THE HOUSE OF BILLECART-SALMON IS PART OF A FAMILY ESTATE WHO, THROUGH THEIR WORK AND KNOWLEDGE, HAVE BUILT A CHAMPAGNE DYNASTY THAT IS NOW NEARLY 200 YEARS OLD. THE SECRET VINIFICATION METHODS HAVE BEEN HANDED DOWN THROUGH SIX GENERATIONS TO CREATE SOME OF THE FINEST WINES IN THE WORLD THAT HAVE GREAT FINESSE, DELICACY AND BALANCE. WE TALKED TO BILLECART-SALMON AMBASSADOR SEBASTIEN PAPIN.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE BILLECART-SALMON CHAMPAGNE?
The story of Billiecart-Salmon began in 1818 when Nicolas Francois Billiecart and his new wife Elisabeth were given a small plot of land in Meruil-sur-Ay and founded a champagne house. Since then, every member of the Billecart family have been committed to continue the family tradition and it has now become one of the few remaining champagne houses to be owned by its original family.
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY BILLECART-SALMON AND THE FOUNDERS WERE SOME OF THE PIONEERS IN THE CHAMPAGNE INDUSTRY?
Sparkling Champagne wine itself was only in early development when Billecart was founded and was among the early houses to be proudly making sparkling wine in Champagne. More recently, Billecart were the first to innovate with the double cold settling of their champagnes in 1952, refining even further the elegant and finessed house style.
FRANÇOIS AND ANTOINE ROLAND-BILLECART ARE NOW MANAGING THE WINERY, WHAT IS THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THE FOUNDERS? HOW MANY GENERATIONS OF BILLECART ARE THERE?
Francois and Antoine are direct descendants of the original family founders and are the 6th generation of the Billecart family to run the maison. They work very closely with their father, Jean Roland-Billecart, and will soon be handing over the reigns to the 7th generation.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A CUSTODIAN OF A WINERY WITH SUCH A RICH FAMILY HERITAGE THAT DATES BACK FOR GENERATIONS?
When tastings are held, our current managers Antoine and Francois are still joined by their father Jean, who is turning 90 next March. Jean began working in wine when he was 16 and has been involved in over 70 harvests. His knowledge of the land is so great that he can tell what the wine will be like in 20 years and often says, “this sample won’t last, and in 15 years you’re going to cry!” Jean can also feel a vintage by just smelling and tasting the musts, building the blend in his mind before it’s even tasted which is pretty special!
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE VINEYARDS AND HOW THIS CONTRIBUTES TO THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHAMPAGNE?
The very marginal growing conditions in our vineyards means the grapes will only just reach ripeness in most years. This gives our sparkling wines the perfect amount of refreshing acidity, and a complex yet delicious taste to our non-vintage champagnes as it uses a blend of different years’ harvest. The limestone soils also gives special character and minerality to our native varieties of champagne such as Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
PICKING CHAMPAGNE CAN BE A BIT DAUNTING FOR SOME PEOPLE. WHAT TIPS CAN YOU PROVIDE FARRO CUSTOMERS FOR SELECTING THE RIGHT CHAMPAGNE?
Taste the wines! Whether that’s in a restaurant, by the glass or at home, the more you taste the better understanding you can get of the styles that you like. If you are buying for someone, it’s safe to spend just a little bit extra as the champagne can dramatically improve. Talk to your a Farro staff member as they will have tasted the wines and can point out the difference between the biggest styles and the more elegant wines. Finally, champagne is a special wine but don’t feel afraid to open a bottle for little occasions, sometimes the only occasion to celebrate is the fact that you have a bottle in your fridge!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE WINE MEMORY?
The greatest wine memories are from tasting wines in the cellars that they were matured in. These wines taste special so if you ever get a chance to go to a winery and taste their wine in their cellar, savour it.