I was reading the website of Champagne expert Richard Juhlin recently whilst researching my on-going series of articles about the history of Dom Pérignon. Richard claims to be probably the only palate in the world to have tried every vintage of Dom, including the rare ‘not-quite’ year of 1926. What struck me of interest was that he also claims to have tried the 1937 which, according to Moét, never existed. 1937 was regarded as a top notch year for Champagne and Moét produced a standard Vintage, so a Prestige Cuvée was certainly on the cards, but who is right – Richard or Moét?
Dom Pérignon was first introduced in late 1936 to help perk up a depressed Champagne market following the austerity that began with the 1929 Wall Street crash. It would also help to slake the thirst of a newly invigorated US market following the end of prohibition in 1933.
It’s a rarity to have a vintage declared for standard Moét, without a corresponding one for Dom Pérignon, and there has only been a handful of times in the last 100 years when this has happened. The instant success of the first release of Dom meant that by the time of the 1937 harvest, Moét would clearly have been thinking about how they would present this 5-star vintage to market. So, based on that, 1937 Dom sounds like it should exist.
Playing devil’s advocate for a second, it would probably have made better sense for Moét to ensure that all they produced went in to the tried-and-tested Vintage wine which would be a definite seller, rather than diverting any in to a fledgling Prestige Cuvée. Moét were the first company to launch at the Prestige level, and the good demand for the first vintage could well have been a one-off – an enthusiastic response to a novelty product. There was simply no precedent at that time for them to fully gauge the on-going market.
In reality, they were able to hedge their bets somewhat as all wines were going in to standard Moét bottles, rather than any being placed in the distinctive green bottles used for Dom. Champagne goes through its’ 2nd fermentation in its bottle, but for the vintage years declared before the concept of Dom had been fully developed (i.e. any pre-1936) the liquid was simply transferred from their standard bottles in to the Dom ones. Even though the 1937 vintage obviously comes after the conception in 1936, it is unlikely that they had ordered multiple thousand custom bottles based on the sales of just one release.
It’s also interesting to ponder the impacts of the impending war, the signs of which had been on the horizon since the mid-1930’s. With the length of time needed to age a Prestige Cuvee in the cellars (at least 7 years) it is unlikely that Moét would want to tie up stock for any length of time. My conclusion is that by the time war broke out there were no specific bottles of 1937 Dom in the Moét cellars, but there was Moét 1937 which, if it survived, had the potential to be transferred to Dom bottles when ready for release to the market.
Nipping forward to the end of the war when sales of Dom Pérignon recommenced, the next 3 vintages (1928, 1929 and 1934) were released, but the company then skip on to the 1943. If the 1937 was ever to have hit the market it would have been at some point in the early 1950’s when perfectly good records for the surrounding vintages exist in the Moét archives. This tells us that it’s unlikely that the lack of paperwork is down to them being destroyed in the hostilities.
For a moment, let’s assume that it did exist, and Moét did have the foresight to put it in the iconic green bottles. In the age of the internet, it’s very telling by itself that there are no pictures to be found of either bottles or labels for a 1937 Dom. It is possible that virtually every single bottle was either drunk or destroyed during the war as, once in occupation, the Germans were demanding something like 400,000 bottles of Champagne a week! The French vignerons were increasingly cunning with the way that they protected the wines in their cellars (thanks to the lessons learnt in the First World War), but the 1937 was still young and not yet ready to drink at the outbreak of war. Vignerons would have been far more likely to have been protecting older and more mature vintages.
What clues can we get from any surviving bottles of 1937 Champagne? In the picture above we can see various bottles that survived (l-r Moét, Mumm, Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot), and experienced palate Michael Broadbent managed to get his hands on a few as he lists off tasting notes for several 1937’s in his thorough book ‘Vintage Wine’. With these varying survivors it seems extremely odd that no Dom Pérignon managed to.
What’s interesting is that each of these labels have ‘Reserved for Allied Armies’ emblazoned across them. The Germans were really only interested in the mature vintages for themselves, and gave winemaker Otto Klaebisch the role (dubbed ‘Wine Fuhrer’) of ensuring that there was someone looking after both the quality and the quantity of what they looted. With the Germans not touching it, what seems more likely is that stocks of 1937, being allocated as they were to the Allies, were heavily depleted and there simply wasn’t enough to make both a vintage Moét and a Dom Pérignon. Or, enough to make it worthwhile transferring what remained in to Dom Pérignon bottles.
To conclude, I think it’s unlikely that the 1937 Dom Pérignon ever existed and is therefore a rogue vintage, but am open to suggestion if others have any evidence to the contrary?