The name’s Pérignon, Dom Pérignon

Part 5 of my Dom Pérignon History Series

The 1950’s saw a post war boom in production and consumerism when rationing ceased and materials became available again. The optimism for the future, and introduction of inventions that would revolutionise the household (Television, Refrigerators etc) changed how people shopped, and what they shopped for. With paper shortages a thing of the past, lifestyle magazines became an ever present staple in the house, and Dom Pérignon were in from the start, advertising their 1929 and 1934 vintages in print in 1950/51. Sales began to rise accordingly (see previous chapter for figures).

The next vintage up for release was the perfect harvest of 1947. Picking of the grapes had started on the 5th of September that year, making it the earliest harvest since 1893. The 1955 release of the 1947 vintage was a first for the brand as it represented the first original blend made to a Dom Pérignon ‘style’ (previously released vintages had essentially been extra matured Moét champagne transferred to the DP style bottles). They would also fall in to the vintage/release cycle that is still going to this day for the standard vintage releases. Wines in their first plenitude of readiness will be offered to market after maturing in the cool chalk cellars for between 6 and 9 years.

With the brand now being fermented in their own bottles for the first time, and with glass shortages a thing of the past, the 1947 vintage was the first to be made available in magnums (1.5 litres, equivalent to 2 standard bottles). Bottle sizes were further diversified in 1949 with the double magnum being re-christened the Jeroboam, and the addition of larger sizes such as the Methuselah. The naming conventions all derived from biblical references with grand connotations, but it would be many years before the King of Champagnes Dom Pérignon would be released in either of these larger sizes. Importantly, the 1947 vintage also marked the first time that the brand was made commercially available outside of the US market.

The next vintage declared good enough for a Dom Pérignon release was the 1949. Harvest that year commenced on the 19th of September, and concluded quickly as rot threatened to destroy the grapes. Thankfully, due to the speed of picking, losses were minimal, and the vintage was released in 1957.

Late 50s Ad      Late 1950’s print advert for DP 1949

The next two harvests saw poor weather in the Champagne region, and 1952 didn’t immediately look like it was going to be any better, with harvesting commencing on the 8th of September in unfavourable conditions which continued throughout picking. The resulting dark amber wines were on the austere side and quite restrained/closed on their release in 1958 after just 6 years of cellaring. Rather than the characteristic toast, cream, bread and honey delivered by an atypical Dom Pérignon, the resulting wines erred towards deeper notes of meat, truffles and leather, and it seems a wonder that 1952 was declared a vintage at all. Roger Moore’s characterisation of James Bond seemed to enjoy it though, in the film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.

The 1953 vintage was up next with a harvest that began on the 15th of September. Following an uneven flowering, the good weather seen in August continued throughout September, producing a healthy crop. Champagne was an integral part of the glamour associated with the last ‘Golden age of Hollywood’ and actress Marilyn Monroe would cite the 1953 as her favourite vintage of Dom Pérignon. Indeed it was rumoured that at her last official photo shoot for Vogue magazine 6 weeks before her death (taken by photographer Bert Stern and posthumously released entitled The Last Sitting’) Marilyn drank three bottles of the 1953 to help her get through the sessions.

The brand was also getting a helpful boost by the big screen adaptations of the aforementioned James Bond paperbacks, and virtually all of the earlier movies had Bond drinking Dom Pérignon somewhere along the line. The first Bond film ‘Dr No’ (released 1962) is right up to date with the villainous Dr No opting to serve the current 1955 vintage, only for Bond to say he prefers the 1953. The harvest of 1955 began at the beginning of October, and produced a bumper crop ahead of all expectations. It has been widely hailed by many critics as the greatest vintage of the 50’s, and is described by current Dom Pérignon winemaker Richard Geoffroy as “the archetype of the classical vintage”. Is this one instance where Mr Bond was wrong? Interestingly Bond is still drinking his preferred 1953 in the film ‘Goldfinger’ (released 1964), but has moved on to the 1955 vintage in ‘Thunderball’ (released 1965).

Bond was certainly on poor form in the 1969 film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ordering a vintage which didn’t exist. He erroneously asks for the 1957 which was a disastrous harvest ruined by frosts that reduced crops by as much as 75%. Given that the film was made in 1968 at a point when later vintages had already been released, this looks like a serious error in research by the production team (Moét have confirmed they only found about the reference once the film was released). Perhaps it is fitting that George Lazenby, whose sole appearance as 007 is largely viewed as a mis-step by the franchise, drinks the 1957 Dom Pérignon which also didn’t quite make the grade?

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