Visiting The House of Billecart-Salmon Champagne
Billecart-Salmon was one of the first quality champagnes I tried when I moved to England so when they invited me to visit the house and meet one of the family, Francois-Roland Billecart, I was happy to take them up on the trip.
We stopped off in Paris first for lunch at Guy Savoy, where they feature Billecart-Salmon as their house champagne. Guy Savoy is a 3 Michelin starred restaurant and the meal was, understandably fantastic. A fresh, seasonal menu, paired with Billecart-Salmon was a great way to start off the trip.
We started with the Blanc de Blancs Grande Cuvee non vintage, followed by the Vintage 2004 and we finished with the Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart 1999 from carafe and not from carafe. Billecart-Salmon have designed their very own carafe, reflecting the shape of their bottles from the past. There is a difference when tasting the champagne from carafe. I find that the more wine-like qualities of the champagne come forward and although the bubbles are there, they are subdued.
After a short 2 hour lunch, we hopped on the TGV and headed to Mareuil-sur-Ay and the house of Billecart-Salmon. The house was founded in 1818 and is still one of the few family owned houses in Champagne. Francois-Roland and his wife, Edith, now live in a half of the family house, the other half used as accommodation for special guests.
An elegant building, built from the tan coloured stones that are common in the region, the two story edifice is very welcoming and comfy, having the feel of old money, beautifully decorated, not ostentatious but tasteful.
Over dinner we talked about their latest cuvee, the Sous Bois. This champagne is different in that it is vinified in oak barrels which gives it a very distinctive style. Francois -Roland believes that “in Champagne, they have reached a point where there is not a big difference in quality, it’s very important to find a new field” to appeal to consumers. However, he still wants to keep the distinctive Billecart-Salmon style, elegant but powerful. The issue that they are currently trying to overcome is the that the average consumer thinks champagne vinified in oak is corked. They are combating this perception by hosting winetastings for both consumers and the trade.
After dinner we retired to the conservatory for cigars and the Clos St. Hilaire 1998. The Clos is only 1 hectare and the vines (pinot noir) were planted in 1954. As it’s so small, they produce about 3500 bottles a year and only in vintage years. So far they’ve only had 3 vintages. Will 2012 be a vintage year? We don’t know yet. As for the 1998 Clos St. Hilaire. delicious – complex and vibrant, a pleasure to sit and sip by candlelight.
The next day we visited the Clos vineyard and got up close and personal with the vines.
After a tour of the Clos,winery and cellars we headed to the tasting room for a tasting of the 2012 vin clairs.
We were lucky in that they had just finished blending and had the base wines still kicking around the cellar. We asked for their analysis of 2012 and here is what they said: 2012 was a good vintage, starting out cold and with lots of rain but ending on a good note despite a problem with mildew in the late summer. It was a small vintage but high quality.
Tasting the base wines is always a difficult business but it does give you an indication of the champagne to come. The chardonnays showing lots of balance and acidity and the pinots fresh, perfumed and powerful. I’m very much looking forward to the 2012’s.
All in all, a great trip and showcase of Billecart-Salmon’s house and champagne. The house is open to the public for tours and tastings most days of the week, (they do charge a fee) so do stop by if you have the time.