A class of its own ...
The Domaine Huetlocated in Vouvray on the Loire, is one of the most important wine estates in France. It was founded in 1928, when Victor Huet and his wife Anna-Constance discovered the building in search of a new place to live and work. They bought the house together with the vineyard Le Haut-Lieu, which lies directly next to the house. It was their son Gaston who made the vineyard famous - for example with the 1945 and 1947 vintages from this very vineyard. In 1953, he additionally acquired the Clos du Bourg vineyard, which had existed since the 8th century. In 1957, he bought the Le Mont vineyard as well. That's it.
There are these three vineyards, all monopoly-owned and exclusively planted with Chenin Blanc. After Gaston's son Jean was not interested in being a winemaker, Noël Pinguet, Gaston's son-in-law, took over the management of the winery in 1976. He led the estate towards biodynamics and produced great vintages. When Gaston died in 2002, there were four children who disagreed about the future of the winery. Eventually they sold to the Filipino-American Hwang family with a minority stake held by Noël Pinguets. Since 2012, the year Pinguet left, Sarah Hwang, field manager Jean-Bernard Berthomé and oenologist Benjamin Joliveau - son of one of Noël's best friends who practically grew up on the estate - have been running the Biodyvin winery.
2022: A vintage of abundance
Six categories of Chenin Blancs are traditionally produced in Vouvray. However, only when the vintage permits. They are sparkling Pétillants naturel (Pet Nats, dry wines (Sec), semi-dry wines (Demi-sec), residually sweet wines (Moelleux), selections with a slight botrytis content (Première Trie) and Beerenauslesen (Cuvée Constance). After the weather allowed only three secs in 2021, almost the entire range of brandies was produced in 2022.
The year started with a winter that wasn't really a winter. There was hardly any frost or snow, and in February it became so mild in the Vouvrillon, as the countryside around Vouvray is called, that the plants were already expecting spring and awoke from their winter sleep. All winegrowers along the Loire know a thing or two about how dangerous this is; for the region has suffered from late frosts in almost all past years. The budding began at the end of March - and Vouvray was spared frosts. On the other hand, it became unusually hot on 9 May, fortunately only for a short time, so that the flowering period was quite normal and ended on 14 June. At that time I was at the Loire, it was up to 40 °C hot, and the river hardly had any water left in some places. And yet the summer hadn't really started yet. Three more heat waves followed in July and August. Fortunately, the vines, many of which are old, are rooted in the soil typical of the region. TuffeauThe soil is a porous limestone that has stored the water from the winter and spring so well that the vines do not get stressed and do not stop growing. However, the drought had a positive effect, namely that there was no fungal pressure. This meant that harvesting could begin on 8 September. However, the ripening process was so heterogeneous that many harvesting passes were necessary, which is why the team set a new record. The 24 harvesters worked in the vineyard for six weeks. During the first pass, the vines were defoliated so that the grapes could take a sunbath, which they needed for their late ripeness and Oechsle degrees. As there had not been too much thinning out beforehand, the quantity of grapes meant that the sugar was well distributed and eventually all the wines typical of Huet could be produced.
The style of the vintage is classic Huet - Chenin Blanc from Demi-Sec to Moelleux
It has always been the case at Domaine Huet that the ageing of the wines followed the course of the vintage. It is important that the wines remain pure, energetic and balanced, and that we see our terroirs through the lens of each unique growing season«, is how Sarah Hwang sums it up. Accordingly, together with oenologist Jean-Bernard Berthomé, she has decided to age all the varieties.
The Le Haut-Lieu from Huet's oldest vineyard with an approximately four-metre-thick brown clay and loam soil (Aubuis) on tuffeau presents itself in 2022 as dancing, sensual, silky and dense. The Demi-Sec is already a great seducer. As Moelleux it presents itself more densely, in the variant Première Trie comes a perfectly picked clean botrytis. This wine also already seems open and inviting. I served it with pasta with vongole, some chilli and coconut milk, which harmonised perfectly.
The Location Clos du Bourg presents itself as outstandingly harmonious, deep and offering complexity, whose wines appear somewhat more tart, smoky and spicy. Here, too, one would like to taste even the Première Trie already drink in large gulps.
At Le Mont Throughout all the variants, the typicality of the perruches (clay and flint) determined vineyard absolutely clear and precise. The wines have a high energy and density, present themselves spicy and always slightly smoky, tobacco and earthy.
Across the range, the wines are consistently finessed, elegant, charming and full of energy. The ripe acidity is complemented by a fantastic minerality. This is so classic Vouvrayas one could wish for. Moreover, if you look at Burgundy and compare them, they are impressively cheap for the fact that some of the wines produced here are great and worthy of ageing.
Oh yes, something else should be mentioned: Huet has made the 1993s Le Haut-Lieu Première Triewhich was released 30 years after the harvest, an absolute speciality. The 1993 was the last wine from the vines, some of which are still rooted, that produced legends such as the 1945 and 1947 vintages. Also deep, complex and picture-perfect are Le Haut-Lieu 2003 Moelleux and Première Trie - two twenty year old Late Releases.
Text and wine expertise: Christoph Raffelt