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.”


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