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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

Anselme Selosse: The Enfant Terrible Of Champagne Who Burst The Bubble

Updated: Apr 5



Anselme & Guillaume Selosse

In the Grower Champagne department, among just about every recognizable name in the region today, Anselme Selosse stands in a league of his own.

Needing no introduction, the name alone evokes some of the most sought-after champagnes and has become synonymous with bold risks, strong decisions and, of course, superior quality.

Armed with the unconventional, whilst rebellious, determination to adapt his winemaking craft to suit the land he initiated a new relationship with nature from a (then radical) philosophy that redefined the human role with his surroundings, terroir, and overall environment. The idea was simple: a great Champagne must first be a great wine.

Anselme Selosse

Playing a pivotal role in forging a new culture and spirit, he single handedly changed the course of Champagne as both a region and a wine.

What more can be added about Anselme Selosse that has not already been said?

The winemaker genius has been writing his story since 1974 and has continuously been telling it in his own unfiltered and original words. A story that has been hard to miss!

He didn’t simply turn all the established codes upside down; he sparked a revolution that was not just the start of a genre, but the birth of a historic movement.

Committing to quality over quantity, Selosse focused on single-vineyard wines to elicit the most authentic expression of his terroir. The family-run property is located in Avize in the Côte des Blancs and encompasses close to 8 hectares of vines in the crus of Avize, Cramant, Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Ambonnay. Favoring minimum-intervention practices, maturation in oak barrels, and the solera aging process, Selosse’s distinct signature are wines of unmatched richness, purity, complexity and depth.

The rewards that came with his temerarious eureka moment is an exceptional collection of outstanding benchmark offerings that have transformed the way champagne is now regarded.

His genius and grandeur are not only reflected in every cuvée he’s ever crafted, but also extends to the many young vignerons whose careers he has shepherded.

Anselme has passed the baton to the next generation, but he, nevertheless, remains a towering figure in Champagne.

Guillaume & Anselme Selosse

Since 2018, it is Guillaume, Anselme’s son, who has been proudly carrying this heritage, continuing to illuminate this new era in Champagne. A logical succession for the Champagne native whose sensitivity to texture, deftness of touch, close connection with the living and symbiotic relationship with nature is firmly inscribed in the Selosse family DNA.

Guillaume’s story is still being written, but he is the one firmly holding the pen and controlling the narrative – one echoing the very own history of his grand-father and father imbued with audacity, creativity, innovations, and entrepreneurial spirit.

It’s not every day you get to chat with a legend. So, when the opportunity to interview the man behind one of the most significant Champagne revolutions of our times presented itself, I of course couldn’t resist. A double treat as Guillaume also joined the conversation to share his exciting wine journey and relentless quest for excellence and authenticity.

You studied in Burgundy and have as well traveled throughout Spain. How have these early experiences informed your choices throughout your career?

Anselme: Evidently, these regions have naturally been transfused into my soul and have organically fused with my Champagne roots. The key takeaways are attention to the origin, the care given to the soil, the definition of a ripe grape, the way the maturation process is perceived, the use of barrels, the production of single-parcel wines, and favoring origin over vintage.

You worked your first harvest in 1974 before officially taking over the family estate in 1980. How did you experience this transition?

Anselme: Working in the shadows without my parents helped instill in me a sense of responsibility, autonomy, and humility. But it was long, very long.

You’re credited with having pioneered the so-called Grower Champagne movement. This idea of an independent artisan attaching particular importance to the identity of the terroirs was quite radical and revolutionary for the time. What drove you to boldly disrupt established norms in Champagne?

Anselme Selosse

Anselme: When at 20 years old you are given the responsibility of a 4.5 ha estate with a production of 7,500 bottles, it was crucial for me to know what my path would be. What became evident was to be different, desirable, and authentic. Back then, I was already the proprietor of 1.20 ha. of vines, and I produced, on my own, 4000 bottles under my name which I sold in November of 1978. I lost a considerable number of my parents’ clients. The evolution was audacious, and the new production became a success in 1999, twenty-five years after I left. But I was doing what I wanted to do.

How do you manage to elicit an authentic expression of your terroir? How in your opinion does your range of champagnes express the identity, character, and complexities of your region?

Anselme: To achieve that goal, you first need to have a mental image of nature. For me, a terroir is a biotope with an associated ecosystem. It is an environment that offers a certain permanence despite the weather variations from one year to the next. Every year, the fruit is thus different, but we do notice a consistency and continuity in the change provided we pick grapes at the desired level of ripeness upon tasting. The best approach for me was to not present myself as a colon (settler). I had to address students and had to help them become what they wanted to become. In that sense I was a teacher. To achieve that, I had to forego the conventional Champagne model which sought to recreate the same wine every year via the blending and/or mixing process. I had to think more about what I should not do rather than what I should do.

You innovated Champagne by putting in place some very important changes including harvesting at maturity, perpetual reserve Solera style, oxidative vinification, use of indigenous yeasts and low-yield production, among others. What was the impetus that inspired these innovations?

Guillaume & Anselme Selosse

Anselme: In a nutshell, my objective was guided by the discovery of the declination of the word “sève” (sap) with “savon” (soap) and “savoir” (to know). The definition of the word “savoir” in an etymological dictionary is “what was taught, what has been instructed, comes from the word “sève” (sap). Similarly in Italian, we have “sapore”, “sapone” and “sapere” and like “insipido” (insipid), they all derive from the Latin word “sapor” (savor). In English we have sap, soap and insipid which means deprived of sap. What I wish is for the wine to be sapid meaning rich in the teaching of the sap - essentially from the mineral salts contained in the sap.

Oxidation for me is the wear and tear of the organic to reveal the mineral frame, the sap. The grape juice contains approximately 200 grams of organic matter per liter and only 3 to 4 grams of mineral element. In the grape juice, during a tasting, we only feel the organic matter courtesy of the photosynthesis which means the weather variations of the year. To be able to authentically taste the character of the birthplace of the wine (ie: sap), it is necessary to go through a fermentation. Said fermentation is a substantial oxidation. Post alcoholic fermentation there’s approximately 14 grams per liter of organic matter remaining and still about 3 to 4 grams of mineral salts. This fermentation-oxidation is proper to all the products that bear the name where they were born/produced (ie: DOC and/or AOC). After this first phase of fermentation-oxidation there is a “breathing” phase computed in weeks, months, or years. The breathing is a controlled oxidation. The oxidation that is given to me is simply the breath of life.

How would you define the identity and culture of Domaine Jacques Selosse?

Anselme: For us it is simple. It is about recognizing the origin of indigenous yeasts and to help them express themselves. It is out of the question for us to make these yeasts normal, they must remain original. It’s the recognition of life as a whole with its ecosystem and its food chain.

“Substance” is the emblematic cuvée of the house -the one that best expresses the style and culture of your house. How would you describe it?

Anselme: The name is the best definition: that which is in itself and by itself, what is permanent in what changes, what constitutes the fundamental nature of things.

You once zoomed in on agrobiology and biodynamic agriculture and then gave all these methods up in early 2000. Today you adhere to the philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoa and to a farming approach close to permaculture. What attracted you to these approaches?

Anselme: The biodynamic movement has evolved into religious doctrines with obligations and prohibitions. Nature is unpredictable. Every day is a different day. We can’t subject nature to a set of specifications. The sensibility and the intimacy a grower shares with nature are crucial. He/she understands the landscape and the region and can adapt to the changing conditions from one day to another without being slaved to regulations.

When I went to visit Masanobu Fukuoka on the island of Shikoku in 2004, I understood that the values he was preaching were not doctrine or a specific recipe, rather they were a philosophy, the “TAO”. TAO encourages a “non-interventionist” approach. It is important to recognize and to accept the fact that nature does things better than humans. A non-interventionist position means one intervenes only when it will help the vines and will help the wine become what it wants to be. Otherwise, any interference will add more artifice than authenticity.

In 2008 you took over the Chateau de Bricourt-Koch and its cellars which you transformed into a hotel and restaurant under the name “Les Avisés”. What incited this new adventure?

Anselme: Our production is primarily dedicated to gastronomy. It’s about “La table” and not just during an aperitif or the holidays. We wanted to justify and create it. Defending the French savoir-vivre is something that also must be supported and carried forth by wine growers and producers.

Another new project you launched is the “Collection Lieux-Dits” – a case featuring 6 cuvées from 6 different parcels and villages. What does this collection represent for you?

Guillaume Selosse

Anselme: My goal was to remind people that Champagne is not just a single vineyard producing champagnes crafted from a blend of grapes and vintages but that there are remarkable places that deserve to be singled out individually. The focus on the birth year is not the only variable that can be exceptional, the birthplace can equally be worthy. That said, if I had to do it all over again, I am not certain I would do it. Too many producers thought that simply putting the name of a “Lieux-Dits” could justify the 15% price increase of the bottle regardless of the originality of the wine. When we first conceived that project, it was to express the value scale of Burgundy and we thought that only Grands Crus and Premiers Crus could be isolated.

In 2018 you passed the torch to your son Guillaume. You’re no stranger to training others having mentored before young winegrowers who worked by your side. How do you think you have been able to engage this new generation?

Anselme: I tried to educate them by never answering the questions they were asking me. Rather, in response, I would throw at them a series of questions. I think I was able to make them autonomous, meaning able to answer their own questions without being obligated to be subjected to a specific formula.

What heritage do you hope to leave to your son and to the Champagne region?

Anselme: The love of a job well done, and the necessary humility required to cultivate a landscape, to serve our terroirs and be authentic.

Did you feel any pressure succeeding your father?

Guillaume Selosse

Guillaume: Yes of course I did. Following the footsteps of such an emblematic winegrower as my dad was a challenge. He opened the door for a new generation of winegrowers attached to authenticity and to the genuine expression of the Champagne terroir. My dad refused to stupidly give me formulas to succeed; instead, he incited me to develop a sense of curiosity.

It took me many years to find my place within the estate. It was officially in 2020 that I took over the reins of the house.

Preserving the seal of quality and the prestige attached to the name “Jacques Selosse” is surely a priority, but so is the desire to add your own style and signature. How do you juggle both?

Guillaume: We often talk about the expression “L’autre même” (the other same), which corresponds perfectly well with what we’re experiencing today within our House. We’re from the same family but thankfully we all have different personalities. Anselme did not craft the same wines Jacques did; and I will not elaborate the same wines my dad did. We each have a different sensibility; different tastes, and a different apprehension when it comes to textures. Of course, the quest for excellence and apotheosis occupies a central place in our minds and our observation of the vineyard and our cellar.

In your opinion, which cuvée has particularly shaped your understanding of the essence of the house?

Guillaume & Anselme Selosse

Guillaume: I believe that the Vintage Cuvée has been the one that has educated and formed me the most. It’s the only cuvée that is crafted from a single year’s harvest. Every year I follow the evolution of each individual and each barrel from conception and finally I see the result 12 years later following the bottling. It’s a fantastic and extremely instructive experience for my young expertise.

What vision do you have for the Selosse brand and Maison in the coming years?

Guillaume: It is essential to preserve your imagination and your capacity to adapt to change. In an ideal world, I would like to be able to acquire one or more parcels. However, my objective would not be to increase production but rather to modify the pruning method and to reduce the global yield for each parcel. Furthermore, I always considered extending the length of the maturation process, but we lack space in our cellar.

Is there a question I haven’t asked you which you wish I had. If yes, which one and why?

Guillaume: With the consequences of global warming, will champagne always have the capacity in 20 or 30 years to produce bubbles with ripe grapes?

Since the 2008 vintage we have observed an increase of 1 degree on average of the potential alcohol level reached in all our grapes. That phenomenon will make the second fermentation in the bottle more and more difficult to fully achieve. We thus anticipate that over the decades, the hillsides facing South or West will potentially reach an alcohol level too high to allow the second fermentation to occur without sugar residues in the bottle. Consequently. I think that the “Coteaux Champenois” or the “Vins de Champagne” will have an exciting story to write, showcasing a very distinct profile from the wines of Burgundy.

What is the best advice your father gave you?

Guillaume: “I don’t have any good answers or any good advice to give you if you don’t have the right questions”. That perfectly sums up the situation.

What is your most memorable champagne moment?

Anselme: I don’t really want to isolate a moment. What matters to me is how far I’ve come since 1974. However, if there ever was one moment it would be the moment when Guillaume told us that he was ready to take over the succession.

Guillaume: Every year during the tasting process, some dosage tests are conducted either in duo with my dad or in trio with my wife Caroline. We experience a moment of complicity and absolute truth during which our passion is fully expressed.

Guillaume & Anselme Selosse


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