Champagne Pol Roger: an interview with Hubert de Billy

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Hubert de Billy is the great-great-grandson of Pol Roger, one of the few family-owned Champagne Houses and a perennial favourite in the UK. We caught up with him before the confinement in France to discuss history, philosophy, gastronomy and more besides.

On ties to Champagne

“My destiny to work in the Champagne industry was confirmed at birth! My mother, Chantal Budin, was born at 11 Avenue de Champagne in Epernay and my father, Christian de Billy, was born at 48 Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. My maternal grandfather was the General Manager of Perrier-Jouët and had been Mayor of Epernay during the Second World War, whilst my father was the great-grandson of Monsieur Pol Roger and grandson of Maurice Pol-Roger, the mayor of Epernay during the First World War.

“Had I not had such strong roots to Champagne, I did have childhood dreams of becoming a rally driver and, before joining the family business, managed a team in the RAC Rally.”

On eureka moments in wine

“I do not remember ever not drinking Pol Roger, having been brought up on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, but the first vintage I remember tasting was the 1971 and there have been many ‘eureka’ moments with this wine ever since.

“My birth year, 1963, was a dreadful vintage with the exception of Vintage Port, but I am lucky enough to be friends with the Symington Family and, when I visit them in Oporto, they occasionally let me check how well their 1963’s are maturing.”

On Pol Roger’s winemaking philosophy

“We are very lucky to be one of the few Champagne Houses to still be in family ownership. As such, this allows us to take a little more time to do things; we make wines that continue to improve in the cellar over many years. Family ownership is very important to us and, since we started importing to the UK in the early 1850s, we are proud to have enjoyed longstanding relationships with many other great wine families in the UK, such as Berry Bros. & Rudd.

“We know that Berry Bros. & Rudd supplied our most famous exponent, Sir Winston Churchill, over many years: the first invoice we have confirming the relationship, from the Churchill Archive, shows him purchasing 10 cases of Pol Roger Brut Vintage 1921 in March 1937.”

On pairing Pol Roger with food

“When I come to see my friends in the UK, they have convinced me that you do not need anything too complicated! I have found that Pol Roger Brut Réserve works brilliantly with fish and chips, as does a bacon sandwich washed down with a glass of Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill! But of course, when we are entertaining at home in Epernay, we tend to enjoy more classic combinations such as Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs with turbot, or an old Pol Roger Brut Vintage with well-aged Comté – heaven!” 

On wines other than Champagne

“Whilst I am lucky to drink and enjoy Champagne every day, I also benefit hugely from having great friends producing fantastic wines in other areas, notably my colleagues in the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV). One of my earliest memories of the PFV was drinking the great Vega Sicilia 1977; a wine I will never forget. I am also fortunate to have a small collection of the Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches. If I am very lucky, I might get to drink a bottle of the fabulous Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Grand Cru “Marquis de Laguiche” on my birthday on the 5th December!”

On recently enjoyed bottles

“I have just returned from La Rochelle where I had a fabulous lunch and enjoyed oysters, scallops and sweetbreads matched with a bottle of Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile 2015 followed by Château de Beaucastel 2010.

“I am about to visit my father, Christian, who was born in the great 1928 Vintage and is still going strong at the age of 92. During lockdown, he has been sustained by Delamain Cognac and, of course, Glenfarclas 15 Year Old – I’m sure we’ll enjoy a dram together before lunch!”

On personal favourites from Pol Roger

“We still have some stock of the Pol Roger Brut Vintage 1914 made by my great grandfather, Maurice Pol-Roger which, in his words, was ‘picked to the sound of gunfire, drunk to the sound of trumpets’. Still, 106 years on, it is slightly effervescent and distinctly Pol Roger.

“Of course, I never get bored with our Brut Réserve non-vintage, but I am particularly proud of our outstanding vintage champagnes – especially Brut Vintage 2012 which is drinking very well now; I will be putting a few cases away in my cellar to drink in five or six years’ time. We make so little Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill that it is by no means an everyday drink, but we are looking forward to getting the Pol Roger family together to mark the anniversary of Churchill’s birthday on 30th November with a magnum of Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2009.

“2024 it is going to be a very special year for Champagne Pol Roger and Sir Winston Churchill; we will be celebrating our 175th birthday and the year also marks the 150th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s birth.”

For Christmas 2020, we are delighted to be offering 20% off a selection of Grande Marque Champagnes from Pol Roger, including Brut, Pure and vintage 2012. These are stunning wines, worthy of any Christmas celebration. Shop the range here.