When you think of the grand names of champagne, you’re likely to think of Veuve Clicquot, Krug or Dom Perignon…but Billecart-Salmon: who are they?
For I must admit, considering I love champagne, I had not heard of this particular Champagne House; until I started mixing in more elevated social circles!
Billecart-Salmon is a family House which has made Champagne for over seven generations. It all started back in 1818; with the marriage of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. The union of these two families led to the creation of their own Champagne House.
Each generation of the Billecart-Salmon family has endeavored to uphold the house’s tradition and live by its motto: ‘Give priority to quality, strive for excellence’. The house has just celebrated their 200th anniversary and is still going strong.
Champagne has always been my preferred drink, since I was first introduced to it on my sweet 16th birthday, when my parents gave me my first glass. You could say that they were irresponsible but, I have to say, they were so responsible because I’ve never looked back!
Back in my younger days, I thought Lanson and Moët were the cool brands to drink. As the years progressed and my taste buds changed, I moved onto Laurent Perrier Rose, Perrier-Jouet Rosé, Ruinart and Mumm. However, now being introduced to the delectable tastes of Billecart-Salmon, it’s very hard to return back to the brands I was once used to.
However, recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay at the Champagne house of Billecart-Salmon, meeting its President, François, and his beautiful wife Edith.
I was made to feel like royalty from start to finish on this mini adventure, thanks to Colin Palmer of Billecart-Salmon UK and his beautiful fiancée. I was spoiled with a lovely bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve (now known as ‘sunrise
in a glass’) on the wonderful Eurostar, with my own Billecart-Salmon champagne glass (marking their 200th anniversary). My kind of heaven!
Arriving in Paris, we were treated to a whistle-stop lunch at the Terminus Nord restaurant consisting of the most delicious langoustines, prawns and yes, you’ve guessed it, another bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut. Now when I say whistle stop, I mean it. We devoured the ‘fruits de mer’ and Brut within 14 minutes, as we had another train to catch to take us to Mareuil-sur-Ay.
Arriving at the stunning Billecart-Salmon House, we were welcomed by the charming François and Edith who had laid on a beautifully prepared four course meal, which was almost like dining in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Dinner was of course accompanied by several delightful champagnes during the course of the evening: Cuvée Elisabeth, Cuvée Nicholas Francois Brut Rosé (aka ‘sunset in a glass’) and a sample of their private collection, which was a real privilege.
I have never drunk that much champagne over the course of 24hrs and still been coherent! Billecart-Salmon is smooth, soft, delicate, fresh, and fruity. It hits the palette in all the right places and leaves you thinking ‘mmm I’d like some more’. It does not have a harsh bitter after taste or leave you with a headache like some other well-known champagnes, as I have now come to appreciate.
The following day, after being thoroughly entertained with tales about the Billecart-Salmon family, we were treated to a VIP tour of the grounds and their cellars by the wonderfully knowledgeable Cellier Jerome.
The Science Bit…
Billecart-Salmon uses Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes for high-quality Brût and Rosé Champagne, Pinot Noir for Blanc de Noir and Chardonnay for Blanc du Blanc. Eight to eleven bunches of grapes are used at a time, to obtain a more concentrated taste. No chemicals are used whatsoever, and a homeopathy technique is used to cultivate the grapes by harvesting the grapes vertically as opposed to horizontally. Once the grapes have been picked by hand, the black sheep eat the leaves and grass.
The grapes are not allowed to travel for more than 30 minutes, the time they start to become pressed within their containers. Therefore, the grapes have to be compressed nearby, hence the winery being on the Billecart-Salmon property.
The Cuvée is the first press, which is 10 per cent: that is what is used in Billecart’s champagne. The second press is called the ‘Taille’ which is considered of lesser quality and sold onto other champagne houses, within the area. The third press is called the rubbish and is forbidden to be used as champagne.
The grapes then undergo a process called ‘cold settling fermentation’ in the tank. This takes six weeks as opposed to the usual fifteen days in the warm settling fermentation. François’ father has used this technique to keep the consistency for the brand since 1956. The cellars are kept to the cool temperature of 12 degrees Celsius all year round - so wrap up warm, when you’re visiting.
I thought I knew champagne, but this was all new to me! Another fascinating fact I learned is that the Taric acid produced from the fermented grapes is used in exfoliating make up creams that we women (and some men) love to buy. Now that is news!
I have to say a huge thank you to François and his wonderful wife Edith, for our brief but wonderful stay– and for being fantastic models in my mini photoshoot! It truly was an honour to have spent time talking with them, and this is most definitely a trip I shall not forget.
We at NDY wish François and Edith all the best in their surely well-deserved retirement.
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