Wow, it has been a year since I last transcripted one of my old interviews. I still have five or six, if I include those made at my present employer, so let’s get going.
This time I was interviewing Sébastien Papin, export director and brand ambassador for Champagne house Billecart-Salmon.
First of all can you describe the style and the philosophy of the house?
Of course. The style of Billecart-Salmon has been for quite a long time the same. Our house is 200 years old now. What we try to do is we focus on making wine from Champagne. We make wine, that’s really the most important thing. That’s why we use wine glasses, we use the decanter for vintage champagne. That’s really the philosophy.
We also have one specificity, that is we love to use Pinot Meunier a lot. Most people prefer Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, but Pinot Meunier for us is very important.
What is the think in Pinot Meunier that you like?
If you know how to work it you can make beautiful wine on its own, but what the Pinot Meunier does is bringing the fruit to the blend. The Chardonnay will bring the acidity and the Pinot Noir the structure, but the Pinot Meunier is the fruit. So when you drink Billecart-Salmon the style overall is very fine, very elegant, but also with a lot of fruit character. Put your nose inside and you have very interesting aromas that are mostly fruits.
You have many cuvées.
Yes, we have ten.
You also have the “Sous Bois” which is vinified in oak. How do you manage to make a wine that is both complex, but not to much heavy?
Well there is a couple of elements, first of all when we use oak barrels we never use new barrels, that’s number one element. When I say “not new” it means that when we buy barrels they are always at least six or seven years old. And we are very lucky because Champagne is right next to Burgundy. In Burgundy they make white wine from Chardonnay, they make red wine from Pinot Noir, the same as in Champagne. You drive one hour an a half from Champagne and you are in Chablis already, so it is very close. So the barrels we use are always not new, to have not too much influence, that’s a very key element when we make Brut Sous Bois, a beautiful cuvée, to have a little bit of makeup, but not too much.
You also have a focus on rosé Champagne, like the Rosé Brut or the cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé and they are made by assemblage and not by seignée. Why do you choose assemblage to make them.
That was a long time ago so I don’t know exactly (laughs), but I believe that every Champagne has their own style when you are making wine. For us we find the perfect recipe and as you say in French you don’t change a winning team. So assemblage is what we make, we are very successful at it, we make beautiful wines a and we will carry on this legacy for a long time.
Is it because the assemblage makes a bit more delicate wines, maybe?
Yes, the style of the wine is easier, it is a bit more feminine, with a bit more freshness and acidity and that’s what we like. We like all of this.
You also have a very famous cuvée, Nicolas François, and I know that the 1959 vintage was awarded as the “Champagne of the millennium” [in 1999] and now we have the 2002 as the latest vintage. Do you think that we will drink the 2002 in 2052?
It is difficult to say if it will be as good as ’59. I have never tasted the ’59 unfortunately, it is very difficult to find it and it is crazily expensive if you can find any, but the 2002 first of all is an amazing vintage, it is the best vintage of the 2000~2010 decade, it is definitively the best one. It is really really big like the 1966 or the 1990, these are very powerful vintages, they can last a very long time. Powerful not so much in the sense of body, but in the sense that they can last for a very very long time. If you drink 2002 Billecart, but maybe also other champagne houses, it is still very very young. You can drink Nicolas François 2002 in 20, 30, 40 years, no problem. It will be absolutely beautiful.
What is the next vintage that you are going to release?
It will be 2006, but that’s in a long time, I would say at least three or four years [ed. in 2017].
One last question: your house was founded in 1818, so next year will be 200 years [ed. in the video I am saying 2000 years lol. Plus, again, remember that this was filmed 3 years ago], an anniversary. How do you plan to celebrate and are you planning to release some special cuvée?
First of all we are definitively going to organize a big party because 200 years huge. It’s 6 generations and still in the family, so we are going to invite a lot of people, our customers from around the World, maybe some people from Kobe. It will be from all over the World. We will have 3 days celebration in June 2018 and it will be very very big. For a new cuvée I can’t say truly, but maybe, who knows.
Top secret? (laughs)
Top secret for now!
[ed. Just to conclude the story, here are some photos (not by me, sadly) of the 200 years celebration from 2 years ago. As hinted, the house also released a 200 years special cuvée to celebrate the anniversary.]