Geoffrey Loisel at Billecart-Salmon, 2010
It took Geoffrey Loisel, of Billecart-Salmon Champagne, ten years to find his way home. After working for a small wine-importer that was based in Atlanta, Georgia for a year, Geoffrey committed his life as a Frenchman to selling wine in America. After working for a few years with Mary Brizard, a cordial company that’s based in France, Geoffrey moved onto work with Boisset Wines for a year before he entered the world of Champagne through Pommery. When the recession hit in 2008, he realized the lack of potential for growth, and accepted a position with a distributor that's very much like The Procter & Gamble of wine .“I stayed for one and a half years and realized it wasn’t my thing," said Geoffrey. "I realized I had to sell good wine to be happy.” And then he found Billecart-Salmon.
“It’s a funny story, how I got the job at Billecart-Salmon,” said Geoffrey, who’s father came to visit him in NYC. Nearing retirement, his father expressed a sense of regret in not choosing the wine industry for his career. “It’s not too late,” Geoffrey encouraged, and before he knew it, his father was selling Pommery in NE France. “He knew I was miserable at work,” he added. “He called me and said that Billecart-Salmon was looking to change distribution in the U.S. and they were looking for a sales director in America. I called Alex [Bader] and Antoine [Roland-Billecart], but they weren’t ready. I started to do my homework with them, for one year developing a strategy before I started my contract with them. I went there and met with Antoine. We got along very well. They came here with Alex and interviewed maybe ten people.”
While in the midst of his interviews, Geoffrey and his wife were invited to dinner by a close friend of hers, who turned out to be from Champagne with family friends who “own a small Champagne house,” he said, that turned out to be Billecart-Salmon!
“It was meant to be,” he said. “It’s where I want to end up. I found my house. I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s really a family thing. I helped my dad get into the business and he returned a big favor.”
T. Edward Wines visits Billecart-Salmon, 2010
Starting in charge of the U.S. market for the first two years, Geoffrey said, “We found T. Edward Wines jointly with Alex, and I did the rest. Now, we have 40 distributors.” And then Geoffrey extended to work the markets in Canada, the Caribbean and Central America, elevating the presence here of Billecart-Salmon.
Previously available only to a select market, Billecart was distributed by Kermit Lynch on the west coast and by Chadderdon in the east. “At some point, some bottles went east and some went west, but 30 years ago, we didn’t know what to expect in America. We didn’t know it’d be as successful as it is. When we came back in 2010, we didn’t start from scratch. The brand was [already] well known and well respected.”
Celebrated for their Brut Rosé NV, Billecart was one of the very first Houses in 1954 to believe in a rosé style in Champagne. “It maybe encouraged other houses to sell rosé,” said Geoffrey. “I see it more and more. Maybe it was a wake-up call. Gosset has a great rosé. Le Ruinart.”A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the latter is vinified as a red wine and blended with the whites, a unique and un-orthodox method that includes no skin-contact maceration to avoid tannins, yielding a particularly fresh and light wine.
Tilling the soil, Le Clos Saint-Hilaire
In the eye of the market’s recent affection for grower Champagne, Billecart is interestingly positioned. “We’re classified as a Grande Marques,” said Geoffrey, “so we’re a brand of Champagne, but the way we vinify and treat our vineyards, we’re like a grower.”
Established in 1818, Billecart is unusual in that it’s been continuously owned and operated by the same family since the beginning. “So the know-how was passed down from one generation to the next,” said Geoffrey. “It’s always been Billecart-Salmon in charge of the house. We’ve been through two World Wars. Economic recessions. It’s an amazing thing that we’re still here, owned by the same family.”
Also passed along through the generations was the family’s relationship with its growers. “We own 100ha, but we also source from [other] growers. Our history is long enough in Champagne that when you want to buy the best quality grapes, it’s important to have relationships with growers,” said Geoffrey. “The growers own the soils of Champagne.” But quality is at the heart of the house. “We do parcel-by-parcel vinification. We age long enough so we don’t have to use too much dosage. When you taste Billecart, it’s a unique style. It’s not about oak, reduction or yeast. It’s about fruit, great acidity and length. The finish on Billecart-Salmon is endless with laser-sharp acidity. It’s very easy to recognize when you blind taste. It’s a very feminine Champagne. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.”
For more on Billecart-Salmon, read here.