On the Trail

Champagne Billecart-Salmon 200th Anniversary Party

Gary Westby

When you are lucky enough to be invited to the 200th anniversary party of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, you buy your tickets to France and go. The four of us from the K&L Team that went felt so lucky that we were pinching ourselves — it was the party of not just one century, but two! Even though the party was giant — 1500 people, more than doubling the population of the tiny village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, the family made us feel unbelievably at home and welcome.

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We first met up with Francois Billecart, he and Clyde reminisced on a relationship that has spanned more than three decades between K&L and this maison. They talked about the old days when Clyde would come and help select the blend for the Billecart-Salmon K&L cuvée, a bottling that they made just for us up until the beginning of the 2000s. They also discussed the many characters that have made up the story of our working together.

Later on, we met up with Antoine Billecart, the current generation, and talked a bit about the future. This house is one of the most dynamic in Champagne. They are pushing quality ever further, with investments in many more large foudres for the first fermentation to get more texture in the wines without adding any oak taste. They are not resting on their laurels here at all, and more exciting wine is in the pipeline for their third century.

You might ask yourself how many bottles of Champagne it takes for the abundant thirst of 1500 growers, merchants, sommeliers, chefs and friends of the family? The answer: zero. They only opened magnums or larger! Their super fresh Champagne shows its best this way, offering a great opportunity to drink out of this format.

The long, cold primary first fermentation is the signature of this great house, and the wines are precise, fresh, and very long finishing as a result. Enjoying them is very easy, and a 750 ml is never enough. Thank you so much to all the family Billecart for this great invitation!

- Gary Westby