Part 9 of my Dom Pérignon History Series
Whilst sales of Champagne may have been widely slumping, James Bond was still enjoying the finer things in life and the December 1974 premiere of the film ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ contained a typically glamorous scene where Bond is offered the Dom 1964, only to retort “I prefer the ’62 myself”. Little did he know that he wouldn’t be drinking Dom for much longer…
Weather conditions in the early part of 1975 had been unpredictable, with the winter being damp and snow falling in March. This seriously delayed the bud break of the vines, but temperatures improved towards the end of April and flowering was achieved as planned. August saw stormy weather set in, but otherwise the summer was sunny and warm and continued until the harvest commenced on the 29th of September. From a fair weather start the weather quickly deteriorated, delaying picking until the start of October, and forcing it to be completed quickly.
The resulting yield was smaller than usual but the wines were nothing short of fantastic and widely lauded as one of the Champagne vintages of the century. Extremely fresh acidity balanced the fruit filled palate and complex creamy blending. Alongside the characteristic toast, brioche and hazelnut of a Dom, red fruits, vanilla and gingerbread rounded out the fleshy palate. An extremely long length signalled a vintage wine with the ability to age for many years to come.
The 1975 Rosé, like the previous few vintages, was extremely dark in colour, in this instance giving a sweet confectionate nose of flowers and peach. A low acidity allowed the full fruit palate to come to the fore, with wildly varying notes of strawberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant and plum. A full and rich feeling in the mouth supported the long finish carried by concentrated sweet fruit.
The vintages would reach the market in 1983 and 1985 respectively and were, like the 1973 vintage, presented in revamped packaging to stimulate the flagging market. The green hinged boxes that stood out on shelves and kept the wine protected would continue to be used (with variations) up until the 2002 vintage. Two variations were still in use at this time (pictured above and below) – the first a card gift box with simple red interior, and the second the classic hinged box with beige interior and neck brace to secure the bottle. Whilst the shield logo sticker securing the box would refer to the vintage within, the actual boxes didn’t contain any reference. This meant that they could be used over multiple years, and it wasn’t until the 1983 vintage that the box itself provided the vintage year.
1976 represented the 40th anniversary since Dom Pérignon had been launched commercially. After a cold spring the weather changed completely and the sun came out and stayed until October. The memorable long hot summer resulted in an extremely ripe and extremely early harvest. Traditionally the gap between flowering and harvesting is 100 days, but the process was completed in just 84 days, commencing on the 1st of September.
The pale straw yellow colour of the wine hinted at the wealth of aromas on the nose which, alongside honey and butterscotch, added darker hints of raisin, mushroom, new leather and blond tobacco. The palate was full, deep and warming, beginning with bitter orange and melting away to toast, nutmeg, walnut, and some light spice. Due to the warmth of the weather throughout the growing season the well ripened grapes lacked acidity and the 1976 will be remembered as powerful and austere with a great length.
The super-ripe grapes weren’t deemed fitting enough for a Rosé vintage, and so the normal vintage was the only expression of the year. After 8 years maturing in the cellars, it was released in 1984 to a market beginning to surge with the Champagne excesses of the 1980’s.
Following two years of triumph came a year of damp and dismal weather. Not only would 1977 be a write-off in terms of wine production, it would also mark the end of the on-screen association with James Bond. The July release of “The Spy Who Loved Me” marked the final time the two brands were seen together on film (they did partner together again in 2008 to mark the centenary of Ian Flemings birth). Breaking with tradition, Bond didn’t drink the latest vintage available, instead opting for the 1952. This was the earliest vintage that Bond had expressed a preference for (excluding the false 1946 vintage tasted in the Moonraker novel). His switch to a preference for Bollinger Champagne was never fully explained, but it was reported at the time that there had been a falling out with film producer Cubby Broccoli. As the switch from one brand to another came at the same time as product placements in films began to take off, it’s more likely that Bollinger were willing to pay for the privilege of association. Certainly Bollinger take out print adverts for each new collaboration, which is not something that Dom Pérignon ever played upon. If Bond was after the finest Champagne he naturally gravitated to Dom Pérignon.
The vintage of 1978 nearly went the same way as 1977, only to be saved at the last minute by a warm September. Harvesting commenced on the 9th of October for the Pinot Noir and the 11th for the Chardonnay. Due to damp and cool weather for the majority of the growing season, uneven flowering, rot and under-developed grapes were all an issue, resulting in strict grape selection and a low overall yield (at the time of writing, still the smallest of the post-war years). As an additional note, the yield was so small that, many years later when Dom were releasing back vintages for their Oenothéque range, they had to skip the 1978 as there simply wasn’t enough.
Upon release the vintage was characterised by both high acidity and higher alcohol Pinot Noir grapes. Champagne expert Tom Stevenson described the vintage as “luscious, silky soft (with) creamy vanilla fruit”. Both the high acid and distinct Pinot notes also characterised the 1978 Rosé adding to the powerful and concentrated fruits.
The busiest decade for the brand so far ended on a quiet note. The start of 1979 had been extremely cold, and was followed by a spring plagued with frosts. During summer the temperatures perked up and some short lived, but respectable vintage wines were crafted by a small number of Champagne houses. Dom Pérignon wasn’t among them.