Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Friday, 24 February 2012

Noël Pinguet leaves Domaine Huet

La Revue du Vin de France

La Revue du Vin de France is reporting that Noël Pinguet has abruptly left Domaine Huet in Vouvray over a disagreement with its majority owner Anthony Hwang. If correct this is very sad as Noël has been running the estate since 1976. Domaine Huet is one of the few Loire estates that is widely recognised as world class.

It is very sad and a shock if it has ended this way because, although Noël's relationship with his father-in-law, Gaston Huet, was often not easy he became the embodiment of the estate just as Gaston was before him with the same high principles and absolute commitment to quality.

Anthony Hwang helping out during the 2010 harvest@the domaine

It is also a shock because the relationship between Anthony Hwang and Noël appeared to be good with Anthony saying how much he admired Noël. Indeed Hwang once called Noël a 'magician'. The disagreement is reported to have been over Anthony's wish for more dry wines to be made. However, mainly dry and sparkling wines were made in the last two vintages. Furthermore when Hwang bought the majority share the vineyard – Vodanis – in Rochecorbon was dropped because Anthony didn't consider the quality was sufficiently good. Domaine Vodanis is now a completely separate property with part of the vines on long term rent from Domaine Huet.

Jean-Bernard Berthomé

Noël had intended to retire in the next few years – he was born in 1945, so is or will be 67 this year. Hwang told me a couple of years ago that he has persuaded Noël to stay on rather than retire. LRVF says he intended to retire in 2015 and his nominated successor, Benjamin Joliveau, was present at the domaine's Portes Ouvertes last year. I understand that the long time cellar-master/vineyard manager, Jean-Bernard Berthomé will continue and that Sarah Hwang will become commercial director.

Noël Pinguet@a tasting of Domaine Huet in London in June 2009

My thanks to David Schildknecht for the following statement from Blake Murdock, Huet’s US importer. Apparently an announcement was due to be made on Monday. The parting is also apparently considerably more amicable than reported in LRVF.

DS: Blake Murdock of Huet importer The Rare Wine Co. has written me just now, for attribution, the following:

‘Noel will be a loss to this estate, but I think that we owe it to the estate and its continuing arc of history to put his departure in context. In other words, this will not mark the end of Huet's long period of greatness.

The quality will not change. In fact, the quality and consistency have only improved in the Hwang era. And I think that committing to a larger proportion of Sec wines (which, as the RVF article noted, has been encouraged by the Hwangs) will only strengthen the demi-sec and dessert wines at this estate – refining the selection of fruit for these cuvées.

The long time cellar-master/vineyard manager, Jean-Bernard Berthomé, and Noel’s hand-picked successor, Benjamin Joliveau, are both staying on and committed to building on the strong base they’ve inherited from Noël (and Gaston Huet before him).

Furthermore, as the RVF article pointed out, Noel had already planned his departure (in 2015). The team he leaves behind is highly skilled and passionate; they won't miss a beat.’

Noël and his wife, Marie-Françoise,@2011 Portes Ouvertes 8.5.2011

I hope Blake Murdock is correct that Noël's departure is indeed less acrimonious than has been reported in LRVF. It is a measure of Noël's achievement and that of Gaston Huet before him that his leaving is big news. I can think of no other Loire estate, except possibly the Foucaults, where a story of someone leaving would have the same impact.     

Update: Saturday 25th Februarymessage from Noël Pinguet – departure much more calm than suggested. Certainly hope so, although Noël's leaving appears to be more abrupt than had been previously indicated.      


Jan-Tore Egge said...

A shock, indeed.

Luc Charlier said...

Jim, you rightly present the two sides of this item of news: the almost sentimental part and the business/technical aspects. I had known Gaston Huet far better than his successor, as the BD-side of the latter appealed less to me. But there’s no denying his talent and the impact he had on both the estate’s reputation and the continuing quality of the wines. It is SAD to hear this man is leaving. Let’s hope he sticks to wine-making somewhere, for the sake of himself and in the interest of potential customers/amateurs. On the other hand, everyone is replaceable and the rest of the team stay, so you tell us. Finally, marketeers (the owner, the UK importer ....) are right to emphasize the fact that this will – presumably – not impair the quality of the wines. It suits them well but (sadly so ?) it is probably true. It is also SAD to note THAT is their main concern.
Technically, my feeling is they are correct that putting the emphasis on DRY wines will also improve (if still needed in this very case) the quality of the sweet wines. I tend to prefer sweet Vouvray above the dry ones, as you don’t find many competitors in the world for the former, and thousands for the latter. But keeping the lesser bunches – the “left-overs” – for dry wines, as is often the case with selective picking (“tries”), is a kind of “negative selection”, the opposite of an “Auslese”. You potentially end up with poor grapes by doing so. Allowing more mature bunches to reach the dry wines press will certainly increase their richness, lessen the sometimes excessive acidity and ... limit the need (?) for chaptalization. And making a smaller quantity of sweet wine (they sell with more difficulty anyway) will allow you to increase your quality requirements as well, ending up with something great rather than just good.
But that’s enough: Long live retired Noël Pinguet, three cheers to him, and a HUGE admiration for this man’s achievement.

Jim Budd said...

Thanks Luc.

The politic of Domaine Huet has always been to only make demi-sec and sweet wines when nature permits. There have been many years when no sweet wine has been made and very little if any demi-sec.

There has never been any chaptalisation for demi-sec or moelleux and as far as I know not for the other wines, except for the dosage in the sparkling wines.