He produced over 20 vintages for his family domaine (Domaine Billaud-Simon), initially under the tutelage of his grandfather, taking over when he died in 1990. In the following years, Samuel fell out with his uncle (who shared ownership of the estate) and the two eventually separated. It was at this point Samuel set up his own estate.
A key element to Samuel’s success lies with his work in the vineyard. Yield plays a big factor in the difference between top Chablis and the mass-produced wines you find on the supermarket shelf.
According to Samuel, in order to bring structure to Chablis, early de budding in May to reduce the yield is essential. For Samuel, lowering yields brings power and dynamic energy to the wines.
His top vineyards include plots in Grand Cru Les Clos, and the Premiers Crus, Montée de Tonnerre and Séchet. His Petit Chablis is of particular note – coming from a small site sitting on Kimmeridgian and Portlandian soils directly above the Grand Cru Les Clos.
He’s in good company here, with Raveneau the only other producer with vines on this site, and the resulting wine is closer to Premier Cru than Petit Chablis, with amazing mineral structure and body.
Samuel Billaud’s wines have a distinct style in which the wines have both a creamy, leesy weight while retaining a contrasting, linear, focused, mineral brightness. To create this, his fermentations are perhaps slightly warmer than more high-production Chablis – the warmer fermentation temperatures and wild yeasts bringing an added weight to the palate.
The freshness comes from both the right picking date and additional quality control through hand-harvesting. The flavour complexity and texture are thanks to much longer lees-ageing than is typical for Chablis (a minimum of 12 months for his village wines and up to 18 months for his Premiers and Grands Crus).
This longer ageing on the lees not only retains a freshness in the wines (due to the reductive properties of the lees), but also add flavour complexity through this extended contact.
Another key element to his winemaking is his settling technique. Prior to fermentation, the must is clarified; typically with the lees separated from the clear juice which is then fermented. Samuel, however, takes a riskier approach, adding a proportion of the fine lees (solids) to the fermentation tank too. For Samuel, this is key to gaining the complexity he is looking for in his wines.