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A drink with… Vincent Chaperon

Cellar master at Dom Pérignon, Vincent Chaperon is the face behind the iconic Champagne label. He talks to Decanter about the challenges of his role, climate change, architecture, running and his love of the sea.

Four years since taking over as cellar master at Dom Pérignon, Vincent Chaperon is putting his stamp on the worldwide brand. Champagne editor Natalie Earl caught up with him at the launch of the new 2013 vintage and ahead of the new Dom Pérignon Revelations project.

‘Taking over as cellar master is a complex and introspective journey. You must find the balance between respecting the heritage, and bringing your own touch. In order to push the boundaries, to help the brand expand and develop, you must first have a deep understanding of Dom Pérignon and how far it has come.

‘I entered into this universe through agronomy. For me, having contact and interaction with nature is important. We are turning a page in Champagne towards new viticulture, and I’m very at ease with that. I spend as much time as I can in the vineyards.

‘I hesitated at the age of around 20 or 21, to choose between the sea and wine. My two grandfathers were in the French marines, so I am a sailor. I love the sea. My family has always been based between the Mediterranean and Bordeaux, so both the sea and wine are part of my background, my heritage, my culture.

‘I love sport, and I do a lot of it, especially running. It’s something my family has always been into because it’s easy, it’s cheap and you can do it anywhere! It’s the most fantastic form of exercise. A lot of people really dislike it. But when you are used to it, it’s so practical. I play a lot of tennis too, I do triathlons, and I love skiing, windsurfing and cycling.

‘As we face bigger and bigger challenges through climate change, we are in a state of transition, and I try to develop what we are doing in the vineyard to accelerate that transition. We’ve stopped using herbicide; we work on cover cropping; the way we manage the canopy is changing; we’re changing the height of the training systems; we’re implementing polyculture.

‘For 10 years I worked with Richard Geoffroy, previous cellar master, so when I eventually took over, there wasn’t much that surprised me. But something I wasn’t anticipating was the big difference being the person making the final decisions at the end of the day. When you are not the one making the final decisions, you are in a situation of comfort, almost of relief. Once the responsibility is solely yours, you move out of this comfort zone. This changes the way you look at things, and helps you improve even quicker.

‘The uniqueness of Dom Pérignon is that it is not fixed, not stuck. The diversity we have at our fingertips – in the form of grape varieties, vineyard plots, juices and wines – means that every year we have the freedom to move, to change, to select. I am constantly amazed by Dom Pérignon; despite working there for 10 years, there is so much possibility.

‘I love architecture. There are many ways to communicate a creative process and when it comes to wine, architecture is an interesting way to do so. With Champagne, and in particular with Dom Pérignon, we talk a lot about verticality, horizontality, texture and light. When we create the blend, we organise things architecturally, we talk about the way Dom Pérignon is moving through time, the way it’s unfurling. It’s about space. Dom Pérignon is a wine which is made to expand through time.

‘I would describe Dom Pérignon as a minimalistic style of architecture. Minimalism is about space, and about organising space at the service of the experience, and the experience is about the perception of volume and light. We compose a blend which is playing horizontally – attack to finish – and vertically. Astringency, dryness and tannins all give you a sense of depth and amplitude on your palate. Brightness, vibrancy and light enter into this space through acidity, freshness of aromatics and bitterness.’

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