A champagne family

Billecart-Salmon’s sixth generation director, Antoine Roland-Billecart, loves nothing better than to have his hands in the soil. The dapper cognoscenti shares the label’s new vintages.

What advantages are there to being a family firm?
There are not so many Champagne family firms left, so it’s important for us to hold on to that. Being the sixth generation of the Billecart-Salmon house allows us to have a proper wine philosophy, and to develop a precise wine style which takes more time and effort. My father Jean, for instance, is 91 and still blending. He has more than 70 vintages under his experience.

Advertisement

How did you enter the family business?
When you’re born into the environment that I was, running around the winery smelling, seeing and tasting wines, without knowing it you’re already imprinted into a certain style and taste. In fact, I was kicked out of the Lycée Viticole de la Champagne for arguing over what they were teaching—for instance, shorter vinification in order to make more Champagne. It’s not wrong, but it’s just not what I believe in. Joining the family company was not compulsory for the kids, but I love it and chose it. If I’m not in this business, I would be a farmer—I love to have my hands in the soil, growing things.

Can you pick out your Champagne in a blind tasting?
The easiest to recognise is our Brut Rose, which is made in a very distinctive, special style with a higher Chardonnay content over Pinot Noir. There’s a clean showing of Chardonnay that’s atypical. We do tastings regularly at the home, including blind tastings of a lot of different Champagnes. It’s important to understand the style of others so we can position ourselves.

Being a gourmet, how would you pair your Champagnes to local food?
Champagne Billecart-Salmon obviously goes very well with Asian food, especially with Japanese sushi and sashimi. It’s also not adverse to spicy food—Brut Sous Bois, which we released in 2011 and which is 100 percent vinified in oak barrel for greater body and texture, goes very well with spice. The Brut Rose is perfect with smoked ham, especially Culatello di Zibello, the most sought-after luxury Italian ham. Meanwhile I would take Brut Reserve with 18-month Parmigianno Regiano, which brings out its fruity aspects.

What are the challenges facing Champagne firms?
To increase our quality, as we cannot increase our quantity due to the appellation limits. Champagne represents less than one percent of the sparkling wine industry. We cannot just stay still because we’re doing well—like a chef, we need to do new things to improve and re-engage our fans. Champagne Billecart-Salmon is distributed by J&D Burleigh.

Excerpt from the January 2015 issue of epicure.