A month ago, during a wine trip from Torgny (Belgium) to Pupillin in the Jura, I made a stop in Celles-sur-Ource, charming small village in the region of Aube (Champagne) renowned for the number and the quality of its winemakers. I met Lucas Fays, the son of Philippe Fays, creator of the eponym’s estate. The winery I discovered was really interesting in many points…
First of all, it’s important to put Celles-sur-Ource on the wine’s map, because it’s so easy to limit the Champagne area to the axis Reims-Epernay. The village, which counts only 589 inhabitants but more than 50 Manipulants-Recoltants ( A grower who makes and markets Champagne under their own label), is more or less between Reims and Beaune, so in the southeast of the Champagne’s headquarter Reims. Juxtaposing the more known rosés des Riceys appellation, Celles-sur-Ource is part of the Côte des Bar (referring to Bar-sur-Seine and Bar-sur-Aube, two big wine towns).
The typicals soils of the Côte des Bars are made of clay-limestone, and they depend of their precise position, because of the landscapes which have been fragmented by the many rivers of the region. If the Marne is centered on the vines, with fairly large monocultural fields, the cellois vineyard is much more fragmented, integrated in a landscape structured between woods, vines, fields and villages.
Philippe Fays, genesis of a winery
The domain’s history dates from the time of Lucas’ grandfather, who created his own structure in an area which was quite less famous than today. Having 4 children, including 3 of them who are turning to wine, he divides the domain in many entities, includins the Philippe Fays estate (so, the Lucas Fays’ father winery)
Each domain has its own identity, but the Fays’ family stays the common denominator of these initiatives, sharing part of the philosophy of work and sharing investments among brothers.
The estate’s vineyards are all located in the immediate environment of the domain itself, very anchored in Celle-sur-Ource, and represent an area of more or less 5 hectares, which is a fairly limited size.
Lucas Fays, an announced continuity
Because of the measured size of the estate, Lucas Fays is not yet fully present in the Domain. From his youth he went to the vineyards and has acquired large empirical knowledge specific to winemakers’ children, but he has not confined himself to his native Champagne, but also studied in Beaune, before extending his training at Reims, London and even Singapore, where he currently works, knowing that his future will be written in the domain, no doubt.
Already today, Lucas has a great maturity, technicaly for sure but also in the philosophy of work and its consequences. Finally, and this is not trivial at a time where communication is a major part of the wineries strategy, Lucas Fays is a great teacher,with the capacity to simplify theoretical concepts without turning to simplistic, in perfect agreement with the house’s style, smart and thoughtful.
Champagne’s Land, Living earth
“We must be courageous in the vineyard, and lazy in the cellar.” Here’s a maxim that expresses the domain’s philosophy, where the bond with the land is visceral. Champagne is unfortunately known for its amendments made of wastes, the lunar soil and the vines dying before reaching 20years old , but none of that here. If the Domain is not (yet?) In organic farming, they want to produce accompanying nature, not by controlling it. The concept of ecological system is deeply rooted in the region, where the vine has its place in the wider environment. In terms of soil, working the land is privileged, without systemic products or herbicides to preserve ecosystems, which have a stabilizing effect on the vine.
Respecting the Earth does not reflect a rejection of technology. Thus for several years, the Domain works with specific providers who are giving annual information about soil’s composition and also ultra precise meteoroligical measures, which allows to better manage fertilizers, treatments and appropriate times where to apply them. Moreover, in order to create a “data memory”, all this information is computerized and will enable access to all measures over the years.
Knowledge of the soils
If the differences are not as marked as in Burgundy, the parcel’s differenciation is a reality, and each sector has been analyzed, understood and is worked differently by the Domain. Each parcel is worked differently and the pruining is adapted to reach the best of each plant.
Throughout the discovery of the vineyards, I could admire sizes in Guyot, cordon royat and even Chablis’ pruning, with even specific variants, depending of the varieties and terroirs.
the pruning type affects various factors of vine and depends on various characteristics thereof. An aged vine will need to be more accompanied than younger and more vigourous one, the exposure has also a role to play, some prunings, as Chablis, allow to best distribute the fruiting and leaf area of vines.
While all vines are in a short perimeter around the Estate, parcels have different characteristics resulting in a specific job. In some areas, weed is preferred because it provides healthy competition to the vines (roots have to go deeper to feed the plant) but in that case the drought can easier block the plant. Lucas Fays confessed me they have already been close to plow because of the drought, but they haven’t and the balance sugar/acidity tends to prove they were right. The plowing, which lightens the soil, is done with great care to avoid creating a “sole” (if we always plow at the same depth, there is no structure between the deep and superficial layer). Finally, in some parcels, only a slight scratching is applied not to deconstruct a very stony and shallow soil.
Côte Saint Cyre, the special one
Talking about Lucas Fays ‘ estate without mentioning the Saint Cyre parcel would be a shame, because of the true love Philippe has for it. In fact, this parcel is the first he has received from his father, it’s the one he went, with his grand-mother, to work all day long on the vineyards when he was young. More than the sentimental link, Saint Cyre is also a historical parcel, registered during the Louis XIV’s time, who loved the wines from the sector. Well oriented, on the top of the slope, the parcel offers to the Chardonnay a ground to express herself to the best, which gaves it a extreme delicacy.
In the cellar…
The investments are more widely used in the vineyard than in the cellar, but they also work with great thoroughness during the process of winemaking. Pressing of the grapes is outsourced to a provider (they are … neighbours of the domain) who’s performing sweet pressings. The estate uses both “vins de cuve” and “vins de tailles” , because if they are sometimes considered less qualitative, the “vins de taille” bring a different structure to the wine (most aromatic among others) and when the grapes are beautiful, there is no problem of greenness or dilution, but rather a saving acidity gain; once again a work in the fields which pays in the cellar…
Interestingly, here the grapes are collected with good maturity and parcels planted in northern parts helping the sugar / acid balance is such that there is no question of chaptalisation (or acidification of wine), still in this context of quality juice. The malolactic fermentation are always conducted as confess me Lucas Fays.
If I am not talking about menus of restaurants I visit, it would be a little bit silly by to not talk about wine produced by the Estate … Here, above all, I appreciated the range of wines as a whole, with defaultless Brut Réserve to St. Cyre and Belle Cuvée which approach the pure beauty. Again, the fare which is quite reasonable shows that we can make very fine Champagne (in an ecological way) without ruining the client! Unfortunately I lost my specific notes, so the comments are based on my memories, they will be replaced progressively by notes from tasting.
Champagne Brut (100% Pinot Noir, 2years old)
A first view of the domain’s production which a serious level. We already taste a real wine, not a “light Champagne. It’s dry in mouth, with bubbles not too aggressive, still a bit young when taster but really pleasant
Champagne Brut rosé (100% PINOT NOIR, 2-3years)
A first favorite with this rosé, even more for the 15€ requested for it. I like this wine, far far away from sugary Rosé Champagnes we sometines find. We have once again a true wine, which would perfectly fit during a meal.
Champagne Brut Réserve (50% PINOT NOIR, 50% CHARDONNAY, 3-4years)
Champagne half-dry Cuvée Douceur (50% PINOT NOIR, 50% CHARDONNAY, 3ANS)
A half-dry Champagne which benefits of the field work, with a well managed sucrosity. The balance is for sure sweeter but you don’t have at all the feeling to drink a syrup. Some freshness at the end of the mouth is welcome and nice.
Champagne Brut Cuvée Côte Saint Cyre (100% CHARDONNAY, 3-4ANS)
A high class Champagne, with magnific finesse. I’ve already drank one with a friend of mine. We are in the register of finesse, fine bubbles, race. The backbone is signed by a great ripe acidity, with white flowers aromas, a bit of minerals too. The bubble is fine, fresh. The wine structure and aromatic are developping in the glass, really great.
A cuvée which is not produced each year, regarding the quality of the grapes. This wine is sold when it has already developed secondary aromas. The mouth is “larger”, a bit buttery, with also great bubbles, fine and soft. The body is quite strong but always mastered. I love these Champagne who can be associated with meat, because of their strong and dry presence.
My first conclusion is that, more and more, I notice I like this region I hated before because all its excesses (prices, yields, cultural methods, …). I’ve been impressed by the knowledge and the kindness of Lucas. I can just advise you to discuss with him or his father, because because when the speech is akin to what we feel in the bottle, that’s just fun.
The Philippe Fays estate shows us it’s possible to be a small Récoltant-Manipulant and always be searching to the top of the state of the art and be creative to (e.a. the actual try to create a Cuvée using the Solera system). The collaboration between winemakers is here a value I maybe only found in Jura, whether through their membership Champagnes de Vignerons or even by the various direct exchanges between domains of the village.
Bref…. Thanks for all Lucas !
Champagne Philippe Fays
94, Grand Rue
+33 3 25 38 51 47