Florent Nys joined Billecart-Salmon in 2005 to assist former Chef de Cave François Domi. He eventually replaced him in 2018 when Domi retired.

An analytical Champenois fully committed to the house’s obsession for quality, Nys explains their approach to champagne making: sourcing the best grapes and vinifying them with care and passion, with balance and clients’ pleasure always in mind.

He also shares how they play with terroirs and tools in the cellar to produce elegant and very balanced wines that give uncomplicated pleasure.

What is your idea of champagne?

I really like elegant, pure champagnes. But when I started working at Billecart-Salmon, the former Cellar Master François Domi made me understand that we must not go too far into it and fall into austerity. You need finesse, elegance, but above all balance. At Billecart-Salmon we make balanced and fresh wines rather than powerful ones.

At Billecart-Salmon we make balanced and fresh wines rather than powerful ones.

Our style is not oxidative, apart may be from Clos Saint-Hilaire (100% vinified in oak casks).

The ultimate goal is to create deep emotions with wine. The best compliment for us is when the champagne bottle is finished easily and quickly.

How do you define the Billecart-Salmon style, embodied by your Brut Réserve? How do you build it?

The style of Brut Réserve is fruity and delicate. When tasting this champagne, in the nose you find a great aromatic precision with fruits, especially yellow fruits and citruses, and flowers. And in the mouth, you find a creamy and silky side, with minerality.

For us, this is the definition of Brut Réserve, already a great wine, with that silky, delicate, fragrant side that makes you want another glass. It is our most flexible wine, perhaps with our prestige cuvée Nicolas François.

Brut Réserve is made of 40% Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, and 30% Chardonnay. We use around 50% premier and grands crus. The rest are from old vines in the best areas of other crus. We are lucky to have great grape supplies.

We are lucky to have great grape supplies.

The Meuniers come mostly from the right bank of the Marne Valley, from villages like Venteuil or Damery with a sunny side and a great expression of fruit. And with our fermentations at low temperature, we protect this fruit and give it freshness.

We continue on the left bank in the area of ​​Festigny and Leuvrigny with southern exposure. We also find Meuniers of fruit aromas here, but also freshness, the way we like them.

The Chardonnays come primarily from grands and premier crus in the Côte des Blancs, a little also from the Vytriats and Sézannais, but also from grands crus in the Montagne de Reims.

For the Pinots Noirs, we use grands and premiers crus from the Montagne de Reims, which we complete with Mareuil-sur-Ay (home to Billecart-Salmon) and Ay in the Marne Valley, with very fruity wines.

The current Brut Réserve (2020) is made up of a 2016 base, with a significant proportion of reserve wines of around 55-60%, of which many old ones as we are lucky to have an impressive range of reserve wines.

A grand cru makes a great champagne?

I think that a vine grower, on a great terroir, with his choices of viticulture, makes great grapes, without which we are not able to make great wines. But a grand cru is an element which is not sufficient in itself.

As in cooking, even with a great product, without a good chef, you won’t make a great dish. And you also need the right tools: without the right pan or oven you will not succeed.

With the right work of the men, the right tools, and time, you can do great things. It’s the accumulation of all of these things, but the ingredient-the grapes-is key.

With the right work of the men, the right tools, and time, you can do great things. It’s the accumulation of all of these things, but the ingredient-the grapes-is key.

You reintroduced oak barrels in 2005. What do they bring to the wines compared to stainless steel vats?

These two materials are very different, for different uses and different grapes. You have very good results with both.

We decide the material to use for the fermentations, plot by plot.

We decide the material to use for the fermentations-oak or steel-plot by plot.

With the barrels, we harmonize the power of the grapes with wood to bring them to perfect balance. This is why we select more concentrated grapes- like from old vines with low yields from Verzy-which will have less chance of being dominated by wood. Our casks are 15 years old on average, so they release less tannins than the younger ones, but there is still an exogenous contribution.

In stainless steel, we seek purity. We don’t need grapes with very strong aromas. We are looking for precision, harmony, for chiseled and delicate wines, hence use grapes like very floral Chardonnays from the Coteaux Vytriats. And our cold fermentation at 13 degrees in thermoregulated stainless steel vats is perfect for that.

The two vinifications are therefore very different and interesting, but also very complementary.

Billecart-Salmon oak casks
Billecart-Salmon stylish oak casks

What’s your approach to assemblage?

We have 400 vats in our cellars, so a lot of wines, in stainless steel and in oak, that we can use as little touches to make all our champagnes harmonious and balanced. We do large-scale craftmanship. This is what makes our range so successful.

We have 400 vats in our cellars that we can use as little touches to make all our champagnes harmonious and balanced.

I take the same interest in each of the 400 vats, whether they are grands crus or not. They are like 400 babies; we dedicate the same time, the same passion.

Then my job is to find the balance and the style of these wines. We decide everything at blind tastings. And in relation to that, we decide the production volumes because if you put an element in one cuvée, you will not be able to dispose of it for another. Given the long-term vision of our house, we adapt our production volumes to the harvest, without ever compromising quality. For example, in 2018, the quality of the harvest was extraordinary but we also had to stock up reserve wines for the future. And we make sure that the reserve wines are kept in the right conditions and that they evolve well.

What’s your approach to malolactic fermentation (MLF)?

We decide to do the MLFs or not after the alcoholic fermentations of each harvest, tank by tank, according to the balance of the wines in the mouth. For some wines we will do the MLF, for some not.

We decide to do the MLFs or not after the alcoholic fermentations of each harvest, tank by tank.

For example, in the Louis Salmon 2007, 50% of the wines are vinified in oak barrels, and 50% without MLF. 2007 was a great great vintage, with great fruits, roundness and purity in the wines. We blocked the MLF to preserve the emotion we had after the fermentations, the balance between richness, aromas, length and purity.

Your Extra Brut has become Brut Nature. Why this evolution?

We launched the Extra Brut 10 years ago. We gave us the option to add dosage up to 6 g / l. Gradually this figure fell to zero, also thanks to longer aging of five years of this cuvée.

The balance of this wine is based on a blend with more reserve wines from a perpetual reserve that spans from 2006 to 2014, which bring complexity to the new wines. This champagne is a bit more toasted and mineral. On the palate, the wine is more chiseled, delicate, and the citrus fruits are riper and sweeter, with a nice complexity and length in the mouth.

What is it like working for one of the most beautiful houses in Champagne?

I am fortunate to work for a house that has a reputation to uphold and has the means to achieve its ambitions.

The house is based on four principles: family, people, wines, and time. We cannot deviate from any of these principles, they are all linked. We are committed, passionate, and always seeking to improve the quality of our wines, while keeping their balance.

And since Mathieu Roland-Billecart became President, he asks us to do even better, to question ourselves, but he always listening to our needs and gives us the tools to do better, which is great!

What is champagne to you?

For me, champagne is a beautiful expression of salinity, thanks to its chalk terroirs for the most part, elegance, and a lot of flavors. This is champagne.

For me, champagne is a beautiful expression of salinity, elegance, and a lot of flavors.

If you hadn’t been a Cellar Master, what would you be?

I would have liked to be in the world of gastronomy, baking or cooking. I really like to give pleasure to people, and this is always my priority in my job.