The year 2018 has been an eventful one for Champagne Henriot. The house debuted a new prestige cuvée, Hemera 2005. Sales in the U.S. climbed +14% in 2017, outpacing the robust Champagne category. And Maison Henriot celebrates a bicentennial birthday of sorts, with the release of its 200th vintage, 2008. The anniversary is a significant one, to be sure, yet the Henriot family is using it as an opportunity to look ahead, rather than reflect on the past.
"Celebrating by looking back is like admitting you have no future,” says Gilles de Larouzière, 8th generation of the Henriot family and the current president of Maisons et Domaines Henriot (MDH). “The reason we are still thriving as a family-owned company after 200 years is because we always looked forward. Not many family houses can say that.”
A Champagne Apart
But then, Champagne Henriot isn’t like other Champagnes. One of the very few independent houses left, Henriot is not large, nor a tiny grower-Champagne producer, either. The House’s strength and quality is rooted in their exceptional vineyards—among the most enviable sites in Champagne—and their longstanding, intimate network of family growers. When de Larouzière talks about family, he’s also referring to these growers: “The relationships we have with our growers go back many generations. We operate entirely with verbal agreements, not written contracts.”
Perhaps a blessing of being two centuries-plus old is self-awareness. “We have not really ventured into the ‘lifestyle’ and marketing-driven Champagne segment because that is not who we are,” de Larouzière explains. While the Champagne Henriot message isn’t a radical one—authenticity, quality, provenance—it’s one that the U.S. consumer was ready for, he believes, and explains the brand’s current momentum. “We are hearing from the American market that people are looking for a more boutique Champagne. The younger generation in particular wants genuine, highly-crafted products and are less interested in established brands.”
Reclaiming the House Style
Nothing happens quickly in Champagne. “When I joined in 2006, Joseph Henriot asked me to refine our style across the entire portfolio so all our Champagnes would reflect our signature fresh, refined, mineral-driven style,” explains Chef de Cave Laurent Fresnet, who has been working toward this goal for the last 12 years.
With the release of Hemera 2005, this evolution is finally complete. Hemera replaces the now-discontinued and muchloved prestige cuvée, Les Enchanteleurs. “Les Enchanteleurs was autumnal, more generous and ample with oxidative notes,” explains Fresnet. “It belonged to a time when one would smoke cigars and sip Champagne after dinner. Hemera expresses precision and finesse.”
Amazingly, the only difference between the two cuvées is the harvest date. Hailing from the same terroir in six villages of Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims, Hemera’s grapes are picked earlier to preserve acidity and freshness, which gives the wine its luminous style.
“When you drink Champagne you should experience a kind of enlightenment, an illumination like you are drinking light,” says de Larouzière. Hemera was named for the Greek Goddess of Daylight, whose main task was to dissolve the night and bring the dawn.
The Advantage of Time
Impatience is the enemy of exceptional Champagne. As an independent company, Maison Henriot has the luxury of aging their wines as long as deemed necessary—the just-released 2008 vintage (which many believe could be the Champagne vintage of the century) didn’t hit the market until a year later than most houses. “We have no pressure from the market or shareholders, so we can always prioritize quality,” says de Larouzière. “In order to reveal the purest expression of Chardonnay and terroir, we want to age our Champagnes longer than is typical—12 years for Hemera and eight for Vintage 2008.”
Time and tradition are themes that come up frequently in conversation with de Larouzière. “We look at time over many decades and we are actually planning and working two generations ahead.” It’s a strategy MDH applies to all its domaines, from Bouchard Père & Fils in Burgundy to Beaux Frères in Oregon. “For us, this is the best expression of what tradition is. It’s not just about what my father or grandfather was doing, but carrying forward what we inherited. Keeping these values alive gives us a sense of modernity and great anticipation.”