Hervé Souhaut shaped the Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in 1993….he was studying biology in Lyon, where he met his wife Beatrice whose family owned a farm and vineyards near Arlebosc in the Ardeche….fast forward to today, and Hervé is one of the most respected natural winemakers in France.
Hervé works the land organically with the aim of bringing the old vines of the Arlebosc back to their past glories….in the past there were 100ha under vine in the region, nowadays there is less than 10…..it’s a region that is out of favour but the wines of the Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet are a beacon bringing the focus back to the Ardeche and that is fantastic news….both for the winemaker and those of us at the other end of the bottle.
We’ll focus on Hervé’s wines from the Ardeche…..Rousanne, Viognier, Gamay & Syrah in the near future but the wine in question here is a fantastic 2009 from Saint Joseph that impressed over home made pizzas with friends a couple of days ago.
Hervé spent time working with Dard et Ribo in the early nineties and it is evident that they provided inspiration both in the vineyard and cellar. The winery is based at Arlebosc in the Ardeche and houses an old press that used to belong to the famous Jules Chauvet, a mentor and inspiration for many a natural winemaker.
Granite is the prevailing theme throughout the appellation of St-Joseph with patches of sand, clay and alluvial stones…..granitic terroirs impart structure, minerallity and a distinct acid buzz to the wines enhancing the wines drive, precision & lifespan in the cellar.
Hervé works 1.1 hectares in St-Joseph…..0.4 hectares at Pitrou just above the Dard et Ribo plot but the vineyard we must focus on here is his 0.7ha of Syrah planted around 1900 on Ste-Epine. This vineyard is the most celebrated climat in the village of St-Jean-de-Muzols located in the the valley just North of Tournon in the heart of the “old” Saint-Joseph. This little valley is tucked away, sheltered from the North winds with ideal aspects to provide perfect ripening for the fruit. Ste-Epine sits at around 200m, South-facing on a granite hillside….it’s proximity to the hill of Hermitage is completed here with Ste-Epine sharing the same geological makeup as the famous rockstar vineyard of Hermitage……Les Bressards.
In the celler Hervé employs a whole bunch fermentation utilising natural yeasts with only a dab of sulphur at bottling. Vinification can last up to four weeks and the fact that the Ardeche winery sits at around 400m providing natural cooling during the maceration…..ticking along at 25 to 26 degrees C is an added bonus. The wine is aged for seven months in four-to-five year old casks before bottling without fining or filtration.
A sign that he was rattling the cage came in 2002 when his St-Joseph was deemed too volatile and unfit for bottling under the appellation, demoted to vin de pays status….subsequent analysis showed that the volatility was within the allowed limits and it appears that players within the region may have been knocking him back a rung……such is the appellation politics in France.
The colour is a deep, slightly cloudy red/purple in the glass. The wines aromas are opulant and as pure as can be…..fragrant and perfumed with heady black cherry and plum fruits underscored by lifted violets, grilled meats, minerals, earth, olive tapenade, licorice, herbs and spice. For all its juicy concentration and fragrant purity there is a serious, faintly sullen edge to the aromatics.
In the mouth the wine is medium-bodied…..with a silken Pinot-like presence. Again purity is the leitmotif …..juicy black fruits….cherry, plum and blackberry set upon a granitic canvas with flashes for perfumed violet, spice, herbs and licorice with earthen and roasted, meaty nuances. The tannins are ripe, fine-grained and structured, and the wine finishes satisfyingly long with a seam of mineral-laden acidity and a epic “pourmeanotherglass”-ness. Super drinking!