Parma’s tribute to the master of time

Big celebrations for Richard Geoffroy, the father of Dom Pérignon’s timeless vintages. He’s leaving the Maison in Epernay after 28 years

Richard Geoffroy during his speech in the council

Richard Geoffroy during his speech in the council chambers in Parma’s town hall. For 28 years now he’s been chef de cave at Dom Pérignon. He’s going to leave the Maison in Epernay after the 2018 harvest. Photo by Matteo Fornari

One more harvest, and Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave at Dom Pérignon, will end his task in Epernay, which started in 1990, at the age of 36. Vincent Chaperon, 41, will take his place. He’s been working with him for 15 years. Official as of mid-June.

The future of this oenologist who widened the temporal borders of a unique maison, is in Japan, and there’s no wine involved. This comes as no surprise. When asked: what does the person who makes the champagne par excellence drink, is it other champagnes, other wines, water? Richard said: «Beer». Of course this is not the case. But there’s always place for a good joke.

Federico Pizzarotti, mayor of Parma, offers an ancient print of the city to Richard Geoffroy

Federico Pizzarotti, mayor of Parma, offers an ancient print of the city to Richard Geoffroy

 was in Parma on Tuesday the 8th of May. In the first town in Italy to receive the title of Creative City of Gastronomy from Unesco, the second being Alba, the Frenchman received the Premio alla Creatività. This happened on a day marked by three different moments. In the morning, the event in the council chambers in Piazza Garibaldi, then lunch followed by a lectio magistralis at Alma in Colorno, and finally dinner at Langhirano at cured pork producers Fratelli Galloni, which was destroyed by a fire in July 2016 and opened again in July last year, one year minus one day after the accident. All this included the words of mayor Federico Pizzarotti and dishes by Paolo Lopriore at lunchtime and Massimo Bottura in the evening.

The mayor, unlike most administrators and members of parliament in Italy, has an extensive and forward-looking understanding of the topic. A rare breed. Parma… Epernay… why? «Because of the excellences we are capable of creating, though in different fields, and both acknowledged by Unesco. We’re convinced we shouldn’t be afraid of the great things others do. In fact, we should work as a team with the best. We think we must join forces, not separate them, like those who elbow their way to be in the first row by themselves, leaving the others behind. This is why on May 24th we will be in Unesco’s headquarters in Paris, with Epernay and Alba», three places of the highest quality that complement one another.

Over to Geoffroy, to whom the mayor donated a map of Parma from 1796. As he later did during the afternoon lesson at Alma, the Frenchman explained his approach to the aesthetics, harmony and power of unique vintages «because Dom Pérignon’s imperative is expressing each single vintage in its uniqueness. There’s no such thing as two identical vintages. Only unique pieces».

We owe him a length in time that would be otherwise unknown, expressed in the three Plénitudes, from the first, Harmony, with at least eight years of ageing, to the third, the one of Complexity, for which you must wait 25 years. And there’s the second in between, at least 16 years of wait for the Age of Energy. All this summed up in an anecdote:

«One day a man, thinking he was making a compliment, told me in English that Dom Pérignon was beyond champagne. I was struck and told him that we were both ahead and beyond. That we were in the middle, because Dom Pérignon is champagne». Absolutely true.

Geoffroy said this and much more in the throne room inside the Reggia di Colorno, after the menu by Paolo Lopriore matched with Dom Pérignon Deuxième Plénitude, from 2000, the most recent one. Everything on the table revolved around egg tagliatelle. They were matched following the guests’ whim and tastes: with two types of meat, beef in California sauce (cream and vinegar) or horsemeat, very popular in Parma, and pepper sauce, oyster, smoked pancetta and much more. All on interchangeable levels, chosen by each guest so that in the end they would never be able to ask the chef the reason behind what they tasted. Guests themselves decided what to match, and had the last say. So they also have no right to criticism.

Richard Geoffroy, Massimo Bottura and Carlo Galloni

Richard Geoffroy, Massimo Bottura and Carlo Galloni

And at sunset, off to Langhirano and Val Parma, to visit the new factory owned by the Galloni family, and later dine on the roof, in a restaurant surrounded by a roof garden. After the heat of the valley, came the fresh breeze of the evening coming from the sea of Liguria, one hundred kilometres or so away. An essential breeze for the maturing of prosciutto crudo from Parma.

The menu was signed by Massimo Bottura, using Galloni’s prosciutto, thus fulfilling a promise made right after the fire. A painful event that had its happy ending, of which we will write soon.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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