Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anselme Selosse (Domaine Jacques Selosse) at La Féte du Champagne

He has been described as "... one of the most revered producers in Champagne" and the initiator of the "grower revolution" (Walters, The World of Fine Wine, Issue 36, 2012). And he was going to be in NYC participating in the inaugural edition of La Féte du Champagne. I just had to be there. And almost didn't make it because everyone and his brother had the same idea. Thanks to the bulldog-like tenacity of Ron, and the organizing committee opening up some additional seats closer in to the event, I was able to get in the door. But it is not about me. It is about him. Anselme Selosse. Proprietor of the renowned Domaine Jacques Selosse.

Anselme participated in all elements of the La Féte du Champagne program: (i) At Table 17 of the Grand Tasting he poured Initial Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Version Originale Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Les Carelles Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, and Millésime Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2002; (ii) he participated in the seminar series as part of a panel with Peter Liem in a seminar titled simply Jacques Selosse; and (iii) he had the seat of honor at one of the tables at the event-capping Gala Dinner. This post will focus on Anselme in the Jacques Selosse seminar.

The Selosse seminar was moderated by Peter Liem with translation (required due to Anselme's limited English) provided by Jean-Baptiste Cristini. The wines featured at the seminar were all lieu-dits:
  • Jacques Selosse Sous Le Mont Mareui-sur-Aÿ Extra Brut Premier Cru
  • Jacques Selosse Le Bout du Clos Ambonnay Extra Brut Grand Cru
  • Jacques Selosse La Cote Faron Aÿ Extra Brut Grand Cru
The format of the session was (i) a question posed by Peter Liem, (ii) an answer (in French) by Anselme, and (iii) a translated version of the response provided to the audience by Jean-Baptiste.

There ws a definite Taoist bent to this session. In response to a Peter Liem question on what had brought him to his current winemaking style, Anselme said that he had traveled far and wide before coming home to work with his father. And he had come back asking questions like "What is terroir?" At that time he had not wanted to take anything for granted (in terms of winemaking in Champagne), nor did he want to take only his father's traditions. He does not see tradition as structured and closed. Rather, he sees it as continually evolving. Transmission (from father to son, for example) must be taken into account but it is not about a recipe, but more about the conveyance of methodology and a way of thinking. He is currently transmitting his way of thinking to his son but does not want that to be in any way constricting.

Continuing, Anselme said that a wine will illustrate the indigenous character of its environment. The work that is done should not drive standardization. He, as an example, does not do much work in the vineyards. There is no creation in winemaking; the winemakers job is to reveal what is already there; and each producer must reveal the essence of his/her wine. Two of his guiding principles are:
  • It is not about "what one does" but about "what one does not do" -- He has no demands when it comes to viticulture. He just brings the fruit to the center.
  • Respect the life of the soil -- No pesticides; no compacting of the soil. The vine is defined by water it has accessed.
Anselme posits that winemaking is oxidation of organic matter. Aging is also an oxidative process as it involves the degradation of organic material. It is that degradation that reveals the many facets of a wine. He does not want to put his wines into a strait jacket; he wants them to express themselves.

Peter asked him why he had chosen these particular wines for the seminar given their limited production volumes. Anselme said that he had wanted to share what is most rare for him at this event. His single-vineyard wines, he said, were inspired by Burgundy, where the "horizontal and vertical presentation of wine is the norm." While discussing the Sous Le Mont, Anselme said that, in many ways, wine is water from the rocks, with minerals transmitted from the rocks into the vine (Ed. Note: This is a controversial position). This particular vineyard is east-facing, with balanced organic matter and some clay in the soil. The Clos Ambonnay wine is from a south-facing vineyard at the bottom of the slope and with more clay in its soil than the Sous Le Mont. It is, as such, more rounded than its counterpart. La Cote Faron is also from south-facing vineyards.

In terms of his winemaking style, the use of soleras ia a way of averaging out the climatic variations and allows the face of the region to be revealed.

At this point the floor was thrown open for questions. Having written about Tom Stevenson questioning his winemaking style, I queried him about his thoughts on Stevenson's critiques. Ron followed up with a question on his thoughts on oxidation as a topic. Anselme revealed that he had first met Stevenson 25 years ago and that they had not seen eye to eye. They met again 10 years ago; and nothing had changed. In his view, there are two important elements in wine appreciation: the nose and the mouth. He believes that, in Stevenson's case, the textural responses in the mouth are the most important. He recognizes that diversity is the key. There should not be a simplification of winemaking or a single arbiter of style. Oxidation is a fact of life.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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