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 fermentations, 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 ageing 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 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 any more—and it would be accurate to view Jean-Marc at the vanguard of this shift toward more artisanal farming and production. What may be most impressive, however, is how he has implemented his ideas with such openness and quiet confidence. He has taken the counsel of a who’s who list of cutting edge growers in Champagne, befriended many of them, and he makes a habit of visiting their ilk in the Loire Valley and in Burgundy. Likewise, he routinely receives fellow growers to his domain.
Today Jean-Marc divides his Champagnes into three ranges. First comes the Solessence range for the base level blends, with the lot number on the back referencing the base vintage. “Solessence” refers to the essence of soil, and there’s a brut, a brut nature, and a rosé. Next comes the vintage-dated Soliste range: a range dedicated to unique terroirs. Each wine comes from one site, one grape, and one vintage. The third tier is made of two proprietarily-named wines: Quintette and Partition. Quintette is Jean-Marc’s Blanc de Blancs, a Chardonnay from five mature sites. Up to 2014, this was effectively a vintage wine (see lot number), while starting with 2014 the wine has 20-30% reserve wine from a solera aging in foudre; thus the lot number will then refer to the base vintage. Partition is Jean-Marc’s one blended vintage wine.