Over half a century of environmentally respectful farming is at the heart of Yves Ruffin. His three hectares situated Avenay Val d’Or and Tauxières were converted to organic farming 50 years ago, a move that went against the trends of the time. He was a pioneer, one that ignored and challenged the critics during a time when winegrowers and technicians didn’t take into consideration the impact their actions were having on the environment.
Yves’s son, Thierry, carried on his tradition and contributed to developing alternative cultivation methods. In 2007, his wife, Sylvie, succeeded him and still today continues production with this demanding approach. We recently spoke with Sylvie on continuing Yves and Thierry’s legacy and adhering to the sustainable winemaking practices established long ago. Read on to hear what Slyvie had to say.
How did you get into winemaking and when?
I started working with my husband in 1995, at first I was 'just' his secretary but I used to participate in little activities in the cellar to help. Working with and for my family really made sense so in 2007 when he passed, I felt I had to continue his work both to honour him and to protect my sons, the next generation. It wasn't easy at first but I was surrounded by great people who helped me rebuild our Maison to what it is today.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born in 1962 in Lorraine, a region not far from Champagne, but I always lived in Avenay-Val-d'Or where I met my husband Thierry who was a winemaker. We fell in love and started a family and then as time went by, I joined him. Being a winemaker, as you know, is really absorbing and becomes a great part of your life. So I decided to work with him [Thierry], and I haven’t stopped since.
Yves Ruffin Vintage Demi-Sec
What approach do you take to winemaking and viticulture? Can you explain your Champagne philosophy?
We have always believed in organic viticulture and we have been among the first winemakers in Champagne to take this path, despite the critics. We think that the better your vineyard is, the better your wine is. To get the best quality you have to take care of the soil, its life, and the plants. You can't make good wines if you don't start by taking care of the vine, for that reason, and because we think that nature should be protected we try to work in symbiosis with it.
What challenges do you face as a female winemaker in a historically male dominated industry?
I wouldn't say I personally faced challenges as a woman, mostly because I found myself surrounded by caring men who supported me.
We were so criticised for working in organic viticulture that it was our main concern. It was very difficult working among people who were hostile to such alternative methods. Today we are happy to see that many of them changed their way of thinking but there is still a long road ahead for the mentalities to evolve completely. Also, I really started working on my own at a time when women started to be empowered in Champagne.
In Yves Ruffins Vineyard
Who/what do you look to for inspiration?
Laurent Chiquet, who's responsible for the Maison Jacquesson is a great friend of mine and I admire him for his personality and his work, as well as Laurent Bénard who is my husband's cousin and a great winemaker. I also globally admire female winemakers because they often have to care not only for their work, which is very difficult, but also for their families and houses. There is still a long way to go for others to respect them as they should. Today, it's still a challenge to be a female winemaker and to get respect and approval from your male peers despite all the work done.
What’s trending in Champagne right now? What are your prediction for the future?
I think organic viticulture is becoming more trending, which is a great thing. I reflect a lot on global warming, which I think will affect everything: the soil, the wines and the men. The wine's profile has already changed as the climate is getting warmer and warmer. I think in the future we will have to adapt a lot, and we have to continue to do our best to change mentalities globally and to protect nature at all costs.
I think women winemakers are also becoming more and more visible, but it shouldn't be a trend, it should be normalised, even more when you think that women have always been involved in Champagne, they've always been great workers, they were just in the shadows of their husbands for many years. Now we see them.
Can you give us a hint of any exciting new projects or releases you are working on?
In a few years I will be retiring, and I have the pleasure to announce that my youngest son, Antonin, is now working with me to take over the Maison. Concerning our wines, today we face a shortage concerning our usual cuvées but it should get back to normal in 2 years. We are looking for quality, so we don't wish to rush things. But we are pleased to announce that we are releasing two new cuvées in 2023.
Our cuvée 'Racines' (roots) to symbolise transmission. It will be an extra-brut made with our reserve wines from 2016 and 2017 (mainly Chardonnay) and our Solera (Pinot Noir reserve starting from 2012). And a vintage 2015, 100% Chardonnay.
Yves Ruffin ageing on lees
All images courtesy of Yves Ruffin.