The Henriot family settled in the Champagne region in 1640, setting up business as both textile and wine brokers. In 1808 Apolline Henriot established a Champagne house, which 212 years later is still in family hands.
Henriot became, briefly, part of the giant Louis Vuitton-Möet-Hennesy (LVMH) group in 1985, but Joseph Henriot bought the family house back in 1994 and remained in control until his death in 2015. His heirs now run a very substantial business, owning not only the Champagne house of Henriot, but Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre in Burgundy, and Beaux Frères in the Wilamette Valley, Oregon.
This tasting was presented by recently appointed cellarmaster, Alice Tétienne, who says Henriot was already close to her heart, being a staple of both her, and her parent’s, own cellars, and Gilles de Larouzière, President of Champagne Henriot and Joseph Henriot’s nephew.
“The world economy is facing difficulties, as is Champagne,” said Gilles. “We need a compass, and for me and my family that compass is maintaining quality and ambition.” Alice, recently awarded cellarmaster of the year in Champagne, is charged with going deeper into the terroir of Henriot’s vineyards. She admits she has “Champagne in her blood,” being born, raised and always working in Champagne. Her first love is the vineyard, and she explains that the house today pays much more attention in the vineyard, including canopy management, “and all the points of finesse that are more and more important as climate changes.” Henriot owns 20% of its own estate vineyard, buying 80% from contracted growers. “That gives us real diversity of terroir,” says Alice, “and most are family growers we have worked with for generations.”
Though the Brut Souverain is Henriot’s biggest-selling flagship wine, the house’s connection to Chardonnay goes back to the days of Apolline who loved the variety, and most importantly, to 1880, when marriage brought with it prime Chardonnay vineyards in the Côte de Blancs.
The deluxe cuvée Hemera replaces the Enchanteleurs, a wine Gilles described as ‘autumnal’ with aged characters to the fore. But the house felt it was out of kilter with the rest of the range and needed more freshness, so it was changed in terms of harvest dates, vineyard selection and blending. The change was so successful that they decided to rename the cuvée and effectively launch it as a new wine: Hemera, named after the Greek godess of light.
This wine will be bottled only in the best vintage years, “when the level of the expression of the terroir is not just great; it is outstanding,” says Gilles. It comes from three Grand Cru Pinot Noir vineyards of the Montagne de Reims, and three Grand Cru Chardonnay vineyards of the Côte de Blancs, a 50/50 blend.
The first Hemera was 2005, but the house feels 2006 has brought all the components together in great harmony. “It was not an easy vintage being dry and warm, with a massive rainfall in August,” says Alice, but though fearing a disaster, “the wines of 2006 have turned out very well for the house.”
As well as the latest release of Hemera, I would taste the non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, based on the 2014 vintage, but with 40% reserve wines in the blend.