Food & Drink

CEO Of Billecart-Salmon Discusses Strategy, Finance And How To Plan A Five-Course Champagne Dinner

Mathieu Roland-Billecart never planned to be CEO of a Champagne House. His life was in London where he worked as a financial analyst. But after 14 years of doing mergers and acquisitions for Ernst & Young and other firms, his family requested he return to Epernay, France.

“I wasn’t groomed from birth to take over the family Champagne business, like other wine families,” he says. “Instead, I was encouraged to pursue my career goals. Then several years ago, I was invited to come back and work with my family. For me, it is a great honor. We are one of the few Champagne houses left that is still family run and operated – even after 200 years.”

Roland-Billecart took over the role of CEO of Champagne Billecart-Salmon in January 2019, becoming the 7th generation to do so. With his strong background in finance and strategy, he discusses the future direction of the renowned Champagne House, with its focus on quality and gastronomy.

Strategic Focus of Champagne Billecart-Salmon – Quality & Gastronomy

“The financial objective is not the be-all and end-all of our company,” states Roland-Billecart. “Our strategic focus is quality, and doing things right. Quality is what you do when people are not watching. Attention to detail is very important.”

The House of Champagne Billecart-Salmon produces a portfolio of 14 different sparkling wines. These range from the entry level NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, averaging around $60 per bottle, to the highly-rated Le Clos Saint-Hillaire at around $500, with very limited production and individually numbered bottles. The House is most well-known for its sparkling rosés, which they perfected in the 1970’s. The Brut Rosé NV is considered to be their flagship wine, and retails for around $75 per bottle.

Another unique feature of Champagne Billecart-Salmon is that they consult with chefs to identify the best cuisine to pair with each of the 14 wines, and include this on their website. “All of our wines are considered to be gastronomic,” states Roland-Billecart. “They are ready to go on the table and pair with food.”

Roland-Billecart oversees an estate of 100 hectares, of which the family owns one-third, with the remainder of grapes purchased from vineyards where they maintain farming control. Fifty-percent of the vines are in Grand-Cru vineyards, and they employee 130 people to manage production.

“Everything in the vineyard is done by hand,” states Roland-Billecart. “Our discipline is quality. However, nature reminds us to be humble. The 2021 vintage was challenging because of grape loss due to frost, but fortunately we have reserve wine. Also, right now is a good time for business, because there is more demand than supply.”

The Release of Champagne Elizabeth-Salmon Brut Rosé 2008

Earlier this year they released the Elizabeth-Salmon Brut Rosé 2008, which is only produced in select years, beginning in 1988. The wine is made from 55% pinot noir and 45% chardonnay, and is aged in bottle 10 years before disgorgement. Then, after they add a dosage of only 7g of sugar, it is aged in bottle one more year before release. The price is around $220 per bottle.

“This is a very special wine named for Elisabeth Salmon, who married Nicolas François Billecart in 1818,” reports Roland-Billecart. “Together they created the House of Billecart-Salmon. As you know, there are many double names for Champagne Houses, and many famous Champenoise women, such as Veuve Cliquot and Lily Bollinger.”

Roland-Billecart describes the special method of producing such a vibrant salmon-pink vintage rosé – which is challenging to do because after 10 years in the bottle, there is a risk that the pink color will fade. “The secret is that we source the pinot noir grapes from 80 year old vines,” explains Roland-Billecart, “and the color of the base wine is very deep purple. Getting the exact pink color of rosé is our expertise.”

Food pairings for the Elizabeth-Salmon 2008 include crayfish, Breton langoustines, and brown crab. “Elizabeth also pairs very well with red snapper,” says Roland-Billecart, “however, I often prefer to enjoy the cuvee on its own.”

Organizing a Five-Course Champagne Dinner

Having a different Champagne with each course during dinner is quite common in Epernay and Reims. Indeed, Champagne also goes well with Sunday Brunch, and a glass at lunch time can be quite satisfying.

“I drink champagne every day,” says Roland-Billecart. “It is part of my lifestyle. It goes very well with sushi, vegetarian pizza and grilled vegetables. It can actually pair well with any food but beef. I have had it with lamb and veal as well.”

When asked to describe some of the different Champagne pairing meals he has enjoyed, Roland-Billecart suggested the following menu:

First Course – Champagne Brut Nature with Appetizers

  • Example: Shrimp and/or Caviar & Dill on Toast

Second Course – Champagne Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru with Seafood

  • Example: Smoked Salt Turbot

Third Course – Champagne Cuvee Nicholas Francois 2007 with Poultry

  • Example: Bresse Roast Chicken with Chanterelle Mushrooms

Fourth Course – Champagne Brut Sous Bois (Oak Aged) with Cheese

  • Examples: Langres, Chevre, Vignotte Triple Cream

Fifth Course – Champagne Elizabeth-Salmon Brut Rosé 2008 with Dessert

  • Examples: Pecan Pie, Apple Tart or the Champagne Itself as Dessert

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