“We let our wines do
the talking”

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Champagne Maison Billecart-Salmon

Interview with Antoine Roland-Billecart Deputy General Manager

There are days when we just love our job, and this was one of them! We had the pleasure of interviewing Antoine via Zoom, while sitting in our wonderful new office at the Old Mill in Stellenbosch. Clear blue skies and a curious sunbird provided a congenial backdrop to our chat about Champagne, all in that charming French accent! The only improvement would have been if we were actually sitting in Champagne. Oh wait… our Club Champagne founder is there right now, but more on that later.

This is the seventh generation to be running the family business… that’s quite an achievement!

Antoine – Yes, in 1818 Nicolas François Billecart married Elisabeth Salmon and they founded Maison Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, the family’s hometown. Elisabeth’s brother Louis Salmon was enthusiastic about oenology, and he dedicated himself to the creation of the wines, while Nicolas ran the business. The rest as they say, is history. The Salmon branch of the family were originally from Normandie, so we’re convinced we have Viking blood somewhere!
We have remained proudly family owned. To be independent today, is special. We have a very precise policy of Champagne production, and this is extremely important to us. We ensure the quality of the wines through unique terroirs and great producers over the generations.

My father Jean is ninety-eight but he is still active in some tastings. He was only fifteen when he started work in the cellars. He was introduced to the other workers as being a ‘normal worker’ and had to do the same work as everyone else. It’s that commitment that keeps us unique.

What are your favourite Billecart-Salmon stories?

The Case of the Vanishing Wine

Antoine – Well, one mystery goes back to the early days. We were the first Champagne producer to open a branch in New York in 1832. One of my great, great cousins decided to go to the Big Apple to represent the business. It was considerable risk, but they didn’t know just how high. Things went well for about five years, but then all contact stopped. Paul Billecart set off to see what had happened. He arrived at the address to find – nothing. The wine, the office and my ancestor had literally disappeared. To this day we don’t know what happened.

Collateral Damage

Then there were obviously both World Wars. France was the scene of many battles and as with most producers, the cellars and the vines suffered serious destruction. It was tough to continue. In 1919 Charles Roland-Billecart returned from the war to find an empty House, with stocks of scarcely 75,000 bottles left in the cellars. Most of the men were conscripted, never to return. It took over ten years to recover from World War 11 as the vines were severely damaged or untended. Everyone battled to get enough grapes. It was only in the sixties that we had rebuilt Champagne stocks to pre-war levels because it takes a minimum of ten years to produce.

How was the 2021 Harvest?

Antoine – Bad. Frost in April, hail in May and non-stop rain in June and July causing disease. Growers lost 30-75% of the harvest. I suppose this is the result of climate change. We have a saying: “année de un, année de rien.” (A year which ends in ‘1’ e.g., 2021, is a year of nothing.) 2011 was a bad harvest, so was 1991…

What’s your favourite Champagne?

Antoine – Can a mother choose between her children? I love them all! I suppose if I had to choose, it would be the Champagne Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru NV. I like Chardonnay and this cuvée is a blend of two different years revealing the superior quality of the Chardonnay – Its complexity, its great vinosity. Freshness, elegance, and precision are the three keys to quality. Our quality.

We like to let our wines do the talking. The wine must do what it has to. The best recognition we can get is when our customer says “wow!”

The 1959 vintage won the title “Champagne of the Millenium” and the 1961 came second. I think we are serious about Champagne.

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