Champagne Billecart-Salmon Celebrates 200 Years Of Independence

Drinks

March 16, 2018 | BY Don Mendoza

The champagne house's affable sixth-generation ambassador gets candid about the importance of keeping it in the family.

To celebrate its 200th anniversary, Maison Billecart-Salmon is on a gastronomic world tour that began with a special collaborative dinner over the weekend with Julien Royer at Odette, featuring the genius of the iconic Alain Passard. The tour will include similar collaborations with some of the world's top toques in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and London, before returning to its Mareuil-sur-Aÿ estate for a family celebration.

“The seventh generation is already working in the company, with Mathieu Roland-Billecart (its current COO) to replace my brother Francoise as the CEO by the end of the year,” Antoine Roland-Billecart, the company’s Export Director and sixth-generation family ambassador told T.Dining over a quick breakfast with journalists at Odette on Friday. He expounded on the importance of "keeping it in the family", adding how his nephew had also recently joined the family business.

Founded in 1818 by husband and wife Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon, the Billecart-Salmon House has for the last two hundred years been handing down the tricks of the trade from generation to generation.

“Most of the champagne brands now belong to groups (such as) Pernod Ricard and LVMH, (and are) doing a great job,” Antoine explains. “But the goal for Billecart-Salmon is to remain independent, family-owned and managed.

He recalled being invited to speak at a wine symposium in Adelaide, Australia, a decade ago on how the company is able to remain independent. “And I was telling them, first of all, you will have to reinvest about 100 per cent of your benefits into the company,” he recounts, much to their surprise. “I mean, you get a very reasonable salary, not something fancy, and you do not need to drive a Ferrari.”

There is, of course, the other important task, that of ensuring good quality grapes and wine. And the trick for Billecart-Salmon, he tells, is to “play with many different terroirs” in the Champagne region and leverage its strong identity. “Each terroir has its own capacity and style and that’s something very important,” he continues, adding how the house plays with the yield from almost 40 villages in the region—a total of 300ha of vines. “We own a bit and lease a bit and also purchase grapes on contract with growers.

“You have to understand that champagne is a huge puzzle of 34,000ha with approximately 20,000 pieces—that is the number of growers.”

The other great thing about being independent is not having “financial pressure”, he says. Which means the house can prioritise quality and stay focused on achieving better finesse and elegance. “What others do in one month, we need two-and-a-half months,” he explains, affirming that this slower approach to wine-making can only be done if the business is family-owned. Its maximum yearly output is also capped at around 2.5 million bottles to ensure better quality. “Our best marketing tool is our champagne—we are not very strong in marketing; we don’t make fridges or umbrellas.”

A total of 1818 limited edition magnums and 150 jeroboams of the exclusive Bicentenary Cuvee will be made available at independent wine shops around the world.