Interview with Fabian Daviaux, Champagne Chavost œnologist

In 2019, this son of a winegrower from Chavot-Courcourt took over the management of the cooperative in the village where he grew up. Three vintages later, the success is undeniable. We take a look back at this success story, the fruit of an atypical approach.

You didn’t always want to be an oenologist, did you?

Yes, I did. When I was a kid, people around here kept saying ‘Fabian will be the future of the cooperative’, but I was far from convinced. Very far indeed. As soon as I got into mischief, my parents sent me to the vineyard. That was the punishment. In those conditions, I quickly imagined a different destiny. I saw myself as a biology researcher. That’s what I studied for. But then, after my degree, my story caught up with me. I took the trouble to reconsider the profession of oenologist. Halfway between science and wine, it actually suited me perfectly. I changed direction. I took the plunge.

What were your first experiments?

In 2008, for 4 years, I tried making still wines in my parents’ cellars, with their surplus grapes or those of friends. They were… disgusting. It didn’t matter: making wine without any inputs was already making me happy. It was already the goal of the game in my eyes. So I went back to my lessons. Let’s be honest: I hadn’t read them. When you’re a student, you party, you taste, you laugh, but whatever… So, I spent my time reading, devouring Ribéreau-Gayon and other classics of modern oenology and, at the end of the day, I had the impression that I understood quite a lot. All I had to do was put them into practice. Abroad, young people in training often have the opportunity to make their own micro-cuvées to learn the trade. That’s what I did in South Africa and New Zealand, working for small local winemakers. Without any inputs, my wines were quite good. They stood the test of time. It confirmed my convictions. In 2014, I returned to France to take up a position of responsibility in a champagne house that was producing over 2 million bottles a year. After 4 years of discussions, I obtained the right to vinify the equivalent of 20,000 bottles in my own way, still without sulfite. I was over the moon…

And what about the cooperative?

It was then, at the end of 2018, that she contacted me about joining her. At the time, it was going through a rough patch. Gone was the golden age of the 2000s, with its 90 hectares of vineyards and 400,000 bottles a year produced for members and as many for the champagne houses. With the introduction of new subsidies, many members left the cooperative to set up on their own. We were in the red…

What solutions did you propose?

The strategy pursued over the last few years had failed. We had to accept that, turn the page and, therefore, get out of our comfort zone. Creating a strong brand with the potential to make money seemed to us to be the right way forward. To do this, we already had the name Chavost, the name of our village in the Middle Ages, under which the cooperative had been selling 3 to 4,000 bottles every year since 2016. Above all, we owned 5 hectares of vines. That’s no mean feat… I offered to join them, on condition that we convert the vineyard to organic production, vinify without sulfites from A to Z, don’t use reserve wines – I wanted to work with pure vintages – have short cellaring periods – no more than 2 years – to keep the primary aromas and ban all dosage at the time of disgorgement. You have to be consistent: you can’t, at the end of the cycle, after banning all inputs, introduce sugar to make the wine more delicious…

Strong biases, right down to the label…

Once again, it’s a question of consistency. I’m not trying to break any codes – I’m not a punk – but simply to keep our commitments. What’s the point of going to so much trouble, adopting such strong biases, only to end up wearing the same label as everyone else? It just doesn’t make sense. With my brother, who has always drawn, we came up with these cartoon-style representations of our cooperative and its collective for each of our cuvées, from our Blanc Assemblage to our Blanc de Chardonnay or de Meunier, not forgetting our Rosé de Saignée or our Coteaux-Champenois.

Do all your wines come from the 5 hectares of vines grown organically?

No. Thanks to these plots, we produce an average of 30,000 bottles a year. That’s not enough to meet demand. So, to satisfy everyone and avoid the risk of speculation, we decided to create an entry-level cuvée, vinified to the same exacting standards as our organic champagnes, but this time using non-organic grapes selected from our members’ vineyards. As a result, of the 55 hectares that make up the cooperative today, 5 are organically grown for our wines, 10 are used to produce this Blanc Assemblage, another 10 are vinified for our members and the remaining 30 for champagne houses.

What does sulfite-free wine mean to you?

Problems, obviously (laughs). It’s not always easy to make wine this way. Sometimes, despite all our efforts, the wine we’d hoped for doesn’t turn out. On the other hand, when it does live up to our expectations, what satisfaction! Especially when the wine is made without sulfite, it has so much more caudalie. It explodes on the nose.

And what about tomorrow?

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be bottling a brand new cuvée of champagne made with the reserve wines produced since I arrived. A way of showing that the cooperative also knows how to work over the long term. What’s more, we’re at a turning point. Quite a few of our members are retiring. If they have no takers, we offer to make their vines available to us on a 10 or 20 year lease, provided they agree to us converting their plots so that we can produce more organic vintages. If they are successful, depending on their quality, their grapes will be used either for our Blanc Assemblage, or for the wines of our members or champagne houses…