Gerald Oustric is one of a distinct group of winemakers that experienced a shared epiphany after meeting Marcel Lapierre during the 80s. At the time he was working the family vineyards in Valvignères, a village in the southern half of the Ardèche, alongside his father. All the resulting fruit was sold to the local co-operative. It was after this fateful meeting with Lapierre that Gerald realised there was another way to tend the vines and turn the resulting grapes into wine, and by the late 90s he had pulled out of the co-op, converted the domaine to organic and started to realise his vision of making wine with no additions at all. He joined forces with his sister Jocelyne, and Le Mazel was born. Over 20 years later they now farm 19 hectares, with some of it given over to fruit that is then sold négociant, or vines that are leased to friends and emergent winemakers such as Anders Frederik Steen and Sylvain Bock, whom Gerald and Jocelyne have enjoyed a collaborative working relationship with since they started to make wine in the area. Le Mazel wines are a literal translation of the mistral-swept valley in which the vines sit over clay and limestone soils. They also embrace the vintage variations that can occur when making wine in this way rather than fighting against them; the resulting wines are vital, nourishing and a gift to any table they land on.
We were lucky enough to get access to some Mazel back-vintages when we received our last shipment. Larmandes is 100% Syrah that harks back to the days when Gerald was still using barrels to age the wine - this one sees a couple of months in old oak, something that he has now phased out completely. We were stunned with the freshness and poise this wine still held, even 13 years after the harvest and 11 years in the bottle. The colour of the wine has developed those tawny hues that come with age, and there are those deep notes of sweet leather spice that show how much this wine has evolved with time. But the acidity is still right up there and serves as proof that the idea of natural not being age-worthy is a total misconception.