Clos Henri is the Marlborough outpost of the Bourgeois family of Sancerre. They first came to New Zealand in 1999 and decided they wanted to make wine here, but rather than take on an existing project they wanted a blank canvas. Their focus was to be Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, just as in their Loire home base. They’d previously investigated a few countries, including South Africa, but New Zealand won. After investigating the terroir of Marlborough, they decided on this site, with its older soils, up valley. Altogether they dug around 70 soil profiles to see what was going on.
Initially they planted 21 hectares; now there are 45 ha of vineyards. The soil varies, largely because the Wairau fault line passes through the property. On one side of it there are the Old Renwick Terraces, which is the old riverbed of the Wairau. Here there are big stones, and it’s pretty free draining. On the other, there is Broadbridge Clay, from young clay uplifts. Then there are the hillside sites, also clay-dominated.
Most of the Pinot Noir is planted on the clay, while the Sauvignon Blanc is planted on the stones, but there are a couple of blocks where this is reversed. Initially plantings were 8000 vins/ha, but most is at 5000 vines/ha, which suits the site better.
I visited with winemaker Damien Yvon. Damien is originally from Chinon, studied in Muscadet and worked at a number of wineries, including the Moueix group in Bordeaux, Dominus in California and Georges Michel in Marlborough (in 2004). He was 24 years old when he was hired by Clos Henri, who’d experienced some problems with the people they’d hired to establish their New Zealand vineyard. When Damien arrived in 2006 the other employee was the young Takaki Okada who was working in the vineyard. With the help of one family member, Damien made the wines that year at the Indevin winery. 12 years later, and Damien is still here.
The estate has been organically certified since 2013, with conversion beginning in 2010. Biodynamic practices have been used since 2011. The challenge for organics here is undervine weed control in the stony sites. They’ve moved 35 tons of stones, which just seem to keep surfacing and which damage the blades of the weeder.
As with elsewhere in the wine world, trunk diseases are a worry, although they are yet to make a lot of impact in the region (partly because so many vineyards get replanted at age 20 to keep productivity high). Damien follows the advice of Loire viticulturist Francois Dal, who has visited. He advocates pruning that respects the sap flow, with each cane laid down from a spur that is cut to the outside, keeping the head clear, and also not cutting too close so any die back from the pruning wound doesn’t affect the flow.
Damien is convinced that the biggest potential for improvement with Sauvignon is in the vineyard. ‘The amount of water put on Sauvignon that isn’t needed is insane,’ he says. He uses a pressure bomb and moisture probes, in order to give the vine water only when it really needs it.
Calcium deficiency is a big problem in the region. It’s needed to hold the structure of clay together, and also to counter acidity stress, which Dal thinks is a problem here. But he doesn’t use lime, which changes the soil analysis too quickly. Instead, for the last few years he’s been adding 5 tons/hectare of mussel shells. It hasn’t changed the soil analysis, but the vineyard has come to life. The foliage was previously slightly yellow, which was a soil acid issue.
Addressing excess vigor has been an issue. All new plantings have been on Riparia Gloria rootstock. But in 2013 the vigor dipped to a point that the vines weren’t too healthy, so they started using a cover crop every second row to get the vigor up a little.
2018 was a difficult vintage here. Pinot Noir was 40% down, while Sauvignon was 30% down. Overall, there was a massive 400 mm rain during the growing season. They were hit by botrytis early, and then there was some more rain just before the grapes were fully ripe.
Damien likes to work without using sulfur dioxide during fermentation, even with Sauvignon Blanc. He keeps the fine lees, and if the wine is smelling a bit he will take a pump and puff the lees up in tank. Last year he even did aerative pumpovers without any sulfites present. ‘I won’t use copper,’ he says (this is commonly used to fine wines before bottling to offset any reductive issues when bottling with screwcap, but it can also damage aromatic compounds). ‘In 12 years here I have never added copper.’
The Sauvignons in 2018 taste promising, and the Pinot Noirs are also really good, despite the reduced quantities. In 2017 he fermented Pinot at a peak temperature of just 25 C, because he was worried about extracting greenness. In 2018 he went to 30C, then at 1060 density took it down to 25 C. He’s not carried out any punch downs for the last three years.
Clos Henri Blanc de Noirs 2014
This is from half a hectare of Pinot next to the chapel. Tight and fruit-driven with notes of wax, citrus and almond. Lovely juicy fruit with nice acidity and precision. 90/100
Clos Henri Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc 2017
This is from younger vines and is 80% from stony soils. Really aromatic and expressive with passionfruit and tangerine on the nose. The palate is delicate and fine with a lovely mouthfeel and bright tropical and citrus fruit. Very light and pretty. 91/100
Clos Henri Bel Echo Sauvignon Blanc 2016
This is from older vines on clay, fermented in stainless steel. Quite taut and structured with a delicate herbal twist to the citrus fruit. Linear and bright with good acidity and lovely weight. 92/100
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (from tank, final blend)
Just 6% oak this year compared with the normal 10%. Linear and focused with a hint of nice greenness and some nettly notes. Lovely delicate citrus fruit with some tangerine, fine spiciness and great delicacy. Has purity and finesse with great precision. 91-93/100
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2016
10% oak (new barrels are washed and then used to ferment lesser wines for a couple of weeks before use). This is beautifully expressive. There’s a lovely citrus focus with lemons and mandarin. Nice freshness on the palate which displays bright acidity and nice mineral notes, as well as fine herbs. Lovely precision. 93/100
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2010
This is showing very nice evolution. Delicate citrus (some mandarin) with a hint of wax and lanolin. Lovely palate with nuts and spice. Really fine and expressive with subtle herby hints. I like the fruit character a lot, and this has some distance to go yet. 94/100
Bel Echo Pinot Noir 2016
From stony soils. There’s a brightness here: this has a savoury, cedary, spicy edge with bright red cherry and plum notes. Savoury and juicy with nice brightness. 88/100
Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2015
This is from pure clay soils. Complex spicy nose with vivid red cherry and some herbs and tar. Has a savoury, spicy edge to the palate with nice grip and a touch of cedar woodiness. Structured and showing nice purity this is a grown-up Pinot. Has potential. 94/100
Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2014
Bright aromatic red cherry and berry fruit nose. Open and supple with nice fresh cherry and raspberry fruit. This has a lovely supple quality to the fruit: open and bright with nice focus. Has life. 93/100
Clos Henri Patience Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Berry selected. Fruity and intense with a spicy edge to the citrus and marmalade. Has brightness and focus with a pithy finish and some notes of barley sugar. 91/100
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THE MARLBOROUGH WINE REGION
Part 1, Te Whare Ra
Part 2, Mahi
Part 3, Fromm
Part 4, Saint Clair Pioneer Block wines
Part 5, Spy Valley
Part 6, Two Rivers
Part 7, Zephyr
Part 8, Framingham
Part 9, Clos Henri
Part 10, Brancott, Stoneleigh and Deutz
Part 11, Meeting the Vandals
Part 12, The Growers’ Story (video)
Part 13, Novum
Part 14, Folium
Part 15, Villa Maria
Part 16, Corofin
Part 17, Hans Herzog
Part 18, Te Pa
Part 19, Giesen’s single vineyard wines