The Selosse family had been growing grapes in Champagne for centuries when Jacques Selosse began bottling his own wines in 1959. Hedging his bet, he continued to sell much of his crop to Lanson. He needn’t have worried. His wines found an audience and earned their keep.
After successful undertakings outside the family business Jacques’ son Anselme studied viniculture and viticulture in Burgundy, worked for a while in Rioja, and returned to Champagne in 1974 to apply what he had learned. The eventual outcome of Anselme’s homecoming and involvement in Domaine Jacques Selosse was bigger than anyone could have anticipated at the time. Folks began paying serious attention to his activities when the prestigious Gault Millau guide named him the top winemaker in all of France in 1994.
Anselme Selosse became a leading figure in what turned out to be two surgent trends in Champagne: He was among the first to popularize of “grower champagnes,” wines produced from grapes the growers traditionally sold to large houses. Next, he became a practitioner of “la biodynamie.” Biodynamic vine growing and winemaking is the creation of Rudolf Steiner, an early-20th century thinker with views on all aspects of society including agriculture. In 1924 he presented an elaborate programme of ultra-orthodox organic techniques believed to bring vines, grapes and wine into harmony with the cosmos. In addition to useful ideas about fertilizers and alternative methods of pest control, biodynamism relies heavily on what can be most kindly described as “folk wisdom.”
When I asked him about his current practices, Selosse replied that he no longer considers his operation to be biodynamic. With a very Gallic shrug and a sigh he said “it’s not biodynamic. It’s about the grapes and capturing terroir. Biodynamics has become a creed more than a technique.”) He picks and chooses the aspects of biodynamism he believes help in achieving his goals.
Anselme Selosse’s winegrowing philosophy is centred on growing grapes that rigorously reflect the site where they were grown and intruding as little as possible during their transformation into wine. “A vineyard is a living thing. I’m a butler, not a controller; an obstetrician, not a plastic surgeon.” He crafts intense characterful bottlings and eschews wines in a crowd-pleasing house style year after year, preferring to craft intense characterful bottlings. “I like the unfamiliar. My wines are like an ugly French singer whom all the ladies love.” He harvests very late to ensure full ripeness and avoids malolactic fermentation to preserve maximum acid freshness. He ferments (using indigenous yeasts) and ages his base wines in oak and acacia barrels, sometimes new, for periods depending on the nature of the vintage. He regards oxygen as “life” to his wines. His levels of the sweet liqueur de dosage are very low and, in some cuvées, zero. His blends lean heavily on reserve wines. He packs nineteen vintages in one of his cuvées.
When a delegation of Circle of Wine Writers members visited Champagne Selosse last autumn, Anselme was bringing in the last of his fruit. Despite his wine weariness he was a thoughtful, direct and engaging host. He presented three of his wines, all of which were outstanding. Production is very limited and prices straddle $200.
Jacques Selosse “Initiale” Blanc de Blancs Champagne (score 90+) is a lovely pungently autolytic blanc de blancs with ripe orange fruit and mineral notes. It’s crisp and creamy and leaves an impression of sweetness through the fruited autolytic long finish.
Jacques Selosse V.O. (Version Originale) Blalnc de Blancs Extra Brut (score 91) sports a funky autolytic nose and a crisp chalky grip on the palate. It’s got beautiful corners and is long.
Jacques Selosse Les Carelles Blanc de Blancs Champagne (sc0re 91) was a blend of base wines from the ’07, ’08 and ’09 vintages. The nose marries mineral, autolytic and smoky oxidative notes. It’s crisp, minerally and autolytic with caramel notes on the palate through a long pleasing finish.
(Left:) Anselme Selosse ponders questions from a group of CWW members at his winery in the middle of harvest.
(Right:) Selosse’s freshly-pressed chardonnay juice was dazzlingly sweet and mineral with distinct crunchy chalky mineral notes.
In 2011 Anselme Selosse and his wife Corinne opened Les Avisés, a hotel-restaurant in Avize. Our group was treated to a luscious lunch there. If you’re ever in Champagne, have a meal or stay there. It’s as warm and charming as its proprietors.
[Thanks to the Comité Champagne for hosting CWW members in Champagne.]