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Domaine Huët's Noël Pinguet Retires

Director at the legendary Vouvray producer had worked there since 1976

James Molesworth
Posted: February 27, 2012

Noël Pinguet, the long-serving director of Domaine Huët, one of the Loire Valley's leading producers, has retired from his winemaking duties. His career at the estate began in 1976, when he began working alongside his father-in-law, the late Gaston Huët, before eventually assuming full control of winemaking in 1986.

“In late October, Noël informed our family of his desire to step down as president of the estate and we finalized that earlier this month,” said Sarah Hwang, daughter of Anthony Hwang, a Filipino-American businessman who purchased majority control of the estate from the Huët family in 2003. “His original intention was to retire officially in 2015 on his 70th birthday, so this was a little earlier than expected. To see him step down after so many years is hard for us, but the team all understood it was something we knew we would have to deal with at some point.”

Huët includes 80 acres of vines and produces, on average, 12,000 cases of sparkling, dry and sweet Vouvray annually. In 1990, the estate was the second major Loire estate to convert to biodynamics, following the lead of Nicolas Joly in Savennières, and has consistently produced outstanding and classic-rated wines, including the 100-point Vouvray Cuvée Constance 1997. The estate's Vouvray Moelleux Clos du Bourg Première Trie 2009 was the third-ranked wine in Wine Spectator's 2011 Top 100.

Sarah, 29, began working at the estate full-time earlier this year, along with her brother Stefan-Hugo, 33, to assume more day-to-day responsibilities in running the famed property. Stepping in to handle Pinguet's role as lead winemaker is Jean-Bernard Berthomé, who has been at the estate for 33 years. Berthomé has focused mainly on the vineyards, but also worked with Pinguet in the cellar. He will be assisted by Benjamin Joliveau, who joined the estate initially in 2003, and then full-time starting in 2007.

Hwang also stressed that Pinguet would still be working closely with the estate, despite reports circulating that the resignation was over philosophical differences in the winemaking. In a letter sent to private clients in Europe detailing the change, obtained by Wine Spectator, Pinguet stated that he "is confident that the team of Domaine Huët can continue in the same spirit, with the same quality objectives."

“Just as in 2003 when my father purchased the estate, we want to make sure that Domaine Huët continues with a respect for all that it has accomplished and stood for in the previous years," said Hwang. "Noël will stay on through April to ease the transition in the cellar, and he will continue to work closely with us, representing the estate and concentrating on selling our stocks of older vintages on behalf of the Huët family."

The Huet family maintains control over all stocks prior to the 1975 vintage, as well as the 1989 vintage.

Ivan Campos
Ottawa, Canada —  February 28, 2012 9:38pm ET
James: really hope your future tasting notes for Huet wines can include supplementary notes on any stylistic changes that you notice. I have really enjoyed the 2009 and 2010 bottlings that I have been able to try, and would like to know if their subsequent vintages take a different direction....
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  February 29, 2012 9:38am ET
Ivan: I wouldn't include supplementary notes per se. Ideally, a tasting note conveys both the wine's quality and style, ands if there are any changes in the coming years at Huët, they would show up in the notes to begin with.

I do not expect much change, really. The team is transitioning smoothly and has a wealth of experience, plus Mr. Pinguet is still there (just in another capacity). The ultimate key is, does the philosophy of ownership and winemaking work together, and allow for the risk taking necessary to make the demi-sec and moelleux wines that the domaine is known for. We shall see....
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  February 29, 2012 7:12pm ET
We had an amazing 2 hour tasting/tour of Dom Huet last September thanks to Johan. What a hospitable guy! It was the brightest tasting moment of a three week trip through many of France's wine regions. I believe we tasted 10 different wines and saw old bottlings going back to the 1920's if I recall. Just amazing!

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