Jo Lawson-Tancred visits Champagne to savour the new Dom Perignon Plenitude 2 vintage

Venturing below ground into the winding warren of subterranean caves where Dom Pérignon has stored its wine for several centuries, the atmosphere is cool and calm. These cellars were first built at Hautvillers in the 1600s by the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon, for whom the house is named. A pioneer of champagne production, his influence can be felt throughout these timeless and secluded surroundings. Here, where the fast-paced bustle of real life feels far away, I slowly savour my first taste of Dom Pérignon’s 2004 Plénitude 2.

Refusing to rush things is fundamental to the maturation process that rewards us with vintage champagne. At Dom Pérignon, this typically takes 8-10 years. For each vintage, however, a limited number of bottles are kept back for an even longer maturation period of up to two decades and eventually released as Plénitude 2, or “the second life of Dom Pérignon”. Every year that the yeast, which is originally introduced to ferment the wine, is left to continue interacting in the bottle, the champagne becomes rounder and gains complexity. As I tip back my glass, I can detect elegant citrusy notes that are more clearly defined than in the vintage with an elevated minerality.

After maturation the wine is disgorged and the passive process of ageing begins. This typically happens once we’ve already bought a bottle and are saving it in our own cellar for a special occasion. The resulting oxidation brings out a softer, more buttery texture.

The right moment to end the maturation is something that must be decided with some exactitude. According to the house’s recently appointed Chef de Cave, Vincent Chaperon, “the wine balances on the edge with immediacy and surprise, evolving between tension and weightlessness. It has an extreme, tactile precision, deep and sculptural.” This moment will depend in part on the climate of the harvest year because the champagne is an expression of the unique terroir in which the grape has been grown. Connoisseurs will know that each vintage has a different personality.

2004 was a year that stands out as a return to the predictable changing of seasons, a “renaissance and calm”, Chaperon says, after the frosts and historic heatwave of 2003. A cool August was followed by a few weeks of dry heat that shaped the vintage and the harvest began on 24th September with a substantial yield of healthy grapes.

The best time to harvest has become increasingly tricky to call over recent decades, as the climate crisis brings about more chaotic conditions. “We needed to fight to find new solutions,” Chaperon recalls of trying to pull off a successful harvest after the extreme weather experienced in 2003. He adds that the harvest of 2009, also impacted by a heatwave, could only go ahead thanks to the lessons learnt.

Experiences like these have made Dom Pérignon keenly switched on to how our climate is changing. “When you are a winemaker and grower you start from the soil, you grow plants and you are in contact with the climate and creating a product with your emotion and delivering that to the world,” says Chaperon. “We are at the place to understand and see the problem.” In recent years the house has begun using more natural products and avoiding herbicides in order to promote biodiversity, has reduced its energy use by converting to electric tractors and is experimenting with recovering carbon emitted during the fermentation process.

Chaperon has stepped up to the helm of Dom Pérignon at a challenging time, but he is confident that the house can adapt after centuries of honing their craft. The original monk Dom Pierre Pérignon himself showed us how winemaking is a dynamic process. Perhaps his biggest innovation was to use both the black pinot noir grape with the white chardonnay grape, a blend that is still used today to achieve the unique flavour of Dom Pérignon.

The house may be forced to adapt over the coming decades, but Chaperon assures us that some things will never change. “The black variety gives the structure and winey character, while the white gives the lightness, vibrancy and freshness,” he says. “This aesthetic vision has been permanent at Dom Pérignon, and we can achieve it in a different way.”

The Art of Celebration: Dom Pérignon x Lenny Kravitz

Port meets rock musician Lenny Kravitz to learn more about his photography, parties and friendship with the Chef de Cave of Dom Pérignon

When Lenny Kravitz first met Richard Geoffroy ten years ago, he immediately sensed that he was in the presence of a fellow artist. As an infamous rock star and Chef de Cave of Dom Pérignon respectively, the match was by no means obvious, but when pressed on the matter a grinning Kravitz gestures at his open shirt and flared jeans and deadpans, “what, you don’t think we’re alike? I borrowed this outfit from Richard.” Unshakably smooth, his manner becomes discernibly enthused when he proudly relates, “we’re both very disciplined, we both have so many ideas about things, we both enjoy the creative process… we just realised we were more alike than different.”

Deeply respectful of Geoffroy’s work, which he describes as “a whole science”, Kravitz sees his new role as creative director as an opportunity to invoke how the Dom Pérignon experience matches that expertise. A classic champagne, for him the brand is most associated with something “you’re going to remember… it marks a time, an event, an occasion”. It is with that vision in mind that Kravitz produced Assemblage, a series of photographs in which he captures the fun and fleeting sophistication of such moments with an intimate gathering of friends at Stanley House in Hollywood Hills, a product of Kravitz Design.

Kravitz’s delightfully blasé descriptions of the evening, which, like many others, began with cooking in the kitchen, became a dinner party and ended up at the nightclub downstairs, belie the eminence of his guests. “We just started to hang out and talk – my daughter was the catalyst… It was just this eclectic group of artists hanging out and getting to know each other.” The group of artists in question included daughter Zoë Kravitz, Susan Sarandon, Alexander Wang and Harvey Keitel, among others, and they do indeed seem to revel in each others company more and more as the night wears on. 

Kravitz was “very much inspired by this book of Studio 54 photographs by Ron Galella,” an early paparazzo known for his shots of New York’s nightlife, so staged the series “inside, in the dark, with the flash”. Producing Assemblage has allowed Kravitz to develop a lifelong curiosity for photography that was sparked when his journalist father presented him with an old Leica camera on his 21st birthday. 

His music would soon place him inside a frenzied arena of pointed lenses but he remained more interested in “what was going on behind the camera”. On visits to the studios of Mark Seliger and Jean Baptiste Mondino he picked up a few techniques, but ultimately Kravitz learnt how to use a camera like any other of his instruments, “getting it, putting it in my hands and figuring it out”. 

The collection was launched at New York’s Skylight Modern on Friday evening, with limitless 2009 vintage champagne and a captivated crowd of models, actors, journalists and artists drawn from across the city and globe. No buzz was greater, however, than that for the arrival of Assemblage’s stars, who were paraded around the room behind a thicket of mics and flashing phones. 

Still, there seemed little left to add to the story already being told along the gallery walls. Shot in black and white, the images are a glimpse at rare, unguarded moments and include charmingly candid stills from scenes steeped in joie de vivre. It’s an energy that seems to follow Kravitz wherever he goes and fully infuses his collaboration with Dom Pérignon, which sees a limited-edition bottle released next year. “Even if its a legendary brand… we’re all having a great time, and thats what makes it work for me.” 

‘Assemblage’ is exhibited at Skylight Modern in New York until 6 October. It will then travel to London, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Berlin.