LVT 2019 r 2017 wh Andrea Calek is Czech, and one of the early Vin Nature followers of Gérald Oustric of Le Mazel nearby in the Ardèche, his interest in zero added SO2 wines piqued by the Foillard, Lapierre group further north in the Beaujolais and the Loire. The wines are garagiste, emphasize fruit, and have a very loyal following; the Syrah is prominent, backed by Grenache and Merlot. The Babiole red - translated, it means a bauble - 2018 was a **** w.o.w. wine, naked and likeable, while the 2019 Babiole fruit has very good purity and depth, also ****. The 2017 Blonde was another **** wine.
LVT 2018 r Jérôme started in 1997, and was part of the Cave Co-operative de Ruoms until 2005. His first vintage was 2006. The 8 hectares of vineyards are organic, on clay-lmestone soils at 300 to 380 metres. The higher area soils are stony, lower down there are white clays; there can be a two week difference in their ripening. His grandfather worked a mixed farm, including almonds, goats, cows and vines, while his father Rémy moved it towards viticulture.
This is a zero added SO2 domaine with bouncy fruit in the wines – there is a range of around a dozen wines. In the complicated year of 2018, Jérôme’s Pas à Pas red [70% Carignan, 30% Alicante] was a **** w.o.w. wine. Jérôme states that he likes fluidity in his wines, not too much tannin.
LVT 2018 wh 2017 r The family own 25 hectares on this organic domaine, which includes woods and spare land, with 20 hectares of vineyards. 15 ha of these give their wines, while the harvest from the other 5 hectares is sold.
Gérald's grandfather was born in Marseille, but didn't go for city life, and became a daily hired worker on the land, "a pure peasant", before buying land. The Oustric family then worked their lands of around 30 hectares at Valvignères en polyculture in the past – cereal, fruit such as cherries, a few apricots, with some vines, the wine from which was sold in bulk. Gérald’s father Paul was one of the founders of the Valvignères Co-operative in the late 1950s. Paul’s wife Suzanne was from Tournon, so when it came to planting vines in those early days, she rooted for Syrah rather than hybrids.
Gérald first worked on the domaine - in the vineyards - in 1982. His first vinification was 1997. A lot of importer interest was drawn to Mazel led by the renown of Jacques Néauport, with whom he became friends in the mid-1980s. Vinification is by macération carbonique, with minimal intervention over a month. Oak raising was stopped after 2013 – now it is only concrete or stainless steel vat, which lasts 12-20 months.
Mazel has been the mother lode for many start-up Vins Natures producers in the southern Ardèche. Directly, Gérald set up Andrea Calek and Sylvain Bock, selling Calek five hectares in 2007, and Bock three hectares in 2011, since he felt his 30 hectares were too onerous.
These are zero added SO2, Vin Nature wines that express very lucid fruit, but also carry firm underpinning, aided by the age of the varieties such as Grenache (oldest 1954) and Carignan (1962, Gérald's year of birth, and 1965). Levels of alcohol on the reds are low, often around 12°. If well stocked, they can age and evolve with interest. The whites are led by Chardonnay (1987, 1989) and Viognier, the Chardonnay following in the footsteps of Louis Latour who reckoned the clay-limestone soils well suited to Chardonnay back in the 1970s. Cabernet Sauvignon has been abandoned, due to tiny yields in the face of drought summers, while Gamay d'Auvergne, not du Beaujolais, will be planted in 2021.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh Father Gilles is a well-known Vin Nature practitioner in the Southern Ardèche. Antonin, his son, is a merchant-vinifier under the Le Raisin et L’Ange title, sourcing his grapes and wines from the Southern area around the domaine, the furthest away being 45 km (28 miles) to the S-West, towards the Cévennes hill range, where the soils are schist and the varieties are Merlot and Gamay. The remaining vineyards conform to the usual Ardèche soil of clay-limestone, for the Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon The red wines are fair, less striking than other Vin de France zero SO2 offerings, it has to be said, with some produced in as much as 20,000 bottles. The 2018 nedjma white (half Sauvignon blanc, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Grenache blanc) was a fresh, good drinking ***(*) wine.
LVT 2019 r 2019 wh This is a leading address in the zero added SO2, Vin Nature set of domaines; the basalt soils play a big part in their appeal, and there is a welcome consistency in the quality of the wines across the range. It's a partnership that started in 2009, the wines IGP Ardèche for two vintages before all becoming Vin de France; Vincent is the third generation of viticulteurs in his family, attached to the Co-operative of Villeneuve-de-Berg. Manu’s family were not involved with wine, his grandfather has a small farm, just a few vines. They both went to work in the Alpilles, just south of Arles, in 1999-2000, with Vincent (who is 10 years younger than Manu) the chef de culture in the vineyards, and Manu in the cellar.
They stayed there for four years, and got going on their own account in 2009, when Manu found a small vineyard at Lussas; of its 10 hectares, three could be worked outside the Co-operative, the other 7 not. Vincent took out 2.5 ha of his family’s 13 ha, and they started with those 5.5 ha combined, with no building or cellar. They have planted vineyards since to total 13.5 hectares, split between the basalt soils of Lussas [7.3 ha] and the clay-limestone of Mirabel [6.2 ha], which stand east of Aubénas. The wines are well-fruited, and their 60% Merlot called La Reboule caught my attention, since it was one of the best Rhône Merlots I have tasted, its cause much aided by its macération carbonique fermentation: the 2018 was a **** w.o.w. wine
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh Grandfather Gilbert [72 years in 2019] built the cellar in 1979, having been at the Cave Co-operative of Valvignères, the wine sold to the merchant trade. Christophe joined the domaine in 1994, and the first bottling was in 1995. Their son Paulin came on to the domaine in his turn in late 2017. They are one of four organic independent domaines at Valvignères.
The Comtes work 12 ha of vineyards, 7 ha near the domaine, and 5 ha 1 km away, on white stony limestone with white clay soils, with Grenache on mild slope grey marl soils. From late 2019 there are 3 hectares of cereal – barley, wheat, hay. They have been organic since 2001, worked with zero added SO2 since 2007, biodynamic since 2009. In the past, they sold 3.5 ha of vineyards to Andrea Calek.
They were the first family to plant Chardonnay in Valvignères, in 1987. Some of their Viognier is massale. The vinification is “semi-carbonic”, via whole bunches and ranging from 8 to 21 days for the most serious reds.
All wines are Vin de France. This is a good range, good quality address. Fruit quality is clear, with freshness in the wines, even after hot years such as 2018, the ***(*) 2018 Syrah an example: deep soils help to combat the potential stress of drought conditions. The late 1970s Grenache that makes up the Grain . . . cheux red contributed mystery and complexity in 2017, a **** wine. There is also a good Pinot noir called Du bout des doigts, 2001 Pinot that receives an 8 to 10 day vinification and brief vat raising, the 2018 a **** w.o.w. wine.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh Sylvain was born near Lyon, then grew up in Vienne, near Côte-Rôtie, and made his first steps in wine with the 1998 harvest for Yves Cuilleron of Les Vins de Vienne, then pruning for François Villard and being a cellar rat in the cellar of Pierre Gaillard, the other members of Les Vins de Vienne. He remained there until 2003, when he moved to Jean-Michel Stéphan of Côte-Rôtie, followed by studies at Mâcon, and trips to New Zealand and Bordeaux.
From 2005 to 2007 he spent an illuminating time at the Domaine du Pradel of Olivier de Serres at Mirabel in the Ardèche, a 150 hectare property in polyculture – vines, cereal, livestock, dairy. This is an Institute for education in agriculture, the lands bought by Olivier’s namesake in 1558! Sylvain looked after the vines and vinified there for five years, widening his experience of varieties, there being 10 different ones.
His first vintages from 2010 were made in an old building of compacted earth, the press outside, with bottles stocked at Le Mazel, an arrangement that lasted around five years. In those days, he was working a rented 4 hectares organically, producing around 120 hectolitres. Since 2014, he has worked 6.5 hectares, another 2.5 hectares taken on from basalt soils at Sceautres. The vineyards are organic. In 2016 he built a new cellar. Owing to the shortfall in 2016 and 2017, when he was hit by hail, he created a small merchant business – négoce – in order to secure production, which included buying some harvest from Mazel.
Vinification is classic Vin Nature - wild yeasts, zero added SO2, plenty of carbonic maceration, vat or minimum 4 year old oak cask raising, no fining nor filtration. The wines are all Vin de France.
From 2018, Sylvain no longer shows the vintage on the bottles: “there’s too much paperwork involved.” The clue is the back label code which shows the year – L2018 etc. He is a real Questor, always seeking a solution to new challenges, and works with great flexibility, according to the conditions presented by each vintage. Thus, his most recent L’Equilibriste Chardonnay reads 16-17 on the label, since it’s 60% 2016 (very ripe, hail affected, 40% 2017, harvested early deliberately to provide acidity).
I rate these wines highly - they will appeal to Thinker drinkers who like provocation and the stimulus of thought from the glass. The Grenache from the basalt is called Neck, the 2018 an STGT **** upbeat wine containing iron fissure moments and serene layering. The 100% Merlot is called Suck a Rock, the **** 2016 having a naked, Burgundian take, full of interest. A blended wine is Les Grelots - 40% Grenache, 40% Merlot, 20% Syrah - like most of his reds fermented by macération carbonique, the Grenache vat raised, the Merlot-Syrah oak raised. The 2017 is a rather handsome **** wine.