Interview With François Domi and Florent Nys, Chefs de Caves Of Billecart-Salmon

BEST CHAMPAGNE had the pleasure of interviewing François Domi and Florent Nys, Chefs de Caves of BILLECART-SALMON, one of the most acclaimed Champagne Houses.

François Domi (right) and Florent Nys (left) craft BILLECART-SALMON’s wines with joy and harmony.

Once you have the chance to taste any of their carefully crafted champagnes, you understand why they are so praised. Their Rosé is particularly successful but in fact, their range of champagnes is quite large, and they are each one better than the other.

Sparkling Domi and analytical Nys are a brilliant duo, true masterminds that undertake their job lightly and seriously at the same time.

They openly and humbly explain their approach to winemaking: sourcing the best grapes and vinifying them with care and passion.

There is, however, more to that, as they constantly experiment, learn, develop, to produce superior quality, and pleasure, which in the true spirit of Billercart-Salmon, is an uncomplicated, genuine, elegant pleasure.

Read on and enjoy, why not with a flute of “Billy”:)

BEST CHAMPAGNE: How would you define BILLECART-SALMON’s style?

FRANCOIS DOMI: BILLECART-SALMON is finesse, elegance, and vinosity. We look for purity rather than coating in wines. We look for wines that are more aromatically pure than powerful and are light and creamy.

BC: You mainly use Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs and Pinots from the Montagne de Reims. What role do grapes from the Aube region play in your champagnes?

FD: Wines from the Aube region are very powerful. We use some, but we look more for delicacy in wines, which is what we find in Pinots Noirs from the Montagne de Reims and the Grande Vallée de la Marne (Ay, Mareuil sur Ay), for example, which are excellent.

We also use Pinots Meuniers from the Vallée de la Marne in our blends, with supplies from the sectors in the right bank (Damery, Venteuil…) and the left bank (Leuvrigny sector).

BC: What is more important in reproducing your style: the origin of the grapes or the vinification process?

FD: They are both important. It is a chain that cannot have any weak links. Our vinification has a special feature: our first fermentations are “cold” at 13 degrees, resulting in slow fermenting musts into wine. This “cold” fermentation takes a very long time and must be under constant supervision. Analytically, the results are the same compared to a “classic” vinification, but when you taste it, there is more flavour and there are more elegant aromas.

The aromas in our wines don’t express themselves very quickly; they need time to do that. They are elegant aromas, more suggested than imposed, and that is exactly what we are looking to express with our style.

BC: Is that why you suggest pouring your champagnes in carafes?

FD: Yes, but using carafes is not ideal for all of our wines because it is an oxidative shock for the wine. It allows wines to open, to have more volume in the mouth because part of the carbonic gas escapes when pouring the champagne into the carafe. That is why using carafes is suited for certain of our vintage champagnes. It is interesting to get an idea of what carafes can bring and to compare that with a wine served straight into a glass, where it opens up little by little by warming up.

BC: What role do reserve wines play in reproducing your style?

FD: Reserve wines allow us to have a certain opulence in our champagnes and get a consistent style year after year. 50% to 55% of our Brut Réserve is made up of reserve wines.

FLORENT NYS: We sort reserve wines by year. We have wines from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. Until last year (2016) we still had wines from 2008. It is only a small proportion, but we had to keep them to create the blend that we seek.

BC: What is your view on the current trend of producing single-parcel cuvées to express the individuality of the terroirs?

FD: Single-parcel wines are a stylistic choice and a bit of a trend. At BILLECART-SALMON, our philosophy remains to blend different wines and to obtain champagne that is likeable, gracious, accessible, and enjoyable. We also make vintage blends that express the aromatic characteristics of that year. These are more powerful wines that must remain accessible. Our prestige cuvée Nicolas François is a vintage wine that can age longer, gaining additional body as well as elegance.

BC: You have brought in a new winery with over 450 barrels to vinify vintage wines in oak casks. Why did you make such a choice?

FD: Wines kept in wood bring more complexity and more aromas to our champagnes, all while keeping a balance. That said, we use very little of those wines – about 3 to 4% – in our cuvées. We also make liqueurs d’expedition with these wines to give a final touch to our champagnes.

BC: So why did you choose to make a champagne that is vinified completely in wood, the Brut Sous Bois?

NYS: We decided to make this cuvée and vinify it completely in wood to show our style of wine that has been vinified in barrels compared to non-vintage bruts [vinified in steel vats], and to make a cuvée that is different from the others.

Since the 70’s, with the introduction of stainless steel vats that are easier to manage than wooden barrels, champagne production has become a lot more automated. We asked ourselves if we had not strayed too far away from tradition and, therefore, we decided to go back a bit and work with old techniques to make new things. We have several coopers and we get different results in our wines from one cooper to the next. We also realized that certain grapes express themselves better in certain barrels. It has taken us 20 years to develop these skills that we express with the Brut Sous Bois cuvée.

BC: You have lowered the dosage of your wines. Why? Is dosage still necessary?

NYS: Dosage is necessary to keep a champagne balanced, it is part of the process. However, we lowered the dosage because of global warming that leads to earlier harvests where we can see a lower yield in grapes that are more concentrated [in sugar] as a result.

FD: It is also a cultural aspect through which the consumer looks for more aromas [and sugar partially hides the aromas]. Cuisine has been refined, so we needed champagnes to go with it, which meant having a lower dosage. However, there are wines that need a higher dosage.

NYS: Tasting champagnes and mastering dosages is what matters. Certain champagnes deserve a dosage to be complete, but you have to make sure that you respect the wine’s identity, the wine must not lose out to sugar. Conversely, you need to be careful not to fall into austerity.

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