Top Vou­vray legacy of Loire Val­ley wine­maker andWorld War II hero

West Sussex County Times - - The Guide - Richard Es­ling

“It was late morn­ing when a bent, el­derly look­ing man, a hand­made knap­sack on his back, came trudg­ing through the mud and slush of a warm Fe­bru­ary. Gas­ton Huet was on his way home.”

Words taken from a fas­ci­nat­ing book called Wine And War by Don and Petie Klad­strup. Huet was one of the top wine­mak­ers in Vou­vray, a small vil­lage in the Loire Val­ley.

A lieu­tenant in the French army, he was taken pris­oner near Calais in 1940 and spent five years in a POW camp in Ger­many un­til be­ing lib­er­ated by Cos­sacks in 1945.

Now, in the 75th An­niver­sary year of VE Day, Do­maine Huet is a thriv­ing vine­yard with a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for high qual­ity Vou­vray.

Quite re­mark­able when you learn the his­tory be­hind the wine­maker Gas­ton Huet, who be­came one of France’s great­est wine­mak­ers and mayor of Vou­vray for 46 years.

On re­turn­ing to his vine­yard af­ter five years, the task of restora­tion was for­mi­da­ble. No plough­ing had been done as the Ger­mans had req­ui­si­tioned all the horses, no prun­ing as there

were no labour­ers, no fer­tiliser or cop­per sul­phate, es­sen­tial for dis­ease con­trol, and no bot­tles avail­able for wine which had lain in wooden casks for five long years.

Huet was not the only one des­per­ately try­ing to get home to his wife, fam­ily and vines. Thou­sands of other sick and frail young men were on the same jour­ney, sur­vivors of a hard­ship which makes our cur­rent wor­ries pale into in­signif­i­cance.

Hap­pily, with a mix­ture of fore­sight and de­ter­mi­na­tion that part of France’s trea­sure should not fall into the hands of the Nazis, much of Huet’s stock of wine had been hid­den in a limestone cave when France was in­vaded. This proved a valu­able source of in­come for the task of restor­ing the vine­yards to their for­mer glory.

Re­source­ful, tena­cious and a pas­sion­ate wine­maker, Gas­ton Huet kept the hopes and morale of 4,000 pris­on­ers of Oflag IV D alive dur­ing the dark days of the early 1940s.

He formed a com­mit­tee of other French wine­maker pris­on­ers and to­gether through in­ge­nu­ity and courage, man­aged to or­gan­ise a wine fes­ti­val which lasted two weeks. A great num­ber of the pris­on­ers were in­volved with wine and the elab­o­rate plan­ning of the event re­lieved the bore­dom over many months, lift­ing the spir­its of those long­ing to re­turn to their for­mer lives and loved ones.

Founded in 1928 by Gas­ton and his fa­ther, the 75 acres of Chenin Blanc vine­yards of Do­maine Huet are cul­ti­vated en­tirely ac­cord­ing to bio­dy­namic prin­ci­ples, with ul­ti­mate re­spect for the en­vi­ron­ment. The range of wines from dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the vine­yard ex­press the char­ac­ter of the ter­roir, but the phi­los­o­phy of their pro­duc­tion owes much to the legacy of a re­mark­able hero from the Sec­ond World War, with a pas­sion not just for sur­vival, but to reach the heights of his pro­fes­sion.

Do­maine Huet is the undis­puted leader of the Vou­vray ap­pel­la­tion. The ex­em­plary house style is one of pu­rity of ex­pres­sion and the wines are leg­endary for their taut­ness and min­er­al­ity. Huet is cer­tainly the great­est Do­maine in all of Vou­vray, if not all of the Loire.

The Wine So­ci­ety, which seeks out such fab­u­lous wines, has a range on of­fer, of both sweet (moelleux) and dry. Prices range from the sweet Le Mont 2017 at £37, to the rare and ex­cep­tional Le Haut Lieu 1948 at £245 per bot­tle.

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