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A morning in Billecart-Salmon's Le Clos Saint-Hilaire



April 17th, 2023


“We, at Billecart, are strong defenders of blending. If we do it well, 1+1=3, like a team. Bringing people together can make a better solution. However, all rules have an exception. Here is our exception….” - Matthieu Rolland-Billecart referring to Clos Saint-Hilaire


During my visit to Billecart back in June 2022, Billecart’s Clos Saint-Hilaire was closed for renovation, and as of April 20th, 2023, it is back! I was blessed with the opportunity to be one of the first to visit (before the official reveal on the 20th) and even on a cloudy and rainy morning, it was stunning! Thank you to Matthieu and Antoine Rolland-Billecart, along with the Billecart team for welcoming us so generously. It was a truly special morning!


About Clos Saint-Hilaire


Clos Saint-Hilaire a single hectare of south-southeast facing Pinot Noir vines in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. It produces one of the world’s most critically acclaimed Blanc de Noirs Champagnes, with its well draining soils and near perfect exposition, a truly unique terroir. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire got its name from the Patron Saint of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, and you can swipe to see a picture of the statue that overlooks the vineyard.


Planted in 1964, the vines took some time to mature enough to produce a Clos champagne, so it wasn’t until 1995 that it was first bottled. It took more than three decades of meticulous viticulture, using horses to work the soil and sheep to graze between vines and fertilize the soil.


Clos Saint-Hilaire is not only a vineyard that produces exceptional wine, but it also acts as a R&D Department for Billecart-Salmon. All trials happen here first, first to be trialed organic, new pruning methods, etc. For example, at the moment, there are orchard trees at the top of the Clos, and a vegetable garden at the bottom, to see if different types of vegetation planted in the vineyard, produce different results. If things work well here for a period of 3+ years, and it makes sense, it gets rolled out elsewhere. Sales from the Clos, go right back into the vineyard, so it is also a benefactor for the Billecart foundation.


FUN FACT: In the 1950s, it was used as a garden, with fruit trees and flowers. In addition, the space formerly housed the family’s tennis courts.


To see the Clos while drinking Clos, now that is something magical….


In addition to visiting Clos Saint-Hilaire, we were surprised with the newly released 2005 Clos Saint-Hilaire. For some of you reading this, you might think I have mistyped the vintage, but no, the 2005 has been released AFTER 2006, and Clos was their only vintage bottling that year.

In order to understand how this has happened, here is a little bit about how they select vintage releases at Billecart-Salmon.


The Tasting Committee gets together for what they call a Cellar Review. This is a review of wines that are already blended, bottled, but not yet released. Assuming everything is good, they review to distinguish when to release!

3 years ago, there was a review of all Clos Saint-Hilaire bottlings they had at the time (around 10-15). In no sequence or order, they review these bottling only by blind tasting.


At that particular tasting, they had a lot with “potential” meaning, they have to wait a bit longer.


But there were 3 in particular that they needed time with:

One was good (which was a problem as it wasn’t great).

One had high potential, lots of tension, unusual for this terroir that gives lots of ripeness.

And one that felt quit ready.


The Tasting Committee, in which both Matthieu and Antoine are a part of, downgraded the first one (2004 Vintage) which was unusual, but in the end, it just didn’t have the concentration. When Clos gets downgraded, it actually goes into reserve wines for Brut Sous Bois, so there is another incentive to grab this cuvée as well! The one that was “ready” was actually the 2006, and they decided to hold onto the 2005 until now!


When speaking with Matthieu and Antoine, the conversation naturally led to champagne releases, and what that really means for producers. Holding onto champagne and releasing it when it’s ready? Or release it, regardless if it is the perfect time.


Back in Billecart’s history, there was different expectations when it came to aging and they couldn’t financially hold onto wines, but today it is a different story. Matthieu’s take is, “In Champagne, other than being vignerons, we are winemakers, and we have a responsibility. We are responsible for the aging, because aging on the lees is a significant factor in the expression of the taste of Champagne.”





Vintages of Le Clos Saint-Hilaire


1995

1996

1998

1999

2002

2003

2005

2006


So, how was it?


First of all, as much as I drink Billecart-Salmon, it is VERY rare that I get to drink Le Clos Saint-Hilaire. It was an absolute beauty, made from the heavens, and completely showing off. Whether it was because it was opened right where it was born, or that it is just gorgeous to drink right now, either way, it demands attention. On the nose, ethereal, with so many layers, so decadent, with orchard fruits, exotic fruits, toast and spices. On the palate, even more addictive. It’s rich, mouthwatering, with a luscious texture, the finish lingering and really never ended. It is a single plot at its finest, capturing the uniqueness of its terroir, but doing this in the most elegant and sophisticated way possible. So so delectable now, but I am curious to keep one on hand and see how it evolves with a bit of time too!


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