Champagne Billecart-Salmon: The Complete Vertical of Clos Saint-Hilaire

Billecart-Salmon's Clos Saint-Hilaire Vineyard

© Photo provided

Billecart-Salmon's Clos Saint-Hilaire Vineyard

Billecart-Salmon's Clos Saint-Hilaire Vineyard

© Photo provided

Clos Saint-Hilaire is Champagne Billecart-Salmon’s flagship wine – it is a Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir grown in a special, single plot called Clos Saint-Hilaire in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. In fact, until 1964 the enclosed vineyard was the Billecart family’s vegetable garden and orchard.

The family plot

“From 1964 until 1994, around the time we launched Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon [Billecart-Salmon’s prestige cuvée in rosé], we used it to make red wine for that cuvée,” said Mathieu Roland-Billecart, CEO of the house. “Today it is an almost 60-year-old vineyard.” Roland-Billecart explained that the decision was made to turn it into a single-vineyard Champagne in 1995 – the first vintage that was made. The London tasting in late October was the first time Roland-Billecart tasted a complete vertical himself.

A special spot

The plot is unusual. It has a subsoil of chalk but thanks to its location within the village, it has benefited from years of eroded material. It has “a lot more depth of soil, the roots will go into the chalk eventually, but they can feed on so much more – this is one of the reasons for the personality of Clos Saint-Hilaire,” Roland-Billecart said. “It has a very distinct taste.”

He explained that much of what has driven viticultural progress at Billecart-Salmon was initially trialled at this small family plot: “This is where we first experimented with organics, with biodynamics, we have a horse ploughing, we have bees, we have sheep. It is the one hectare you walk past every day,” he said, emphasising how special this plot is to the family and how every change in farming practice becomes apparent.

How the wine is made

“This is the easiest wine to make, this is one parcel, one pressing, one tank,” Roland-Billecart noted. “We taste the grapes to determine the harvest date. The pressing room is 30m away – we do not even use a truck, we just carry the boxes over, we get between 400-600kg of grapes, one press, one go.”

He then notes that the wine is always made in the same fashion: the pneumatically pressed juice is cold settled twice and goes to 227l used barrels for the cool fermentation at 10-12°C the house is known for. The malo-lactic fermentation is blocked, and the wine stays in barrel until April or May the following year before being bottled for the second fermentation. [As an exception, the 2003 vintage stayed in barrel until August 2005.]

The wines then age on lees for years – sometimes under crown cap, sometimes under natural cork. The dosage is typically kept very low – either zero as in 1995, 1998 and 1999 – the highest dosage ever given was 4g in 1996. “You get what we feel is the expression of that parcel in that year,” Roland-Billecart said. He also noted that the release of each vintage is a matter of debate for the house’s tasting committee: “In the cellar we have 2005, 2008 and 2009 - the fact we made them does not mean we will sell them.”

The new release: the 2006 vintage

The 2006 vintage will be released in late December – on strict allocation to fine wine merchants only – at a retail price of £350 per bottle. It will not reach some markets until January. It is an exquisite, collectable wine with much ageing potential. The older vintages are exceedingly rare due to the small production volumes.

Champagne lovers in London, however are in luck: many of the wines are available exclusively at The Connaught.


The complete vertical 1995-2006

Tasting the wines was eye-opening: the steady increase in precision was beautiful to behold. “I think they are true to their years,” Roland-Billecart said of the wines. “I can see we are learning. As maturity has gone up we seem to have got more tension.” Notwithstanding that, the older vintages scored highly - with 2002 reaching an almost perfect score.

The quality of the wines was evident, they are rare and precious. They shimmer like particular jewels of Pinot Noir – with all its fruit, depth and structure – from this particular and much-cherished family plot in the heart of a small village in Champagne. 


Clos Saint-Hilaire 2006

Champagne Billecart-Salmon's Clos Saint-Hilaire 2006

© Photo provided