BUBBLE RAP / Harpers Bazaar May 2003
By Amy Van

Moet & Chandon's youngest winemaker comes to town to spread some effervescent news.

He believes that he has one of the best jobs in the world - and there are not many who would argue. While much of France is still sleeping, Vincent Chaperon, Moët & Chandon's youngest winemaker starts his day at 7am - tasting fine champagnes and meticulously evaluating whether or not they meet superlative standards.

Meanwhile, he also travels to exotic destinations to spread the champagne gospel - not a common job requirement for winemakers of yesteryear. One of his most recent visits to Asia included Singapore, to launch the Moët & Chandon Vintage 1996 and Vintage Rose 1996.

During a champagne breakfast (of course) at Shangri-la's Blu, Chaperon keenly introduced the 1996 Vintage as "Moët's new baby", noting that it had been aged for five years instead of the usual three. He pointed out that the warm summer concentrated the fruit - resulting in champagne that is rich and fresh. "The full-bodied Vintage Rose 1996 has a salmon colour and the aroma of candied cherry, strawberry, blood orange, cinnamon, spices, cashew nuts and a touch of smokiness," he succinctly described.

At only 26 years old, Chaperon is not only au fait with champagne tasting notes; he is also armed with abounding savoir-faire. He readily shares his views on the marriage of food and champagne, as well as intently listens to the opinions of others. He also strongly believes that wine appreciation is subjective and that one shouldn't feel intimidated to share his or her perspective(s).

Born and bred in Bordeaux, life for Chaperon has always revolved around the vinous world. "My grandfather used to work in a winery in Pomerol. So I've always been surrounded by wines since I was young," said Chaperon, whose decision to be a winemaker arose seven years ago. Equipped with a Viticulture and Winemaking Degree from the National College of Agronomy in Montpellier in 1998, he headed for Chile to discover the New World. After his South American stint, Chaperon worked in the cellars of the famed Lafite Rothschild winery in Sauternes. .

The chance of a lifetime landed on his lap in 1999; to embark on career with one of the world's champagne heavyweights. "Instead of military service, I had the opportunity to work for Moët & Chandon and was sent to Portugal to research on cork stoppers." During his spell there, he carried out a technical, financial and structural survey of the cork industry in Europe, as well as acquired expertise in champagne corks, which are essential to the preservation and development of the wine. Since his return two years ago, Chaperon has been based in Epernay.

Being a young winemaker who is encircled by the traditional facets of the Old World, do people take him seriously? "There are 11 winemakers in our winery and although I'm the youngest, Moët & Chandon encourages us to openly share our views. That's the richness of Moet", he acknowledged. He humbly declared that that age doesn't matter - he is still learning but also hopes to offer fresh views to the industry.

Besides drinking sublime champagne all day long, what is his work really like? "Every day in the cellar, we taste a lot of base-wines that are about to be blended as well as cuvees so that we know when's the best time to release them. We present our range to different customers from France and overseas. As I specialise in the stopping, bottling and disgorging aspects, I also look into the technical side. We are always trying to improve our process and looking for new technology," he shared.

There are of course, essential lessons, including Moët & Chandon's philosophy, to be learnt, when it comes to making good champagne. "Firstly, blending is the core of our process. The actual creation of champagne is the blending (of base wines), and to reach the real balance during that stage. The second interesting point which still amazes me is the ageing."

He explained that the ageing process of champagnes is akin to photo processing. "When you create the blend, it's like a black-and-white negative, but with ageing, the wine is going to reveal its "colour" (character) just like the photo. "As the wine needs time to reveal itself, it's almost like magic… like an act of anticipation," he enthused.

Chaperon's job scope unfurls beyond the cellars too. His role entails communicating to people, younger ones in particular, that champagne doesn't have to be a traditional celebratory drink, but can be enjoyed at bars or paired with meals. Although it's not revolutionary to pair champagne with food, not many people are used to doing so, even in France, where 80 percent of wine consumption is during meals. "In Europe, we are beginning to teach people to pair champagne with food. We have two chefs in Epernay whom we work closely with to create new recipes for Champagne and food pairing." These recipes are then shared with restaurants which Moët & Chandon works closely with, or introduced during trade champagne-food-pairing events held at three Michelin-starred restaurants.

When it comes to the delicate subject matter of pairing, Chaperon believes that because Moët & Chandon champagne is "very complete, elegant and well-balanced", it can be married with any food. "With champagne, you can match with dim sum or seafood - because of its light texture and fresh taste."

In the meantime, Chaperon's future plans are still anchored in the champagne world. He candidly admits: "There are a lot of things to discover as it's a very complex universe and difficult to understand. So I need time to learn and will be in Champagne for some more years." For a successful champagne house, Moët & Chandon has certainly made a wise "investment" in Chaperon (since his Portugal days). And thanks to his employer, Chaperon is able to share his "global champagne views" to the Old World and beyond. And, to that, we raise our glasses and say "Santé!"


(Photos courtesy of Moet & Chandon)

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