In 1818, Nicolas François Billecart and his wife Elisabeth Salmon founded the house of Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, which now stands as the oldest continuously family-owned and operated house in Champagne. The estate is currently managed by the family’s seventh generation, brothers François and Antoine Roland-Billecart, while the cellars lie in the hands of Florent Nys.
After 33 years, François Domi has handed over the baton of Chief Winemaker to Florent, who has been working as an apprentice under the watchful eye of François since 2005, is now ready to take over the reins.
Denis Blée, director of the vineyard, for the last twenty years responsible for the Clos Saint-Hilaire and the oak Chai.
2018 was a special year for Billecart. The House celebrated 200 years of independence and expertise over the past 7 generations. To commemorate the occasion, brand new chai à foudres were installed - 24 large oak casks that hold 80 hectolitres which have been rigorously selected from amongst the best coopers.
“In Champagne it is not always easy to distinguish marketing hype from genuine commitment...But I sense the commitment of these varied heirs is genuine, and it is surely no coincidence that some of the best Champagnes are made by houses dominated by single families….the Billecarts own Billecart-Salmon, some of Champagne’s most delectable wines.” - Stephen Brook, MW
|APPELLATION(S)||Aÿ, Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne|
|PROPRIETORS||François and Antoine Roland-Billecart|
(SUSTAINABLE, ORGANIC, BIODYNAMIC)
Billecart-Salmon owns a total of 30 ha of vineyards. Eleven of these lie in the Vallée de la Marne split between 4 ha of Grand Cru in Aÿ and Premier Cru in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, along with 7 ha in the village of Damery. In the Côte des Blancs the family owns 4 ha of Grand Cru vineyards in the villages of Chouilly, Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In addition, Billecart-Salmon leases 60 ha of vineyards across the region and also buys fruit from 40 growers with whom they have close, long term relationships.
The house operates on the philosophy that an early harvest yields more elegant, delicate Champagnes. They look for strong acid structure rather than alcohol as a preservative, and therefore, never harvest at higher than 10° potential alcohol. They strive to carry out their harvest with minimal grape handling and transit time by utilizing four press houses on the property.
The Clos Saint-Hilaire is a single parcel where the vines, soil and subsoil are carefully tended with respect for the environment. Several years ago, Billecart-Salmon decided to return to ancestral champagne-making methods in the Clos Saint-Hilaire by using work horses and sheep. This method of maintaining the soil and tending the vines increases porosity and biodiversity: the roots grow deep and the minerals they draw from the soil foster the growth of smaller, more concentrated grapes, revealing the terroir's typical flavor.
The Billecart House vinifies each parcel separately and then blends them together to maintain precision based on acidity, maturity and potential. Borrowing an idea from François and Antoine’s maternal grandmother, a brewer in the North of France, the house uses a natural technique of double-cold settling to avoid oxidation while retaining freshness. The unique process involves a primary cold settling of the pressed juice for a period of 12 hours when the heaviest of the must solids fall to the bottom. The juice is then racked into clean tanks where it is chilled down to 36°F for another 48 hours. This second, much colder settling eliminates any wild yeasts and additional heavy elements without the use of enzymes, filtering or centrifuge. After the second racking, fermentation is initiated by adding dried yeast and then maintained at a long, slow pace for up to five weeks in order to preserve as many delicate fruit aromas as possible.
Malolactic fermentation is legally allowed but may be blocked in certain years if vintage conditions warrant it. Since 1987, the family has reserved a certain percentage of their wines for vintage cuvée Champagnes in barrel. In these instances, malolactic fermentation is always prevented. Antoine Roland-Billecart believes that dosage should be minimal, saying, “Dosage is almost like makeup. If you have to use a lot of makeup, then you have something to hide, right?”
The 2km of underground silent tunnels date back from the 17th and 19th centuries and stand guard over the House’s precious cargo. Over time, the wines assert themselves and the aromas develop, imprinted with all the finesse, balance and elegance which are characteristic of the personality of the House’s champagnes. Over three to four years in cellars the non-vintage champagnes really blossom, staying around twice as long as the fixed regulations of the appellation. The vintage cuvées patiently wait ten years before they begin to reveal their maturity.