There isn’t much middle ground when it comes to Champagne Henriot’s Cuvée Hemera 2006. As a vintage Champagne that has just become available on the market this month, at $185 SRP, it’s here to make a statement.
The composition of the wine reads like a straight-from-central-casting portrayal of what we imagine a historic Champagne house’s lineage to be. If a vintage Champagne could “read” like the screenplay of a Hollywood film, this would be it.
- It’s got drama. In my previous post about vintage Champagne, I mentioned the now-well-documented histories and legends of the widows of the Champagne region who advanced its wines’ commercial success internationally and preserved its distinctive regional culture. Champagne Henriot is a bona fide participant in that tradition: Apolline Henriot, young widow of Nicolas Henriot and owner of a vineyard in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, founded Maison Henriot in 1808.
- It’s got love (or at least what might have been love in 1880 between participants in a marriage of two local winemaking families), when the Henriot family acquired vineyard parcels in the Côte des Blancs villages of Chouilly, Avize, and Mesnil-sur-Oger. Those parcels are the source of the Chardonnay wine that comprises half of the 2006 Cuvée Hemera; the other half is comprised of Pinot Noir (see bullet point below). Henriot’s acquisition of the Chardonnay parcels involved the nineteenth-century exchange of wedding vows between Marie Marguet of the Côte des Blancs and Paul Henriot, great grandson to Apolline Henriot, who founded the family business some 70 years earlier
- It’s got distribution of (grape) power. The Cuvée Hemera is composed of fifty percent Chardonnay, sourced from those Côte des Blanc parcels acquired via marriage in 1880, and fifty percent Pinot Noir, sourced from Apolline Henriot’s original 1808 parcels in the northern Montagne de Reims villages of Mailly Champagne, Verzy, and Verzenay. Until 1880, Henriot’s wines were composed exclusively of Pinot Noir. After 1880, they expanded to also include Chardonnay.
- It’s got history. The Henriot family traces its roots as far back as 1640, when they left Lorraine (in what is now northeastern France) and settled in Champagne. They began to acquire land to plant vines, and they learned about viticulture and winemaking.
- It’s got a great “title.” Hemera, the name of the wine, refers to the Greek goddess of daylight; she is the daughter of the primordial deities Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night). Metaphorically, Hemera represents light and the ripening of the vines in the sun. Yet Hemera, as both wine and goddess, cannot exist without the darkness or shadow. The wine aged for 12 years in Henriot’s dark and silent cellars before, now, being brought into the light of the market.
Ironically, my own enjoyment of this wine followed a screenplay-style narrative of plot twists and turns. A few weeks ago, we had decided to bring the 2006 Cuvée Hemera to a small dinner party at a friends’ home just before the Christmas holiday. It was picture-perfect seasonal timing and a picture-perfect menu, featuring a cassoulet dish in the French tradition that had taken four days to prepare and significantly more time to source the ingredients. The intended timeline or “run of show” for the evening was, starting at sunset, to visit our city’s extensive botanical garden and their impressive holiday light show, then return home for a celebratory toast and the meal.
We had just arrived at the botanical garden when it started to rain, and we hadn’t dressed appropriately. Then the temperature dropped as the sun went down. It got cold quickly, and soon enough we were soaked to the skin.
Cue the misery.
We “Cut!” the scene and exited stage right. By the time we arrived home and toweled off, we could not have been more ready for our first sips of very excellent vintage Champagne. The quality mattered, more that night than many others, and it set the stage for that night’s real-life Hollywood ending.