 02 Plenitude 2, Dom Pérignon vintage 1990 Plenitude 3, Dom Pérignon Rose 2006. It’s a time of the most famous and most fantastic vintages at the same time. And Richard left us here… it will be difficult for him. But this is the story of our life. You know from the beginning you have to accept that you do things for others.”
Find out more on Dom Pérignon’s website.