Champagne Henriot’s Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine
Alice Tetienne of Champagne Henriot

Organic is important, but not necessarily the best. It is but one part of the equation. We have to be sustainable. We follow the impact in terms of carbon. In this case, we experiment a lot.

This adventure includes a trip to  “The City” which for me, is San Francisco. I will be tasting four of the latest champagne releases by Champagne Henriot. I’m curious about both the champagne, but also the House. The Maison.  Even more so about their Chef de Cave, Alice Tetienne.  But before we delve into that, let’s take a look at Champagne Henriot.  The story is not singular in Champagne’s history, but it is a compelling one resulting in the creation of a seven-generation strong Domaine.

Champagne Henriot was founded by Apolline Henriot in 1808 after the death of her husband.
Apolline Henriot founded Veuve Henriot Ainé in 1808. It would be renamed Champagne Henriot.

How it Began

A young woman of Reims, France named Apolline and her husband, Nicolas Henriot married in 1794. For her part, Apolline entered the marriage with Pinot Noir grapes bequeathed for the union. Together they would grow vines and make wine until Nicolas’ untimely death in 1808.  Apolline was a woman of drive and determination. At just 33 she founded her own champagne house, Veuve Henriot Ainé. Which would later be called Champagne Henriot.

One of Champagnes youngest Chef des Cave, Champagne Henriot's Alice Tetienne
Standing the in the vineyards of Champagne, Alice Tetienne

Today, Alice Tetienne is the Chef de Cave at Henriot. 

What precisely is a Chef de Cave, aka cellar master? Here in the United States, it usually means one who cares for the cellar and the inventory of said cellar. But it varies a bit from winery to winery, depending on the size of the facility and the team’s skill sets. 

In this unique case, the Chef de Cave is the viticulturist, the winemaker, while also overseeing the blending process. Additionally, she maintains a close bond with the Maison’s growers.  To fit this dynamic and challenging role, Alice Tetienne, an accomplished and talented player in both the growing and making of champagne, was tapped.  Her role at Champagne Henriot is multifaceted, playing on her experience, acumen, and depth of knowledge.

She’s a worthy find. Her background reads like a modus operandi of one who is precise and deliberate with their path in life. To her credit, many of the opportunities, including Henriot, found her. From working in Burgundy to other French vineyards, she worked at Nicolas Feuillatte and later in the winemaking & tasting committee at Krug for five years prior to joining Champagne Henriot. 

Born and raised in Châlons-en-Champagne. Her memories of wine as a young girl are vivid, as her family had many friends in this tight-knit community. She was influenced early on by her proximity and the culture she grew up in. Feeling naturally connected to this industry as if it were part of her fabric, her being.

There were seasons she worked in the vineyard. It was tradition to participate in the harvest and pansage (pruning the vines).It was the culture of the plants,  nature, and seasons that fascinated her. She cherished her time outdoors. Watching the transformation of the vineyards from one season to the next was captivating. Naturally, her first passion for wine was viticulture. The fascination with being able to express terroir so vividly would take her from viticulture into winemaking. 

She was recruited by Henriot. And they hit all the marks with Alice in addressing her career path.  Their cellar master was leaving, and they wanted to take time to find the right person for the role. This champagne house has done the most for the area, the vineyards, and the Champagne area.  They explained their focus on the environment. It would afford her the opportunity to work with very important growers and long-term relationships. Here the cellar master was the director of the vine and the wine. So she could influence and direct every aspect of the wine. It was a collective mindset. From the vineyard to the bottle. They presented every point she needed in her life. Treating her like a flower. It was exactly what she needed.

Her youth is an unavoidable topic. At just 32 years of age, she has achieved what many wait their entire lives to. Her background, education, drive, ambition, and success at the top houses have placed her among the creme de la creme.  The primary role at one of the most important Champagne Houses in Champagne.  With a pedigree in Champagne experience outshining many.  This role defies history in other wine regions around the world, but not in Champagne. Female leadership in top roles in Champagne is also celebrated at Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Piper-Heidsieck, Jacquart, Perrier-Jouët, Drappier, and more.

Women-Centric Quality of Champagne Henriot: This house is a small house by size, not by name. There are 140 hectares under vine of the growers, primarily premier crus and grand cru.  The estate itself has 36 hectares of exceptional terroir.  The plots are all very close in proximity giving the team so Alice is able to take very quick and precise action in the vineyard. She works personally with each of the grower families that are considered part of their team. It’s one of her favorite aspects of her work.   

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Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

The revered soils of Champagne Henriot.
Well drained Limestone & Chalky soils of Champagne Henriot.

Organic is important, but not necessarily the best. It is but one part of the equation. We have to be sustainable. We follow the impact in terms of carbon. In this case, we experiment a lot.

Tetienne on Sustainability

Today we have three challenges:  

  1. We need to learn to adapt to changes that happen around us every day in the realm of climate change.
  2. Reduce the impact on the environment.
  3. We have to adapt ourselves to climate change.

Our viticulture now needs to be transformed.  We don’t have something to change in winemaking, but rather in the vineyard. We have created a global project, known as Alliance Terroirs based on three pillars.

The 1st pillar: Is based on the terroir. They do a lot of analysis on the vineyard and the soil, the plant and the leaves, this is for both their vineyards and that of their growers.” Saturation on plants analytics on leaves, organic material on the soil etc.  They analyze the plants every year. Everything they do is a service of the area.  They share their analysis with the official organization to help the Champagne area with the knowledge.

2nd pillar: Thanks to the knowledge, they can adapt the knowledge to every patch of the vine and evaluate. Precision is key. You do only what the plants need. Whether it’s carbon or treatment needed.

3rd Pillar: All the positive impact you can create on the vineyard. Biodiversity, by planting a lot of different plant families. This creates an organic conversion in the vineyards, and with the growers.

 

These are the lush and exceptional vineyards of Champagne Henriot, Champagne, France
The Vineyards of Champagne Henriot

On Climate Change

With over 200 years of making great champagne under their belts Champagne Henriot and the changing landscape of the world, I had asked Alice some specific questions about climate change, adapting to the changing environment, and the process of making champagne.  Further, we tasted these remarkable vintages and got into the particulars of winegrowing and winemaking. 

TWS (The Wine Siren): Tell us about tradition vs experimentation for Champagne Henriot.

Tetienne: We respect the story in the way of tradition,. We don’t innovate a lot in winemaking. Our philosophy at Henriot is to express the vineyards through Champagne. Make blends.  We respect the story first. We do want to be modern we adapt ourselves to things around us.  So today, we change with climate change and our minds about viticulture. In the 70s, champagne was vinified in oak barrels. Before the 70s, we had new equipment, steel tanks, that arrived in Champagne. Joseph Henriot, the 7th generation, thought there was great opportunity to age the reserve wines this way. Because in his mind a perfect champagne needed to have old reserve wine. That’s why he decided to use stainless steel. He thought it was good to consider the primary profile of the terroir and express better the terroir without adding another influence with aromatic oak barrels. It’s not innovation but adaptation.

TWS: How has climate change impacted the vineyards?

Tetienne: We have more extremes in terms of weather. It’s not just global warming.  Last year it was a year of no sun. Just two weeks. It was a season without the sun in 2021. 2022 conversely, was a record for sunshine. We had more sun than ever.

TWS:  How does this impact how you grow?

Tetienne: During the harvest, we follow the maturity, we taste the grapes, we analyze the grapes, and normally, we have the acidity that decreases, the sugar that increases, and the aroma that increases. In the past, we’ve had these three parameters occur simultaneously. Now it’s disconnected. You can have the sugar you need. The acidity has disappeared, and the aromatic disappears. You have to be more present and patient. So you have to wait for the dynamics to return.

TWS: How often are you in the vineyards prior to harvest?

Tetienne: We have 200 plots under vine. Some micro plots and some bigger ones.  I walk all of the plots every day.  We make a selection of grapes, and we taste.  From the beginning of the harvest to the end, I taste the grapes every day. 

TWS: How is technology making your life easier or more difficult?

Tetienne: More difficult. The more you know the less you know. We can’t focus on the past and our experiences because the landscape changes every season.

TWS: What is your opinion on so-called “wine experts”?

Tetienne: There are no experts in wine. We have to be humble.  Everything changes.  The objective of wine is to take pleasure. We cannot be 100% experts because we cannot explain or know everything.  The weather we cannot explain. The evolution of nature we cannot explain.  The biodiversity that changes from one year to the next we cannot explain.  Every aspect of the process has so many variables.

TWS: Lots of big changes happening in Bordeaux. Varieties etc. Is Champagne doing any experimenting to adapt to climate change?

Tetienne: Yes, we have a new variety, Voltis. They are doing experiments in the vineyard to see if the quality is good or not. It is resistant to fungus, and the initiative is in response to the increase of diseases in the vineyard. 

Note: Her preference is to find a solution working with the seven established varieties of Champagne. The best known are Pinot Meunière, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also include Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petit Messier and Arbanne.

TWS: How does your tasting committee work?

Tetienne: We are four people. Blending is a few months of work, not a few days. Generally from November to April. When I taste the wine, I imagine where I will put the wine, which cuvée, and how I will organize it. At least one per cru from the last harvest. This creates the foundation. Because perceptions vary, the other people on the committee will also provide opinions. In April, I am in my office very focused. Doing different versions of blends and selecting the best. If we are not convinced, we continue the exercise. At the end of the sessions, I will make the final decision. Focus is a critical part of this process. There is a quiet private house in the vineyard where they often receive guests. When the blend is pure, I go to the house to do the evaluations alone. Without interruption.

Certification is not the end. We need to take sustainability further!

The Latest Releases 

Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

Brut Souverain: one of the most historic. This blend includes the first three original crus. Today a blend of 29 crus from the ‘70’s to 2016 go into this bottle. It’s vibrant and alive. Bright citrus, red fruit, scintillating minerality. A long vivacious finish. Lusty aromatics and complex.

Blended with 45% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 15% Meunier.

Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

NV Blanc de Blancs : 100% Chardonnay, includes 12 crus. At least 3 years of aging. Lovely bright tropical fruit, a lively acidity and a compelling mousse like mouth feel. Exquisite!

Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

2006 Cuvée Hemera:   

The Crus: Veroza, Verzenay, Mailly-Champagne in Montaigne de Reims. Alize, Chouilly, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger in Côtes des Blancs 

100% Grand Crus

12 years minimum aging.

A marked play on finesse and precision. Long lengthy finish, voluptuous in expression, and brilliant in its finesse.

Champagne Henriot's Chef de Cave on Sustainability & Making Great Wine

The Belle of the Ball:

2016: L’inattendue Chardonnay Grand Cru

100% Grand Cru

100% Chardonnay

Crisp, tightly knit, with a luminous expression. There is a chalky nuance and a hint of yeast. The delicate nuance of Meyer lemon compliments the minerality. Pure deliciousness!

Visit ChampagneHenriot.Com for more!

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