“The first time I tried Hervé Souhaut’s Syrah. It was one of my many awakenings to natural wine, and I remember grinning ear to ear and saying, ‘What is it that I am feeling/tasting/experiencing? Why am I so happy?!’” — Jenny Lefcourt, Importer

Though it’s a half-hour drive from St.-Jean de Muzols to Northern Ardèche, the craggy landscape makes Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet feel like it’s on the outskirts of Saint-Joseph, and the wines take on a similar lone-wolf character. Naturalist icon, Hervé Souhaut, was influenced early on by friends Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais and Philippe Pacalet in Burgundy. He’s become a crowd favorite for his approachable, idiosyncratic Northern Rhône Syrah and Gamay.

Today, I'm happy to offer the 2019 Hervé Souhaut Syrah and La Souteronne Gamay, with rare back-vintages to 2005.

In the early 90s, Hervé and his wife, Béatrice, inherited a 16th-century fortified farmhouse surrounded by old-vine Rhône varieties and Gamay. Hervé turned to his friends Lapierre and Pacalet for guidance and adopted their practices; he farms according to organic and biodynamic principles and, in the cellar, works entirely with whole clusters, semi-carbonic maceration, and minimal sulfur. He delicately extracts the grapes to make wines with subtlety and finesse. 

In Ardèche, La Souteronne Gamay comes from 60-to-80-year-old vines, and "Syrah" taps vines 10-to-100-yrs-old. The schist of Hervé's home is unlike anything in Saint-Joseph, with its sand-like granular texture falling through your hands. And, the Saint Epine Syrah comes from 100-plus-year-old vines in St.-Jean de Muzols.

All of the reds undergo long macerations at low temperatures. They're then fermented in wooden tanks and aged in old oak casks on fine lees for a minimum of eight months. Bottled with no filtration and 25ppm of sulphur.

What Hervé produces is still unashamedly Syrah, but it's shed some of its uptight inhibition. The 2019 Syrah is soft and generous, with varied hues of red fruit that interplay with cowhide, red dust, and velvety tannins. Sainte Epine is a bit more serious, though still lively as ever, and it's known for its bluer, brambly fruit, violet tones, and mineral streak. The region’s cool, rainy climate ensures their freshness over time; with some age, the grip and snap of acidity is toned down, and the fruit melds with more earth and funk.

“There’s Gamay in the Rhône?” I asked my colleague, Marc, when he poured the 2019 La Souteronne. “Beaujolais isn’t too far,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He’s right. Actually, it’s a mere 60 km from Beaujolais to the French capital of Syrah. Wine writer Jon Bonné wrote that La Souteronne “remains a benchmark for not-Beaujolais Gamay,” just with an inflection of Rhône. The 2019 French Gamays I’ve had thus far have collectively shown a calm and collected gracefulness, and La Souteronne is no different.