Billecart-Salmon – Keeping it in the family
It’s slowly becoming a tradition that we write about legends in the last newsletter of the month – such as the likes of Billecart-Salmon. The Champagne region’s iconic, two-century-old family house has always been mentioned among the top 10 in Champagne, yet it’s not as well-known as the others.
With smaller production and quieter communication, they still work within a family circle to this day, taking care of continuity and preserving their own style.
The management of the estate was taken over in 2019 by the energetic Mathieu Roland-Billecart, who is the seventh generation. And in the past two years, he’s sought to question and fine-tune all the tried-and-tested methods, moving closer to perfection. Cellar master Florent Nys is in charge of production, taking over the baton in 2018, after 13 years of training. At every important stage of winemaking, a closed circle of eight people tastes the wines and votes on the next step, with one permanent member being 98-year-old Jean Roland-Billecart. His memory guarantees the continuity mentioned above. Sixty years ago – inspired by beer brewing – Jean introduced cold settling, then temperature-controlled fermentation into the strict method of champagne production, which makes every bottle of Billecart-Salmon so fresh even today.
The 2.5-hectare vineyard in the centre of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, where the wines have been made since the beginning, is also the family’s home with a 3-kilometre long cellar system underneath. Of course, they press the hand-harvested grapes in a Coquard press and only the most acid-rich, best fractions (coeur de cuvée) are used. The next is the house’s most specific step, when the fresh must is cooled to 8 degrees for the settling and natural cleansing. Fermentation also starts at a maximum of 13 degrees and with the wine’s own yeast, and due to the low temperature, it takes a month for the base wine to ferment completely to dry.
The Billecart style is about finesse, yellow fruit, flowers and citrus, yet beside tanks, there is also a strong emphasis on ageing in oak. Furthermore, they work with the fourth largest numbers of barrels in the region. The complex blends and the approval of the eight-member tasting panel are followed by bottle fermentation, then ageing on fine lees, which in the case of Billecart is particularly long – lasting at least three, but often 10 years. The riddling of the bottles (remuage) is now largely automated, but an elderly craftsman still works at the cellar, who riddles the most delicate or largest bottles by hand. The last step is disgorging, where less and less dosage is put into the bottles every year.
The Billecart family has never looked for strength or powerful flavours in the wines, rather for delicate balance, freshness and the best possible experience. In addition to our two old favourites, we’ve chosen the house’s Prestige rosé, the 2008 Elisabeth Salmon, which has just been released.