Some subtle but meaningful changes are afoot at Billecart-Salmon, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this year.
During his recent annual trip to Australia, Billecart-Salmon’s Antoine Roland-Billecart, flagged some tweaks to their reserve stock and ageing philosophy to align with a sharpened strategy. The future for the House, he believes, is more aspirational; one that will free them from the stoush of competitors involved in non-vintage market price wars.
“We have a good situation in Australia,” says Antoine, who claims they hold the fifth largest market position in Australia. “Now we can optimise, rather than grow. It’s not about growing because our production is limited. Australia is all about non-vintages which is a problem for our production because 60 percent of it is for non-vintage, the rest is for cuvées [vintages and prestige champagne].”
In other countries, such as Italy, England and the United States, Billecart-Salmon enjoys a level of consumption more reflective of their production ratio, something that Antoine hopes to replicate in Australia. Antoine says a long-term strategy to change how they are positioned in Australia has been in place since 2012, but the results won’t be known for another four or five years.
In 2012, the House added several new foudres (large wooden vats) to bring a little more spice and texture to their reserves which also serve to complement use of barrels for fermentation.
“We wanted to increase the reserve wine for our non-vintage champagne, specifically Sous Bois,” he says of their oak fermented champagne with extended time on lees. “It’s going to take time because some wines need to be kept longer than others. We want to integrate more reserve wine into Brut Reserve as well.”
“Our goal is to achieve higher aromatic definition, to add a little more vanilla and maybe something more special.”
Longer ageing is also part of the plan. Right now, Billecart-Salmon ages its Brut Reserve non-vintage for around 30 months but will increase to 40 months in the next four or five years.
“We are increasing the stock in our cellar,” says Antoine. “You will not find many brands with 40 months ageing and that integrates more wine matured in oak. It will also allow us to lower our dosage. It’s going to be good.”
“Our goal is to achieve higher aromatic definition, to add a little more vanilla and maybe something more special”.
Despite extra time on lees, and with greater oak contact, Antoine insists the style of the House will remain the same; fresh, focused and structured. With the exception of Billecart-Salmon’s creamy blanc de blancs, the House is never defined by a presence of yeast. Chalk remains its textural DNA.
All things considered, Antoine hopes these changes will target sales in the non-vintage category, elevating them to a more aspirational bracket.
Next year, Billecart-Salmon will release its prestige Clos Saint-Hilaire 2002 around March. The small production from a single hectare behind the Maison in Mareuil-sur-Aӱ is one of the most sought after prestige champagnes, known for its consistently complex, powerful and aromatic profile.
“We want to slow down our sales for Clos Saint-Hilaire a little bit,” says Antoine. “Most producers are now out of 2002. We haven’t disgorged a lot, just a few thousand bottles, and will leave some of it on lees and re-release at a later date.”
After 14 years on lees, the first batch received 5 g/L dosage and a year of rest post-disgorgement. Dosage will be lowered again with subsequent disgorgements.
Clos Saint-Hilaire is already as rare as hen’s teeth and the 2002 vintage, released sparingly, will further serve Antoine’s agenda of increasing people’s aspirations for Billecart’s finer champagnes.
In other news, Billecart-Salmon released its Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 2007 this month.
WORDS | Sara Underdown