The Bicentenary Celebration of Champagne Billecart-Salmon
June 29, 2018
“Invariably, the difference between (the founders) have been overridden by the obsession that has been the common thread running from generation to generation: the quality of their wines, pursued with a passion, first, foremost and always.” Francois Roland-Billecart, Champagne Billecart-Salmon, Two Centuries of Adventure.
We were off again on another adventure! After returning from our sunny Marbella press trip for JPR Media Group’s fashion and party client Candypants, my boyfriend and I decided to traverse to the Epernay region for a palette-tingling weekend of champagne tasting and to join the 200-year celebration of Maison Billecart-Salmon.
Its beginnings were borne out of love. The 1818 marriage of Elisabeth Salmon and Nicolas Francois Billecart in Mareuil-Sur-Ay on the River Marne marked the start of a passionate legacy of wine-making. Consultant to the presidial court at Chalons, Pierre-Joseph Billecart and the Salmons were lightermen who controlled wine trade along the river. Nicolas-François’ father Francois Alexandre was a wine merchant during Louis XIV’s reign who became a dignitary and member of the Mareuil-sur-Ay municipal council. It wasn’t until Elisabeth’s brother Louis Salmon went into partnership with Nicolas François that the Champagne House Maison Billecart-Salmon was formed; Nicolas François looking after running the business and his brother-in-law specialising in the wine production. This initial family trio now have three cuvees rightly named after them with Nicolas Francois’s Brut 2002 and 2006, Elisabeth’s Rose 2006 and Louis’s Blanc de Blancs 2006 (current vintages).
Accompanied by GQ Japan’s features writer’s adorable tiny poodle Lou Lou, our illustrious heritage-filled weekend started off with a bottle of glorious peach-coloured Rose first conceived in 1840.
Arriving at the stunning property, I was lucky enough to meet 7th generation Mathieu Roland-Billecart who will soon become CEO in 2019. A scuba diving adventurer with a love for the Maldives and romantic getaways to Paris with his wife, Mathieu exuded an elegance and finesse which is transparent in the wine-making. His personal attitude towards rules for pairing specific wines with specific foods is graciously relaxed; believing if you enjoy a wine-pairing, go for it. He even hosts Comte cheese tasting evenings at the House that are paired with champagne. Sounds like perfection!
We toured the House where the juices are vinified, having been pressed in the vineyards. With two hundred hectares of vines, they only use three different types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (which together blends to make the Brut Rose and some of the other Billecart – Salmon cuvees). Picked by hand, the grapes can only be transported for up to 30 minutes before using horizontal nomadic presses with 1.3-1.5 Kilo of grapes needed to produce a single bottle. The champagne only uses juice from the first extraction called Cuvee whilst the juice from the second and third pressings is shipped off to distilleries which produce a grappa style drink called Marc de Champagne.
There is a limited number of bottles of Champagne at £305 per bottle made solely from Pinot Noir vines, planted in 1964 on a one-hectare plot called the Clos Saint-Hilaire (named after the Patron Saint of the town). Four sheep are placed on the land the day after harvest to maintain the soil.
Awarded the Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne certificate, Billecart-Salmon is one of the few independent family run champagne brands which use no chemicals and machine-harvesting is banned in Champagne.
The champagne is some of the best in the world ranking over Krug, Dom Perignon and Pol Roger, in the 1999 “Champagne of the Millennium” tasting with its 1959 vintage being awarded first place and second-place award going to Billecart-Salmon’s 1961 vintage.
Billecart-Salmon can bottle up to 55,000 bottles per day and last year sold approximately two million bottles. With 400 barrels and 26 casks, Billecart-Salmon is the fourth biggest user of barrels during the vinification process. Each barrel is hand selected by the in-house wine master and they produce a staggering 350-450 types of wine (which eventually become the secret Billecart-Salmon blend) which is then tasted throughout the year by a specially chosen committee of family members and wine experts which include Jean, Antoine and Mathieu Roland-Billecart as well as Chief Winemaker Florent Nys, Head of Viticulture Denis Blée and François Domi, who retired as Chief Winemaker earlier this year.
The most surprising and spectacular part of our tour was the unveiling of a new chai featuring 24 large oak casks which were revealed artistically with a stunning light show and classical music amongst the wood barrels.
The main event was the all-day party at the Maison on the 17th June with hundreds of well-heeled guests, delicious canapes, puppet shows and sweets for children, and the showcase pinnacle of the day which released the 1818 magnums of the exclusive Bicentenary Cuvee.
With a motto “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence”, this champagne has an incredible legacy with a beautiful past built upon the strength of family bonds.
Taste Billecart-Salmon champagnes in London at locations such as Zuma, Oblix at The Shard, The River Café, The Connaught, Claridge’s Bar, and the Mandarin Oriental or buy it at Jeroboams, Hedonism, Berry Bros & Rudd, Selfridges
Written by Jessica Patterson for Luxuria Lifestyle International