The history of Champagne is fascinating and every House has a tale to tell. How Moet met Chandon, the story of the widow (veuve) Cliquot, who discovered the bubbles and the many other tales that surround these chilly French vineyards. They all enhance our understanding of this King of Sparklers.  

I was at lunch with clients at Champagne Henriot’s winery in Reims a while ago and rolling through their history whilst sipping a glass of their N.V. (non vintage) Blanc de Blancs brought the wine and the region to life.  

Champagne Henriot started way back in 1794 when Nicolas Henriot, a wine merchant in Reims married Apolline Godinot, a local beauty and vineyard owner. Romance and business in perfect harmony! Sadly, after 14 years of marriage, Nicolas died leaving Apolline to become one of the regions’ famous widows founding ‘Veuve Henriot Aine’ in 1808. The House has been in the family ever since. Over the years the family built up an impressive portfolio of vineyard plots but in 1985 Joseph Henriot sold much of the estate; it’s reported that 125 hectares went to Veuve Clicquot in return for a reasonable chunk of Clicquot shares. He ended up running Veuve Cliquot within the L.V.M.H. (Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennesy) Group establishing himself as a Champagne visionary along the way but, in 1994 he returned to the fold and appointed his eldest son Stanilas to run the family business. In 2010 his younger son Thomas took the reins as success followed success.

Henriot’s present prowess also owes much to the inspirational winemaking and vineyard management of Chef de Caves Laurent Fresnet who joined in 2006. He deservedly won the International Sparkling Winemaker of the Year Award in 2015.  

My regular snooth readers know my adage that ‘you can’t make good wine from bad grapes, you can only make great wine from great grapes’. Champagne is no exception. All the Champagne vineyard villages carry a quality tag, be it cru, premier cru or grand cru status within the three main vineyard areas of Montagne de Reims, the Vallee de la Marne and the Cotes de Blanc.  

Henriot have about 35 hectares of top vineyard plots dotted around these three main areas, including Ay, a grand cru in the Vallee de la Marne, Avenay, a premier cru in the Montagne de Reims and Chouilly, a grand cru in the Cotes de Blancs.

These vineyards supply about 15-20 per cent of Henriot’s needs (they produce about 1.5 million bottles a year), the rest of the grapes come from trusted growers who own premier and grand cru vineyards. The vineyards of the Cotes de Blancs, which include the Top Johnny villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Vertus are particularly cherished as the Cotes de Blanc is the home of Chardonnay, the Champagne grape that emphasises the creamy yet crisp Henriot style.

Reflecting centuries of winemaking history, Henriot’s Blanc de Blancs NV. is aged for 3 - 5 years and their entry level Souverain NV is aged for 3 years; that’s impressive when you consider that most non-vintage Champagnes are lucky to get 18 months ‘on the lees’ (the dead yeast sediment) in the bottle following the second fermentation.

So next time you’re sipping a glass of Champagne check the history of the House, it’ll give you a whole new tasting experience.