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1945 Vouvray, Le Haut-Lieu, Moelleux, Perlant, Domaine Huet
Gaston Huet and his wife built up a domaine with a formidable reputation over the years following its creation by Victor Huet, his father, in 1928. Gaston, war hero and one-time mayor of Vouvray, managed the family domaine from 1947 until his death in 2002. He was a prisoner for most of the Second World War and longed for his home and for the taste of his Vouvray. He managed to arrange a special wine celebration in the POW camp. "It saved our sanity . . . Talking about wine and sharing it made all of us feel closer to home and more alive. It was only a thimbleful but it was glorious and the best wine I ever drank."
The Huet Style
The entirety of the vineyard plantings at the estate were given over to the versatile and often under-appreciated Chenin Blanc. Climate plays a huge part in the wine-making in each vintage with warmer years creating unctuously sweet wines (moёlleux for which Huet is renowned and doux the sweetest of all styles). Cooler vintages result in fruit which is used in the production of vivacious demi-sec, bone-dry sec or pétillant sparkling wines. It is important to emphasise that regardless of the sweetness level, the hallmark of Chenin Blanc and indeed Domaine Gaston Huet is an unmistakable freshness and natural acidity which permit the wines to age for centuries
The domaine is now run by Noel Pinguet, Gaston's son-in-law. Biodynamic techniques have been used at all of Domaine Huet's vineyards since 1990. AThe estate comprises three vineyards, all with their own unique blueprint and personality: Le Haut-Lieu, Le Clos du Bourg and Le Mont. The original vineyard, Le Haut-Lieu (literally meaning ‘the high place’) surrounds the house and extends for some nine hectares. The soil is made up of three metres of clay at the surface, underpinned by Vouvray’s famous sedimentary limestone. Its wines are opulent and approachable when young but are genuine vins de gardes and benefit from long-term ageing.
Le Clos du Bourg, which was purchased by Gaston in 1953, is the oldest site in the appellation of Vouvray, dating back to the eighth century. The allure of this vineyard is not entirely contained within its neat and historic walls but moreover its reputation for producing formidable sweet wines. The final musketeer completing the trio is the most famous, Le Mont, with its green-tinged soils and late-harvesting vines from which Gaston produced his longest-lived and arguably most famous wines.
Chenin Blanc is an important white grape variety planted in the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine regions of the Loire Valley and the most widely planted varietal grape in South Africa.
In the Loire it produces high quality dry wines in Savenniéres, and luscious sweet, dessert wines in Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume. In Vouvray and Montlouis it can be dry, medium dry, or sweet, and still or sparkling. Whether dry or sweet, the best Loire Chenin Blancs possess marvellously concentrated rich, honeyed fruit together with refreshingly vibrant acidity. It is Chenin Blanc's high acidity that enable the wines to age so well.
In South Africa Chenin Blanc is easier to grow and is prized for its versatility. It is used as a cheap blending option with Chardonnay, Colombard, and Muscat but also bottled unblended. The best producers keep their yields low and produce impressive mouthfilling wines.
Based just outside Tours, in the Touraine district of the Loire, the small, 2,000-hectare semi-continental Vouvray appellation covers a range of dry, through off-dry, sweet to sparkling styles. Its Chenin Blanc vineyards, perched above chalky tuffeau cliffs give the wines vibrant acidity and a stony, floral and at times waxy character.
Ideally, under perfect skies, the producers aim for moelleux sweet wines, hand-harvested by trie, often imbued with noble rot and rich with residual sugar.
A less successful season would deliver more demi-sec, sec and, if really tough, sparkling mousseaux. Vinification is principally in large, inert vessels such as stainless-steel, old oak foudres and demi-muids. Malolactic fermentation is avoided.