Interview: Antoine Roland-Billecart for Billecart-Salmon
The head of the Champagne house reveals why connoisseurs choose the sparkling treats from his 197-year old independently owned firm.
You’re not alone if you’ve never heard of Billecart-Salmon – and that’s not a bad thing. “I believe the great aspect about us is that, there are still a lot of people who do not know about Billecart-Salmon, but ask any wine connoisseurs, they all know.” Antoine Roland-Billecart, the sixth generation of the 197-year old Champagne House explains over breakfast at the Raffles Grill at Raffles Hotel. “We are the preferred Champagne to be served here. There are so many brands that want to be here but the head sommelier here made a quality decision,” he adds. The next time you’re looking at a wine list, try looking for Billecart-Salmon and chances are, you’ll only find it at selective establishments.
As one of the oldest Champagne houses to remain independent, Roland-Billecart says that the key is to have a very strong personality in taste, to keep improving on the quality of the current offering, and not expanding the range. Here, the man himself shares the story of his family business with our friends at Yacht Style.
What sets Billecart-Salmon apart?
Its personality. The wine profile is unique, it is elegant, and that is because we are very specific with the freshness and concentration of the fruit. For Champagne, you have to respect the fruit as much as possible because it’s very fragile with a very specific acid concentration. That is why we have a very slow vinification process. To give you a rough idea, what others can do in one month, it will take us two. It is possible to shorten the time but the result will not be optimized. We will never release any cuvee just because we need to; we’d rather make them wait. The other thing is the ageing process: our basic cuvée takes about 32 to 35 months of ageing in the cellar when others usually take about 18 to 20 months. It’s a longer ageing process but it is very important for the quality of our champagne.
What is Champagne to you?
Traditionally, Champagne is very much associated with celebration. Today, however, it has gotten into most of our day-to-day lifestyle. It’s like a watch; you start from a Swatch to luxury timepiece Breguet – there’s a wide assortment in between. Likewise, you can start with a US$15 bottle to those that cost US$600. Some 34,000 ha in Champagne are used to produce Champagne and there are over 310 million bottles produced yearly.
How do you think Champagne has forged its relationship with fashion? When I started working in Paris, I was organising receptions for fashion shows. At the end, when VIPs and friends came backstage to congratulate the designers, there was always Champagne. Champagne is a symbol of elegance and we’re more than happy to be related to fashion. If you are talking about Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Prada… they’re only going for Champagne, and not other sparkling wines.
What type of audience are you targeting?
There’s a resort on a private island in French Polynesia called The Brando, which belongs to the late actor Marlon Brando’s family. The price to stay there is $25,000 per night and everything is complimentary, including our free-flow Champagne. I asked them why do they want to specifically select only Billecart-Salmon. They say it goes with the clientele, who are mostly Americans, Chinese and Russians. These are people who can afford, but do not want to be seen; they choose to vacation in the resort because not everyone can be there, and it’s even harder to know who is there. They know their guests will like Billecart-Salmon because these people are not looking for a commercial brand. Having said that, it is even clearer why we’re producing quality, not quantity, that focuses on luxury and exclusivity. Luxury is becoming more and more important in today’s lifestyle, it will never end, and we’re already there.