One spring evening at the Abbaye d'Hautvillers overlooking the rolling landscape of vineyards near Epernay, France, Dom Pérignon celebrated the launch of its Vintage 2004 Champagne with a multisensory experience: an exclusive dinner and dazzling avant-garde art happening that combined history with sight, sound, taste and smell.
The Benedictine abbey is where the monk Dom Pérignon devoted his life to creating the first Champagnes in the late 17th century. It is the birthplace of Champagne and the soul of Dom Pérignon. The vintage Champagne house "is a place of inspiration. It is magnetic and cosmic", explains Richard Geoffroy, the Chef de Cave, the man responsible for creating the Champagnes today.
The special event launched the Vintage 2004, which Geoffroy predicts will become a classic. Clients sampled a menu of six courses that highlighted the different characteristics of the 2004 Champagne, and then watched a spectacular digital show that immersed them in the universe of Dom Pérignon.
The "Expanding Universe" multi-surface sight and sound projection was created by Leo Kuelbs and Glowing Bulbs, the Budapest-based video-mapping specialists, and played on the architecture of the building.
"This is a creator-to-creator project," explains Geoffroy. He is aligning the creation of a vintage Champagne with the creation of an artistic performance.
What Kuelbs and his team have achieved is to translate the Champagne into another artistic form. This project highlights the growing synergy between the art world and Champagne houses, but the bonds between art and Champagne are many and varied.
Dom Pérignon has worked on events with pianist Lang Lang and composer Alexandre Desplat: "It is part of our DNA, of putting Dom Pérignon on the stage," Geoffroy explains. The house also worked with David Lynch in creating a limited-edition bottle and box.
For Champagne producer Perrier-Jouët, the artistic bond is about the emblematic art-nouveau illustration on its prestigious Belle Epoque bottles and packaging. The exquisite swirl of white Japanese anemones dates back to 1902 and the master glassworker Emile Gallé, but there is a fresh, delicate interpretation by Japanese floral artist Makoto Azuma for a limited-edition box of the 2004 vintage, released last year.
The brand commissioned Dutch designer Tord Boontje to create the Enchanting Tree that displays anemones and Champagne flutes, and last year for Design Miami, it presented an art installation by British-based design duo Glithero. It was a thought-provoking work combining draped strings of lights and water reflection that reminded the pair of their journey in the dark cellars of the Champagne house in Epernay. Perrier-Jouët's projects range from those appreciated simply for their artistic merit, to those that promote the brand.
Bonds exist in other forms between Champagne and art. On a marketing level Ruinart, which in 1729 became the first established Champagne house, commissioned the renowned Czech artist Alphonse Mucha in 1895 to design their first advertising poster, an evocative art-nouveau illustration. Thus began their close relationship with the art world.
Nowadays, Ruinart is involved with 20 big art fairs around the world, including the recent Art Basel HK and Biennale Venezia.
"It is an amazing platform for us," says Jean-Christophe Laizeau, communications director of Ruinart. "Ruinart clients are art collectors and travel the world in pursuit of it, so this is a natural relationship for us."
Laizeau is also responsible for commissioning contemporary art for the Champagne house to showcase along with their Champagne at these art fairs. "We choose new, young artists from the age of 28 to 45 and give them carte blanche to do what they want, but it always has to be with the Ruinart name," he says.
At Art Basel HK, he showed the work of London-based Israeli Gideon Rubin, who is renowned for his "faceless" miniatures. Ruinart displayed a series of miniature portraits of people associated with the house's history, all painted in gouache on Ruinart cardboard boxes.
Rubin says it was the first a commission of its kind for him and "what I liked is that Ruinart did not try to tell me what to do, and I found that very pleasing".
"They pride themselves in their history and family tradition and asked me to do my portraits but on their cardboard," he adds.
The next collaboration for Ruinart, Laizeau explains, is with Piet Hein Eek "who will be working with wood, using the exquisite marquetry technique of the 18th century. Ruinart was the first house in 1762 to sell bottles of Champagne in wooden boxes rather than the baskets that were customary at the time".
The house commissions two or three artworks each year, which will all eventually end up in their gallery in Reims and lent out to art institutions. In their own idiosyncratic ways, these premier Champagne houses are art patrons. It is part of their DNA to collaborate with the contemporary art world because they see their own work as an act of creation.
While some projects may focus on promotion to the art-loving Champagne-swilling public, there are other, unique collaborations that may be created purely for the pleasure of just a few.
BRAND WITH AN IMAGE
The event that blurred digital Dom Pérignon imagery into a fiveminute, three-dimensional visual experience projected onto the ancient walls of the Abbaye d’Hautvillers is the second artistic collaboration between the New York-based curator Leo Kuelbs and Dom Pérignon.
They created a similar, but very different, “projection mapping” project, as Kuelbs describes it, last year in Berlin. Playing with the architectural perspectives of the abbey, Kuelbs and Glowing Bulbs edited archive images of the Champagne house’s heritage melting or tumbling from one to another, into images of bottles and grapes and graphics in an extraordinary projection.
Kuelbs had first come to the attention of Dom Pérignon around the time of his big projection-mapped show on New York’s Manhattan Bridge in 2011. It was expensive to produce and present.
“Leo came to Epernay and we spent two days together doing tastings and chatting about what we wanted,” says Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon, "and we completely clicked”.
“This project ‘Expanding Universe’ was Richard’s idea: the importance of creation,” says Kuelbs, “to have time twisting forever; the past, present and future being alive simultaneously”.
Creating a vintage is all about the passage of time – the Vintage 2004 has been a nine-year wait. It is about the history of the Champagne house and in terms of the future, the potential of this classic Champagne to become even better with time. “It is the past, present and future in a bottle,” Kuelbs says.