News

All Change at Champagne Henriot

Alice Tetienne Portrait

Originally published on: wine-searcher.com

Written by: Tom Hyland

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Champagne houses, it seems, are always making news, be it with the introduction of a special cuvée, a promotional campaign or the introduction of new personnel at their winery.

It follows then, that these producers are routinely busy letting the world know about their accomplishments and modifications, and while some houses are quite adept at these practices, others are more reserved when it comes to publicity. Champagne Henriot, located in Reims, is one of the latter.

Henriot is currently managed by CEO and President Gilles de Larouzière Henriot, an 8th-generation member of the family. Founded in 1808 by Apolline Henriot, the house is one of the very few Champagne firms that is still family-owned and operated, and Gilles Henriot has maintained a level-headed, direct philosophy about the company's goals.

"My strategy is to simply to talk to people who are in search of fine wines and consider Champagne not only as a lifestyle beverage or a trendy beverage or as a bubble beverage. First and foremost, we are dedicated to making a great wine, a great Champagne wine. That's always been a motto in the family."

There has been a good deal of news from Henriot lately, from a change in the name of their prestige cuvée from Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs to Cuvée Hemera (2006 is the current release), to a brand-new single-vineyard Champagne called L'Innatendue, to most importantly, the hiring in 2020 of Alice Tétienne as both cellar master and the director of vineyards. Tétienne, who had formerly worked at other Champagne houses including Krug ("it was an amazing experience that I really enjoyed"), was born in Châlons-en-Champagne, and calls herself "a pure product of Champagne". At 32 years of age, she is currently the youngest cellar master in Champagne.

Tétienne clearly understands the uniqueness of her roles at Henriot and relishes this opportunity. "The particularity of this house is to have a cellar master that is in charge of the vineyards and the winemaking process. This is something that is not very visible in the Champagne area. It’s really nice because at first, I was passionate about viticulture, and then I decided to become a winemaker, because when you work with the vines, you understand that to see the research of your work is easier with the winemaking process and tasting wines."

The passion that Tétienne embodies impressed Gilles Henriot when he considered hiring her for her dual role at the maison. "When I met her for the first time, what struck me was a series of things. She's very straight to the point, she's very strategic in her thinking on the wine, on the terroir selection, on the organic orientation. She has this vision of the vineyard, she loves the vineyards – she’s passionate about this. To me, that’s the most important thing.

"The second thing – and it's only second because I think the question is more about the talent and the vision that you bring than the gender that you have – but here, the fact that Alice was also a young woman for a maison that was established in 1808 by my great-grandmother. Henriot is the result of a vision of a woman; it was a good story, one of coming full circle."

This woman's work

Regarding her work at Henriot, Tétienne spends more time in the vineyards than in the cellar.

"I spend between 60 and 70 percent in the vineyards, with winemaking between 30 and 40 percent. In the vineyard, we take time for every step, all throughout the year, except maybe for winter. In winter we don't have too much work. We have the pruning, etc., but it's not my job. I'm here to make the decisions to follow, but of course, not do it. I'm freer in the winter, and it's a good moment to work on the wines."

She notes that Henriot owns vineyards that represent only 20 percent of their needs, so they purchase the rest from 36 families, which makes dealing with local growers a critical part of the house's organization.

"I do a lot of visits in the vineyards to taste the grapes with the growers. I spend a lot of time with the growers. We have a lot of meetings, at least once a month and talk a lot about viticulture. I teach the growers about the environment; the notion of the environment is so important for us. We need to help the growers, and this is a big part of my job."

As cellar master at a Champagne house, Tétienne joins a small number of women to currently hold that title; others include Julie Cavil at Krug, Caroline Latrive at Ayala and Séverine Frerson at Perrier-Jouët. As to why more women have traditionally not been in charge of winemaking in the cellars of Champagne, Tétienne has some of the most detailed and intriguing thoughts on this subject.

"I think women have been very present in the landscape of the Champagne area for a very long time. The founder of the house of Henriot was a woman, like Veuve Clicquot, like Pommery, like other houses. I think the beginning of the Champagne era was one of diversity as far as gender. Throughout this story, women had a very big role. For example, during the war periods, men were fighting the war, and women were in the cellar to perpetuate the houses of Champagne. So it's a wonderful story.

"Then we had the notion of a job, cellar master, etc., we had an evolution in the hierarchy of teams who worked in the house. We had more men at the top of the hierarchy, especially in the role of cellar master. I don't know why, but when you look at it in detail, it's not one person in terms of winemaking, it's always the house, a committee, a team. It can be a team of two people, and in general, you have a woman on this team.

"I think it's more of an image of communication about which people make the wine. But not a notion of absence or presence of women and men in the organization in the Champagne area. So when I took the role of cellar master, it was widely reported in the press in articles about Henriot, but it was not something very new in fact in the organization. In the industry, we know it’s not really something new. It's more a notion of shining a light on the job, on which people make the wine.

"Historically, the industry is more manual. It's quite difficult to work with the vines, for example. So we have had naturally more men, but things have evolved a lot over the last few years, and it will continue to evolve I'm sure. But it's not a problem, it's not something that is bad. It's more a notion of diversity of personality in the industry that is interesting. We see the tasting committee or the winemaking team evolve. We have more jobs, we have different jobs, with quality control, with the laboratory, etc. We have an evolution of the job, the work. So naturally we have an evolution of the diversity of personalities of people. So diversity of gender."