Grape(s): 100% Chardonnay
Localization: Epernay, Champagne, France
Tasting Notes: This is a great example of what the Côteaux Sud can do with Chardonnay: a wine with ample body and fruit, coupled with superb tension.
Notes: The grapes come from two adjacent south-facing plots named Les Tartières and Les Porgeons, whose current vines were planted in 1990 and 1985 respectively. They grow in the heart of the Pierry slope, right in the middle, with Tartières stretching above Porgeons. The higher site grows in five feet of clay over Campanian chalk, whereas the layer of clay in Porgeons tapers up to a level of less than one foot. Production averages 130-150 cases.
The Domain: Jean-Marc Sélèque (say-lek) returned to Pierry in 2008 after internships at Chandon’s facilities in Napa Valley and in Australia’s Yarra Valley with a vision of what he wanted to do, and didn’t want to do at Champagne JM Sélèque. The latter was reinforced by his experiences at those two large production operations, where vineyard practices resulted in all manner of “corrections” having to be made in the cellar. The positive ideas were simple but labor-intensive: in the vines, plowing of rows by tractor or horse; control of yields by careful pruning; organic and biodynamic applications to boost the health of soil and vine.
In the cellar, he moved to much slower and more gentle fermentation, something he considers key for flavor and texture. He did this by lowering the temperature and working more with wild yeast (a lot of his fermentations are wild, but he’s not orthodox about that). He instituted longer aging on the lees for all the cuvées, both in barrel or tank and subsequently in bottle for the secondary fermentation (that bottling is now done in July following the harvest, which is a long and relaxed period of time for young wine to come together). He did away with fining, and now only minimally filters certain large lots (the wines raised in the barrel are not normally filtered, and what is filtered amounts to roughly 25% of the total production). Finally, because his farming reforms resulted in better maturity in his grapes, he lowered the level of sugar in the final dosage. The dosage and other specifics are admirably detailed on Jean-Marc’s back labels.
Fundamentally, these ideas evolved from friendships with fellow reform-minded growers, who insisted that the road to authenticity would only be found by working closely with one’s vines, rather than from his enological studies. Currently, Champagne is arguably the most dynamic wine region in France—a country where almost nothing viticulturally is standing still anymore—and it would be accurate to view Jean-Marc at the vanguard of this shift toward more artisanal farming and production.