Within the Vouvray appellation there are just a handful of domaines that I would place on the top tier, domaines that have been turning out top-quality wines not just for a few vintages but for decades, and without a doubt one of these is Domaine Huet. This is not only the most renowned domaine in the appellation, it is also perhaps the most widely appreciated domaine in the entire Loire Valley. I have an inclination that there are committed Burgundy and Bordeaux drinkers out there who, despite being completely unaware of the striking Pinot Noirs of Alphonse Mellot, or the seductive silkiness of the Cabernet Francs of Clos Rougeard, at least know Vouvray. And this is because they know Domaine Huet. It is a domaine that has entered the global conscious of wine drinkers across the world.
It is not overstating the case to say that the appellation of Vouvray and Domaine Huet are, to some extent at least, one and the same. Both appellation and domaine have grown and developed in tandem, the tenure of the Huet family here predating the creation of the Vouvray appellation by some time. Through his position on a multitude of committees, including his presidency of the Académie du Vin de France, of the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Touraine et Loire, of the Conseil d’Administration du Lycée Viticole d’Amboise (which he, together with French statesman Michel Debré, founded), and of course his position as mayor of Vouvray (held for 42 years), onetime proprietor Gaston Huet helped to shape the development of French wine law and culture both locally and nationally. He is rightly credited with having prevented the routing of a TGV line directly through the Vouvray vineyard, and his significance is such that his name has been imprinted on the collective mind of the wine trade as well as that of the wine consumer; several merchants and critics continue to refer this domaine as Domaine Gaston Huet, a name that is technically incorrect but spiritually meaningful.
Everyone with an interest in the wines of the Loire must visit Domaine Huet; my first visit was a long time ago now (it wasn’t even this century!) when I was barely twenty years old. The domaine has changed much in that time. It has been passed from one generation to the next, accepted significant outside investment and, ultimately, it has been bought out, passing into new and unrelated hands. The heart of the domaine, the famous trio of vineyards of Clos du Bourg (pictured above), Le Mont and Le Haut Lieu, is a constant, a kingpin around which the rest of the domaine has turned. Some key members of the Huet team have also remained, perhaps most notably the affable Jean-Bernard Berthomé, who since the departure of Noël Pinguet in 2012 has been appointed winemaker by the current owners, the Hwang family. During the decades that have passed since my first visit I have seen many changes at the domaine, not least the construction of a rather swish tasting room and suite of offices on the Rue de la Croix Buisée, which means recent visits have been very different to my first, when – if memory serves me correctly (and it might not!) – I tasted the wines in the chill of the domaine’s storage facility, next to the current tasting room.