The Buyer
How Hemera 2008 Champagne shows off Henriot’s new vibrancy

How Hemera 2008 Champagne shows off Henriot’s new vibrancy

Returning to Champagne Henriot, to sample the new Hemera 2008, five years since his last visit, Victor Smart finds that a lot of change has taken place. Dynamic chef de cave Alice Tétienne is attempting to get sustainability, science and fine winemaking working in harmony under its new Alliance Terroirs initiative using precision agriculture that allows individual vines to be treated. She is also releasing a newly-found batch of the 1964 vintage onto the market and is very much a part of the House’s change of direction. Victor Smart reports.

Victor Smart
21st July 2023by Victor Smart
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

“As darkness falls, the stately château is picked out in a vibrant light show. A pastry chef pops up in a booth and makes the apricot dessert for each guest individually, spinning the confection on a vintage LP turntable,” writes Smart.

Alice Tétienne, chef de cave, helping Henriot to move up a gear

Champagne Henriot was in the past something of an aficionado’s fizz. When five years ago, I visited its Les Aulnois château to sample the newly launched Hemera prestige cuvée range, everything was somewhat understated. A return trip to taste the latest Cuvée Hemera 2008 shows just how much has changed. Under Alice Tétienne, the dynamic new chef de cave appointed in 2020, Henriot has moved up a couple of gears at least and there is now a new vibrancy and energy to the place.

This month I returned to Les Aulnois a ‘house’ set in the village of Pierry, which the Henriot family bought in 2014 to serve as a family residence, a reception centre for visitors and a repository for Henriot’s finest vintages that it has produced since first established in 1808. With our focus on the Hemera 2008, released on to the market back in March, it’s going to be a ‘tough gig’, culminating in dinner al fresco with caviar and some 60-year-old vintages. But first Tétienne takes us on a vineyard tour.

Going organic: Tétienne displaying a profile of Henriot’s soils

Stood around a metre-deep hole dug in the ground, we hear about the science of the soil (which here is naturally pretty chalky) and Henriot’s new Alliance Terroirs initiative. Henriot is proudly going organic. Under the slogan “the wine is written in the vine”, the chef de cave wants to get sustainability, science and fine winemaking working in harmony. New to me is the advances in so-called precision agriculture. Using drones and the like, it is now feasible to treat just a few vines with nutrients rather than use a scattergun approach spraying entire fields.

Tasting the base wines of the 2022 vintage in the vineyard

We are also invited to taste some of the base wines for the 2022 vintage. A Pinot Noir from the nearby village of Chouilly makes a curiously strong impression and would make a marvellous still wine: things are looking promising.

What follows reveals that Henriot is ‘going big’. When the newly appointed Tétienne was first shown around the cellar she stumbled across stashes of old vintages such as the 1964. These are now being rebottled and offered up to drinkers. Describing 1964 as a “solar” year with intense summer heat, consistently hitting 30°C or above, Tétienne proclaims that the ’64 wine shows itself to be “eternal, with no change.”

But on to the main business – the Hemera 2008 (named after the ancient Greek goddess of light).

Hemera was introduced six years ago by Laurent Fresnet the then chef de cave to replace the previous prestige cuvée, Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. Both wines have a lot in common; they are 50/50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both are chosen from base wines of the same six villages: Mailly, Verzy, Verzenay, Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly.

But the Hemera is subtler. All the grapes are premier or grand crus and the Hemera 2008 (ABV 12.5%, approx. RRP €200 a bottle) has been aged 12 years on the lees with a dosage of 5g/l. The first thing that hits you is the elegance and richness – with that chalk making its presence felt. There are dried apples and dried pineapples, very fine bubbles and a zesty finish.

Tétienne says the Hemera 2008 “shows an intimidating greatness. Freshness, delicacy, distinction and power, all in restraint, characterise this creation.”

Tétienne also sees the 2008 as representing a classic year. The climate was uncertain and cool until the summer but the providential return of the sun took place as the harvest approached. The winemaker’s aim was that after some woody notes on the opening there would be an emerging harmony on the palate: “we glimpse a precise and wonderful construction that looks like lace,” she insists.

Tasting the Hemera 2008 with a touch of new-found glamour

As the evening unfolds so do more “experiences”. The château garden has been reborn since I was last here and is now a riot of manicured topiary. As darkness falls, the stately château is picked out in a vibrant light show. A pastry chef pops up in a booth and makes the apricot dessert for each guest indivually, spinning the confection on a vintage LP turntable. And wines from exotic past vintages continue to flow. Henriot has traded self-effacement for glamour.