Founded at the beginning of the 19th century and located in its Art Nouveau building in Reims, Henriot is one of those rare, great Champagne houses that have remained entirely family-owned since their inception. The identity of the house and its wines are strictly connected to chardonnay and its inborn elegance, with sobriety. If there is one Champagne house that incarnates the refined style of French elegant families, this is Henriot.
Natives of Lorraine, the Henriots relocated to neighboring Champagne around 1640. Active in the drapery business, they were also involved in the wine trade by the end of the 18th century. In 1794, Nicolas Simon Henriot married Apolline Godinot, niece of the Abbé Godinot, an eminent scholar who contributed to elaborate the essential principles in viticulture and the making of champagne. The newlywed decided to focus primarily on viticulture. When Nicolas died in 1805, Apolline, who was just 30, took over the wine estate and in 1808 founded her business under the name Veuve Henriot Aîné, spreading its reputation to the royal courts of Europe over the following decades.
In 1851, Ernest Henriot, grandson of Apolline, joined in business his brother-in-law, Charles “Charlie” Camille Heidsieck who created the brand Charles Heidsieck. In 1875, Ernest ended his partnership with Charles to refocus on his family’s brand by creating Henriot & Cie, defining the house’s current name.
In 1880, Paul Henriot, nephew of Ernest, married Marie Marguet, who brought to the family new vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, and picked up the baton. This is when the intimate connection of Henriot with chardonnay started. His son Etienne, an agronomist, continued his work in the aftermath of WW1 until 1957 and introduced many technical improvements in the vineyard and the winemaking.
The subsequent generations of Henriots continued to conquer new markets worldwide, while expanding the vineyard that became of considerable size, spread over some of the best crus in the Côte des Blancs, the Vallée de la Marne, and the Montagne de Reims.
From the 1960s, Joseph Henriot headed the house. He was a major figure in the champagne world, having owned or managed other superb houses: de Venoge, Charles Heidsieck, and Veuve Clicquot. He eventually refocused on Henriot and its development from 1995 until his death in 2015. I had the chance to interview him and meet a maverick entrepreneur, very attached to his region and his family. He explained to me the importance of keeping Henriot independent: “I believe that large groups involved in champagne contribute to its success but deviates the focus from champagne to something more industrial. In keeping Henriot in the family, we craft champagnes with an artisanal spirit. We are not looking for mass production; rather we aim to make things perfectly and carefully, with high-quality grapes.” His nephew Gilles de Larouzière took the relay, continuing the family tradition of elegance in the wines and the spirit of the house.
In February 2020, Henriot appointed Alice Tétienne as its new chef de cave, also in charge of the vineyard. An enologist from Champagne, she has a long experience in winemaking, but also in managing vineyard relations, and marketing, at some of the greatest houses in the region. She brings her vision of champagne to perpetuate the Henriot style.
Vineyard and Production
The house owns 35 ha located in prestigious terroirs mainly in Avenay, Chouilly, Epernay, and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. They rely on vine growers, mostly in grands and premiers crus, to supply the rest of the grape needed for an estimated yearly production of something less than 1.5 million bottles. They vinify all the terroirs separately, grouping two or three villages that share some similarities. All the vinifications are done in stainless steel thermoregulated vats to keep the pure expression of the terroirs. All the wines undergo full malolactic fermentation.
Henriot champagnes are characterized by a high proportion of chardonnay in the blends, which brings delicate and complex aromas, for overall finesse, elegance, but also minerality, fruitiness of citruses, viennoiseries and toasted aromas.
The range is focused and solid, the way I like it, with non-vintage Brut, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs of course, and Vintage. They have two cuvées de prestige: Hemera, a vintage champagne made of chardonnay and pinot noir from grand crus in the same proportion, and Cuve 38, my favorite, actually one of my all-time favorite champagnes. This blanc de blancs is a rare multi-vintage champagne based on the réserve perpétuelle concept, using chardonnay from four grands crus in the Côte des Blancs. They make only 1,000 magnums per year of it, so if you cross one of them, and have the budget for it, do not hesitate.