Winery Spotlight: Champagne Henriot

Written by
Vintage Cellars
January 9, 2019
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More than 200 years of quality and prestigious winemaking, and the Champagne Henriot name still inspires elegance, artistry and purity.

Joseph Henriot was an amazing man – a true entrepreneur in the French spirit. When he died in 2015 he left a vibrant Champagne house that has carried his family name since 1808. Born in 1936, Joseph Henriot was barely a man when his father died in 1957, leaving him to lead the family house through a number of corporate machinations in the 1970s and '80s.

 

Henriot was president of Veuve Clicquot during the 1980s and responsible for bringing Cape Mentelle and Cloudy Bay into the fledgling Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (or LVMH) group. Joseph Henriot left LVMH in 1994 to focus on the Henriot brand once again.

 

Ever restless, Henriot added a number of outstanding domains to his empire including the Burgundian icon, Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre in Chablis along with the pioneering USA pinot producer, Beaux Frères in Oregon.

 

Despite these acquisitions, Joseph Henriot's heart remained in Champagne with the Henriot vineyards covering 35 hectares of premier and grand cru sites, mostly in the Côte des Blancs with some special plots of chardonnay on the cool, northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims. Champagne Henriot farms another 120 hectares under long-term contracts. Chardonnay is the key grape in the Henriot vineyards, spawning a fresh, vibrant house style typified by the dangerously drinkable Henriot Blanc de Blancs

non-vintage champagne.

 

Champagne Henriot remains in family hands with the house now headed by Joseph’s nephew, Gilles. The Henriot brand is all about quality and prestige and stands tall as the epitome of a great champagne house.

 

The winemaking

A native of the Champagne region, Laurent Fresnet joined Champagne Henriot as Chef de Cave in 2005. Fresnet worked in Portugal and the south-west of France before returning to his roots in 1994, winemaking at Champagne Cazals in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for five years, then seven years as Chef de Cave at La Vigneronne in Vertus before joining Champagne Henriot.

 

Fresnet has taken an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach to his winemaking, refining the elegant and energetic Henriot style and gradually extending the average age of the Henriot cuvées to five or more years. Fresnet presides over an incredible collection of still reserve wines instigated by Joseph Henriot in 1990 and based on chardonnays from the top grand crus of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Oger. Henriot set aside in a single vat (now known as Cuve 38) selected parcels of still chardonnay to create a perpetual blend. In 2009, Fresnet drew off a parcel of Cuve 38, which was tiraged then aged for a further five years before being released under the Cuve 38 label, only available in magnums.

 

Fresnet has been rewarded for his dedication, named the International Wine Challenge Sparkling Winemaker of the Year in 2015 and remarkably again in 2016. He gained further gravitas at the 2018 International Wine Challenge by winning the Len Evans Trophy (for consistency over five years) – a remarkable achievement.

 

However, it’s the effervescence of Fresnet’s cuvées that embodies the real evidence of his artistic skills, with the purity and precision of chardonnay and structure and power of pinot noir underpinning his style.

 

The cellars

Like many Champagne houses, the focus at Henriot is on making great champagne. The cast-iron gates at 81 rue Coquebert open to a discreet courtyard and the grand, stately buildings that house the headquarters of Champagne Henriot. The real action at 81 rue Coquebert is below the cobblestones – vast drives brimming with millions of bottles ageing in the 20-metre-deep cool, chalky vaults.

 

Henriot doesn’t offer cellar tours or operate a commercial "cellar door", rather it gives all its attention to making and marketing Champagne Henriot to the wide world of wine.

 

Henriot Brut Souverain NV

One of the stalwarts and cornerstones of the Henriot portfolio is the non-vintage Brut Souverain. It’s a blend of 50% chardonnay and 45% pinot noir with just 5% pinot meunier added. Sourced from 25 individual villages across the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims, Laurent Fresnet incorporates 30% of reserve still wines including a splash of the precious Cuve 38, making it a very fine, sophisticated champagne.