A House Celebrating Its 200th Anniversary
In the year 1818, Nicolas Francois Billecart (descendant of a long line of Mareuil-sur-Ay vintners) married Elizabeth Salmon (owner of vineyards in Chouilly), bringing together their assets to form the Billecart-Salmon Champagne House. Having persevered through the rocky 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s – the harsh realities of World War II and decline in sales following Prohibition in the U.S. – the historical estate will soon be celebrating its 200th anniversary, now under management by the 6th generation of Billecart men. In the past 2 centuries, the family has also forged close relationships with winegrowers of the region, whose fruit of exceptional quality supplements the grapes grown on the estate’s own 50 hectares of independently managed land. Francois and Antoine Roland-Billecart now run a House, whose production of 1.7 million bottles per year is sold to faithful Champagne lovers around the world.
A Distinctive Style and How It Is Achieved
Founded in the 1800’s, focused on quality, and boasting fruit sourced from the greatest terroirs of Champagne… Yes, but what sets Billecart-Salmon apart from the rest of the Champagne Houses, which, on the surface, appear to share all of these characteristics? The answer lies in the estate’s signature style, a family secret guarded and perfected over the course of 6 generations. The cuvees of Billecart-Salmon are delicate, fresh and elegant first, powerful second. To achieve this house style, grapes are picked early to lock in freshness. In the high-tech winery, every care is taken to prevent oxidation, including a modern technique called double jetting, in which a micro jet of wine is sprayed into the neck, both at bottling and disgorgement, in order to produce a foam and push out oxygen. While several of the most famous Champagne Houses focus their blends on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Billecart-Salmon highlights the Pinot Meunier variety, which comprises almost 45 percent of their Brut Reserve blend. Since 1958, the House has relied on the practice of using very cold fermentation (under 13º C) with a strain of yeast specifically adapted to the low temperatures for a period between 3 weeks and one month, following an extended cold settling at 8º C. The aim of this process is mainly to bring out the fruity character of Meunier. Cellar Master Francois Domi believes that when treated right, this varietal can offer great texture and creaminess, as well as structure to support Chardonnay.
The first 100 litres of pressed wine is discarded, as is the taille (tail), which is sometimes used to add a coarser character to the wine. The wine is settled and racked twice to produce a clear must with a very fine texture without filtration or centrifuge. Malolactic fermentation is used in full or partially for the non-vintage cuvees, but avoided altogether for their more prestigious wines, which are fermented in barrel. Why? As explained by Roland-Billecart, malolactic fermentation serves to bring complexity to a cuvee, by transforming the crisp and fresh malic acid into something creamier and smoother – lactic acid. While this serves some of their wines very well, their Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru – for example – already gets plenty of complexity from all of the crus included in the blend. And to highlight this natural complexity, the dosage is often kept very low, almost at Extra Brut level (6 grams per litre or less). The cuvees are aged in the winery’s 17th and 19th century limestone caves, at a constant temperature of 12º C. Vintage cuvees age peacefully in the new chai, built to hold over 450 oak barrels.
A Line of Fine Champagne Wines
The Billecart-Salmon range is quite broad, including a Brut Reserve, Brut Rose, Extra Brut (0 dosage), Demi-Sec, Brut Sous Bois, Blanc de Blancs grand Cru and the prestigious Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart. Most of their cuvees are made with grapes, 90% of which are sourced from within a 20km radius of Epernay. The estate owns around 15 hectares of vines, rents another 50 and buys around 100 hectares worth of grapes from winegrowers in the region with whom the family has secured very close relationships during the course of the past 2 centuries. Notably, the estate’s celebrated Brut Rose blends around 30% Pinot Meunier with up to 50% Chardonnay, leaving only a small amount for Pinot Noir. As Roland-Billecart explains, the House’s roses are Champagne first and rose second.
The House’s prestige Le Clos Saint Hilaire cuvee is a blanc de noirs, created from grapes that are sourced from a 1-hectare plot of Pinot Noir planted in 1964 and owned by the family estate. This very special jewel of a vineyard is managed with biodynamic practices, without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and with yield kept low to produce only around 7,000 (numbered) bottles per year. The wine age in small Burgundian oak barrels in the House’s underground limestone cellars.
Focus on One of our Favourites from Billecart-Salmon
Billecart-Salmon : Brut sous Bois
The Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois is a unique cuvee, more recently added to the House’s range. The blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier is fermented in barrel with lees stirring for four weeks and then left on oak for between 4 to 6 months afterwards. Upon tasting, this Champagne displays a gorgeous, crystalline yellow robe with shimmering golden highlights brought out by the consistent flow of fine bubbles. On the nose, the wine expresses dry fruits, fresh citrus and white fruits, harmoniously blended, and buttery, smooth notes of grilled brioche. The texture on the palate is at once refreshing and creamy, powerful and mature with notes of toffee, apricot preserves and creme de cassis. The finish is mouth-watering, with a mineral edge.Discover this Champagne