Vinified in oak, the storied maker’s new Sous Bois is meant to be enjoyed with cuisine.  (photo courtesy of the winery)

The name Billecart-Salmon is usually pronounced with a kind of reverence and longing—and maybe even a bit of secrecy, as some of us aren’t sure we want the world to know about this family-owned, diminutive but mighty maison. With two glamorous new wines out on the market in time for the holidays, Billecart-Salmon’s seventh-generation owner, Mathieu Roland-Billecart, sat down with us to share some insights.

You are a seventh-generation winemaker. How does that feel and what does that mean?

This is hard to answer as it’s my heritage, and I haven’t known anything different. It is certainly great to be able to have such a wonderful legacy to look after and a great team of passionate people to work alongside. The family is still very much involved in the winemaking process at all levels, and having this experience kept in the family for over 200 years makes a real difference to help us produce some exceptional Champagne.

Some call Billecart-Salmon a champagne drinker’s champagne, even a champagne maker’s champagne. 

It is true that a lot of our loyal followers tend to have a good level of wine knowledge—and indeed some are winemakers themselves—but what they all have in common is that they tend to be food and wine lovers. They care about eating and drinking the very best, and they know that the house takes no ‘shortcuts’ to deliver a great tasting experience across our range of cuvées. There are many different ways we achieve this: the quality of our terroir; the efforts of our tasting committee; the long aging on lees. Being an independent, family-owned and -run house means we have the luxury of time to achieve the best. That’s what we want to share with the people who do us the honor of opening a bottle of Billecart-Salmon for a special moment in their lives.

Mathieu Roland-Billecart, seventh generation head. (photo by Leif Carlsson)

I have heard that you insist on saying “champagne rosé,” not “rosé champagne.” Can you explain the difference?

It simply comes down to the fact that we prefer a fresher and finer style than a more vinous style of rosé. Rosé for us dates back to the early 19th century—way before it was as fashionable as it is today. We pride ourselves in making a rosé that favors finesse and elegance, which is the signature of the house.

Pinot Meunier. Some downplay its role, but Billecart-Salmon embraces it. How does it make your wine better?

Meunier has always been the dominant grape variety in our Brut Reserve, even when it was considered a lesser quality grape. We believe the fruitiness it brings to a blend is a real advantage when you combine it with our cold vinification method. 

How do you source your fruit?

Over 90% of our grapes come from within a 20-kilometer radius around our estate, which sits 2 miles from Epernay, where virtually all the premier and grand cru are located.

Many champagne houses store their wine for 15 to 36 months; you keep them in the chalk cellars for 3 to 10 years. Why?

Time and aging on lees in particular is often overlooked but, when you work with the best terroirs like our house does, it is one of the main factors that make a good wine become great or even exceptional. Because of our heritage and family ownership, we have the luxury of time and can therefore age our wine longer than the average. Three years for a non-vintage is minimum for us on a cuvée like Brut Rosé (we want to preserve the fruitiness), but we age 6 to 7 years for a non-vintage like Brut Sous Bois; we want the wine to express its full richness and complexity. On our vintage and prestige cuvées, the aging is between 10 and 15 years.

You’ve recently released two astonishing champagnes, Brut Nature and Sous Bois. Can you describe them?

Brut Nature is a very pure expression of Champagne that blends the three main grape varieties from 10 different harvests and spends a relatively long aging on lees. It is direct and fresh yet isn’t high acidity, something that can sometimes be a problem with zero dosage cuvées. A must-try for champagne lovers as an aperitif or with oysters or seafood platters.

Brut Sous Bois is our only cuvée from the mythical Clos Saint Hilaire that is vinified 100% in oak barrels. It is a gastronomic champagne with rich and bold flavors. Try it with stuffed poultry, a dish with mushrooms or a slice of Comté cheese to really understand how great Champagne can be over a meal.