KEEP­ING IT IN THE FAM­ILY

How one of the world’s old­est fam­ily-run cham­pagne houses keeps its legacy go­ing.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents -

The peach din­ing room of Odette in Sin­ga­pore is a sight that few get to wit­ness in the early morn­ing, and break­fast with feted chef de cui­sine Julien Royer is an even rarer treat. But Royer is not the star of the show to­day. That hon­our goes to what’s be­ing poured into our cham­pagne flutes: Cu­vée Elis­a­beth, a 2006 rose named af­ter the woman who won Nico­las Fran­cois Bil­le­cart’s heart over two cen­turies ago. Their union birthed cham­pagne house Bil­le­cart- Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay in Éper­nay. The in­sti­tu­tion turns 200 this year, and is one of the few re­main­ing fam­ily-run cham­pagne pro­duc­tions in the world.

Ef­fer­ves­cent for longer than usual, Cu­vée Elis­a­beth is a creamy bou­quet of flo­rals and min­er­al­ity; straw­berry fore­most, cit­rus and yeast fol­low­ing, with a thought­ful mea­sure of acid­ity for a crisp fin­ish. The lin­ger­ing af­ter­taste is so pleas­ant and clean, you could kiss some­one right af­ter.

Proudly bran­dish­ing his fam­ily’s 90-plus-points creation is sixth-gen­er­a­tion scion An­toine Roland-Bil­le­cart, who was in Sin­ga­pore as part of the house’s an­niver­sary tour around the world. He ex­pounds on the virtues of the Bil­le­cart- Salmon process. “Struc­ture re­quires time, and so we give it time,” he says. The house is the sole re­main­ing one that al­lows its grapes to first fer­ment for 30 days; most oth­ers rush it in 10 to 12.

“The prod­uct is the best mar­ket­ing tool we have, so we put our all into it. We do not build bridges, we do not make bar ta­bles, or um­brel­las,” he says, tak­ing a dig at other pro­duc­ers in the re­gion. The room tit­ters.

Later, I pull him aside for a tête-à-tête to ex­tract finer de­tails. In a con­glom­er­ate-dom­i­nated land­scape where lux­ury gi­ants are bankrolling al­co­hol pro­duc­tion, how does the house in­tend to re­tain its niche? “Well, we don’t have the pres­sure to per­form fi­nan­cially. Qual­ity can then be­come the pri­or­ity. Qual­ity over quan­tity, al­ways,” he says.

Mind you, house Bil­le­cart-Salmon ships out some 2.5 mil­lion bot­tles per year to over a hun­dred coun­tries, so it’s not like they’re ex­tremely small-batch pro­duc­ers. But it is freez­ing those num­bers, even if more money could be made by ex­pand­ing, that would only over­tax the fa­cil­i­ties, and sully the cham­pagne. “In fact, we will re­duce the quan­tity if we have to,” he notes.

So, how has the brand con­tin­ued to grow with­out los­ing the plot or suc­cumb­ing to avarice, so many gen­er­a­tions later? “Well, ev­ery­one gets merely a de­cent salary… (to us) there is no need to drive Fer­raris. We rein­vest 100 per cent of the prof­its back into the com­pany,” says RolandBil­le­cart. Surely, then, the love and acu­ity for the fam­ily busi­ness is in­cul­cated at a young age.

“No,” he says. “Es­pe­cially now, in this day and age, it’s too early for kids to make a de­ci­sion. You never know with them. We send them to study what they want to, let them ex­press what they want to do.

“You can de­sign mod­els, or prod­ucts, but you can­not de­sign a per­son. We have enough mem­bers in the fam­ily to en­sure the wheel turns. To the kids, we say, ‘Hey, it’s your own life!’ They can come back to (the fold) when they want to… And they do.”

“YOU CAN DE­SIGN MOD­ELS OR PROD­UCTS, BUT YOU CAN­NOT DE­SIGN A PER­SON.”

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