Alice Tétienne was appointed Chef de Cave of Henriot in 2020. A young, passionate, open, and very determined lady, she has an academic background and experience in Champagne that is impressive and that makes her the prototype of the new generation of champagne makers with a holistic approach. 

After studying at the Avize wine college in Champagne, she obtained an undergraduate and a master’s degree in vine and terroir at the University of Dijon in Burgundy. To top it up, she did a master’s in wine and champagne at the University of Reims where she also got there her diploma in enology. With such baggage, she landed her first job in the marketing department of Laurent-Perrier. She soon moved to enology, first at Nicolas Feuillatte, and eventually at Krug where she was also responsible for vineyard relations.

Her arrival at Henriot is the start of a new chapter in her remarkable career and in the history of this discrete house with many gems that will certainly gain in popularity and further precision under her contemporary way of crafting and communicating great champagnes. In this interview, she details the how and the why with her distinctive charm and assurance.

Before becoming an oenologist, you studied viticulture, enology, but also marketing specific for champagne. In your opinion, what is the role of each in the success of a Champagne house?

For me, these are all necessary and inseparable pillars, but you can’t do marketing without having solid content upstream in the vineyard and the cellar. At Henriot, everyone works hand in hand and our marketing department is aware of everything we do in the vineyard and the cellar. 

Today the champagne producers emphasize more the role of the terroir in the specificity of their wines. Why?

Previously in Champagne, we were more in the cellars and it was less customary to visit the vineyards. We had already realized that quality was clearly defined at harvest. But we realize it even more today with the climatic vagaries and their impact on the evolution of the vine which makes it less easy to manage.

It is the quality of the raw material that defines the quality of the wines. The raw material depends on viticulture practices, the right picking dates, but also where the vines are planted: the terroir.

It is the quality of the raw material that defines the quality of the wines. The raw material depends on viticulture practices, the right picking dates, but also where the vines are planted: the terroir.

The terroir approach is historic at Henriot and it is reinforced with a specific laboratory that we are going to open, and a major study of all the crus and terroirs that go into the composition of our blends to gain additional precision in winemaking.

You were talking about picking dates. What are you looking for in the grapes at harvest time?

We are looking for the most beautiful expression of the terroir. This means that when it comes to picking the grapes, we don’t want any vegetal notes or anything overripe, lack of maturity, or overripe. It’s something in the middle that can be lost in 24-48 hours.

When it comes to picking the grapes, we don’t want any vegetal notes or anything overripe, lack of maturity, or overripe. It’s something in the middle that can be lost in 24-48 hours.

This is why since my arrival we have set up vineyards tours to better communicate with the winegrowers. Just prior to the last harvest (2000) I visited 99% of the parcels for berry tasting and to support the winegrowers on the best harvest dates. We are talking about 171 parcels and 25 crus which needed to be tasted several times if needed.

Tell us about your vineyard and terroirs.

Our own vineyard totals 35 hectares and represents 20% of our supplies. Our vines are found in Avenay, Aÿ, Mutigny, Epernay, and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in the Marne Valley, and in Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs.

Our supplies today are made up of 45% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, and 15% meunier.

80% of chardonnays come from the Côte des Blancs and include the grands crus of Avize, Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Chouilly. We also have chardonnays in the Sezannais, at Avenay, and Épernay in the Marne Valley, and in the Monts de Berru area in the Montagne de Reims.

We are also in the Montagne de Reims North for pinots noirs in the grands crus of Verzy, Verzenay, and Mailly-Champagne, and in the Montagne de Reims West in Sacy and Ville-Dommange, and also a little further south in Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in the Marne Valley. We are also in Aube for pinot noirs in Les Riceys, Fontette, and Ville-sur-Arce.

And we have a little bit of meunier in the Marne Valley, in Damerie and Fleury-la-Rivière, and in the mountains of Reims West in Ville-Dommange.

You published a dissertation on the oxidation of pinot meunier, a grape variety often considered less noble and expressive. What do you think about that?

Meunier has many facets and a reputation somehow unfair, whereas there are great houses that cultivate it and include it in their préstige cuvées.

Today in Champagne we are more interested in the meunier than in the past and we work it with greater care. Tastes have changed too. So we harvest it at the right time, seeking its freshness rather than its recognized generosity and roundness, with citrus notes that are extraordinary and which bring a certain structure and liveliness to the blends that we did not know before.

At Henriot we need that touch of meunier in our style. We don’t use it much but we love it.

How do you explain the Henriot style, which is found above all in your Brut Souverain, and how do you craft it?

With Brut Souverain we express all our terroirs because that was the intention of Apolline Henriot, who founded the house in 1808. She was the daughter of winegrowers and was herself a passionate winegrower and wanted to showcase her lands. So she created only one champagne that was a blend of her terroirs. At that time the vineyard was in the Montagne de Reims North, on the southern crus of Verzy, Verzenay, Mailly-Champagne, therefore with a dominant of pinot noir.

With Brut Souverain we express all our terroirs because that was the intention of Apolline Henriot, who founded the house in 1808.

Over time this vineyard grew and in 1880 a marriage between the third generation of Henriots and the Marguet family from the Côte des Blancs brought a chardonnay vineyard to the house. Over the years, the vineyard continued to expand and today it includes 25 different crus in the four corners of Champagne, with a dominant of chardonnay and pinot noir, and a bit of meunier.

Brut Souverain is now made of 50% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir, and 5% meunier. All our crus are included in this cuvée, with the underlying idea to produce a very complex champagne thanks to a multitude of terroirs. We have several “spices” at our disposal and we want to tell them all.

With our style, we express something complex and yet very fresh, powerful but very elegant, structured but lively. This is the signature of the Brut Souverain which embodies the Henriot style. We want to give everything to the consumer, but with the underlying sobriety of the Henriot family because the style of the wines is always the reflection of men.

With our style, we express something complex and yet very fresh, powerful but very elegant, structured but lively.

Our brut is generous and welcoming, but very elegant and pure and has a lot to give. In the beginning, you find in it citrus and ripe fruits, and then many more aromatic expressions, with grapefruit, pineapple, dried fruits, and a lively side, very mineral. I think that great champagne must be alive, tell a story. And I find that Henriot has this dynamic, lively side.

And to maintain our style from one year to the next, we include 40-50% of reserve wines, of which 20% ​​from our perpetual reserve of previous Brut Souverain blends.

What do you think of the current trend of single-cru, single-plot, and single-varietal champagnes that divert from the concept of assemblage?

I find it interesting that everyone is free to express what they want. We are lucky in Champagne to have a diversity of houses, winegrowers, cooperatives, and philosophies. It is a beautiful way of expressing our terroir.

But the art of assemblage is part of the know-how of Champagne and it is our trademark. And to get the assemblage right, you need to work each terroir individually to then blend them harmoniously. At Henriot we cultivate the art of assemblage in all our cuvées. These are blends of vintages, grape varieties, years, but also vine growing philosophies; if champagne is the reflection of the identity of the producer, the grape is the reflection of the terroir but also the identity of the vine grower, with his little touch. There are undeniable correspondences between the person and his product, that’s beautiful, and we need this diversity on the same terroir.

The art of assemblage is part of the know-how of Champagne and it is our trademark.

A very nice parcel will always benefit from blending with others?

It depends; it’s up to the tasting committee. The elaboration of champagne and the assemblage also needs emotions and they often guide our choices. We should always listen to our feelings and not be stuck into a mold, a receipt. So, I cannot answer this question a priori. I can’t say if we should add something or not to a parcel; the tasting will guide us. Maybe one day we will want to showcase a specific terroir, but this has not been the case yet.

What is your approach to dosage and what do you think of the trend of extra brut and zero dosage champagnes?

In the past, the level of dosage in champagne was clearly much higher than it is today, but we did not notice it. It is a matter of balance. I did a wonderful exercise when I arrived at Henriot to fully understand our history and style. I tasted all the vintage champagnes available in our cellars from 1929 to date, with an average of 3-4 per decade. And from start to finish I found that it was Henriot, with an obvious underlying thread. And I didn’t feel any particular sweetness.

Every year, we decide the right dosage for each of our cuvées, which is usually between 5 and 9 grams per liter. And given the riper grapes at harvest but also the consumers seeking freshness in the wines, we add a little less sugar than before to our champagnes to keep their freshness.

When we do the dosage tests, we always start with champagne with no dosage, and with 1, 2, 3 4, 5 6, 7, 8, 9 g/l of dosage, and we realize that with a bit of sugar we express something more. Our aim is to give to the consumers the most beautiful representation of our champagnes. But if tomorrow we find that the champagne with no dosage is the best, that’s the one that we will put forward.

With dosage our aim is to give to the consumers the most beautiful representation of our champagnes.

Is there a Henriot aficionado profile? How do you sum up your identity to people who don’t know your house yet?

Our clients are rather enlightened amateurs, who know champagne, who are looking for family houses with a rich history and values, and that are an alternative to mainstream brands.

We have long-standing clients, but our goal today is to gain notoriety. Increasingly consumers are asking for more transparency, knowledge, history, authenticity, and commitment from brands.

So, with Gilles de Laouzière at the Presidency since 2015, the Henriot family, which is fairly discreet, is opening up and sharing more. We communicate more on social media, with great transparency, covering numerous subjects, especially at the vineyard.

And in 2020, we renewed and opened our private residence Les Aulnois in Pierry, near Epernay, built in 1778, which has become our place of reception. It allows us to showcase the history of Henriot, the vineyard and know-how, and to have direct contact and exchange with consumers.

How do you see the future of champagne, with the increasing competition of other quality sparkling wines and the impact of Covid-19 on champagne sales?

Since Covid and the consequent reduction in sales volumes, we are experiencing greater uncertainty. What is certain, however, is the constant increase in the quality of champagne. For several years now, Champagne’s strategy has been to increase sales value, not volumes. We are aware that the years to come will be hard and therefore we must be even more vigilant about the quality of our wines.