Gerald Oustric of Domaine Le Mazel (photo credit)
“Natural wines were wild then,” said Byron Bates of Goatboy Selections. “The highs were high, but there wasn’t much consistency.” As the wine director at Amy Sacco’s Bette, Bates assembled a list of natural wines that led Eric Asimov to name it one of his three most favorite restaurants in the city. “We got a big following world wide,” he added. “We were serving some really funky stuff.” Once Bette closed in 2008, Bates went on to later develop a sans soufre wine list at Isa in Williamsburg. “The food coming out of the kitchen was so spectacular, I wanted to do something personal without making it about me, so I experimented with unsulfured wines and found that they matched perfectly.” Attracted to winemakers who are dogmatic about not using sulfur, Byron added, “If they’re fanatic about not using sulfur, they must be fanatic about the wines themselves. This was years after Bette. Now the [natural] wines are stable, clean and focused.”
Nearly 20 years after he first ‘discovered’ natural wines, while working under Jonathon Nossiter as a part of the original team at Balthazar, Bates has decided to put his two decades of promoting natural wines into the launching of Goatboy Selections. Working in conjunction with T. Edward Wines, Goatboy is born from the 1990’s, when natural wines “were a cultural statement,” said Bates. “The late 90’s was when people were getting on [wine] mailing lists. [Robert] Parker was at his prime, but these were wines that didn’t sing to us.” Working with a direct partner in Paris, who helps source the wines while maintaining the European side of their importing business, Byron aims to develop a book of vins naturel that mirrors the wine culture in France. “On trips to Paris,” he said, “I experienced casual wine drinking as opposed to fine wine drinking. The mid-2000’s saw a surge of natural wines in Paris and the wines were extraordinary. The winemakers were rock stars and it was less about money and more about passion. Their hands were dirty.” Now, he added, “The movement has grown so much, that there’s new people popping up,” supplying perfect fodder for the small book that he and his partner plan to curate over time.
Interested in glou glou wines, or “wines that you throw back like beer”, Bates plans to keep Goatboy Selections small and intimate. “There is no need to fill gaps with cheap wines in order to survive,” he said. “I can work with small producers that I really like. I can take the cool stuff.” When at Bette, Byron said, “I served a sparkling rosé of Carignan from Le Mazel. It was such a head scratching wine. It was a great way to introduce people to the wines.” And so it’s most befitting that Le Mazel is the cornerstone of Goatboy’s launch. “Mazel was the first to do natural wines in Ardeche, when it started moving out of Beaujolais,” he said. And “Ardeche was a pocket where a lot happened. It has a similar climate to northern Rhone, a Mediterranean and continental climate that can grow varietals that do well in both climates.” As “one of the original superstars of the first wave of natural wines, along with [Olivier] Cousin and [Thierry] Puzalat,” Gerald Oustric of Domaine Le Mazel, “in the 2000’s was on all the lists,” said Bates. “And when we went to [Sylvain] Bock, he told us that Mazel was available. It’s an honor to have him. There’s always a buzz in Paris when Oustric is around.”
Both from Ardeche, Le Mazel and Sylvain Bock are the first to arrive via the Goatboy Selections book. “I drank his wines in Paris,” said Bates of Bock, whose wines are appearing for the first time in the U.S. After working with Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard and Francois Villard in northern Rhone, Bock obtained a degree in Viticulture and Oenology in Mâcon in 2001 then interned at Chateau des Rontets, an organic producer in Fuisse. Moving on to work organic vines with J. M. Stephan in Cote Rotie, and then in the vineyards and cellar with Mazel, Bock decided to launch his own label in 2010. “He works with Merlot and Chardonnay in different ways,” said Byron, “especially the Chard, which he fermented for three years on lees. He lets his shit go wild. Mazel is more of a traditional winemaker who uses no sulfur.”
In 1984, Gerald Oustric started working the vineyards with his father, before meeting Jacques Neauport (who with Jules Chauvet was a pioneer of natural wines) and Marcel Lapierre in 1986. Later working with Lapierre, Chauvet and Jean Foillard, Oustric spent the next ten years coming to realize that he desired to make natural wines. In 1997, he quit the co-op that had been receiving his grandfather’s fruit since 1919 and started La Mazel with his sister Jocelyne. Foregoing the use of SO2 since 1998, Oustric employs only CO2 and much like Bock, favors carbonic maceration for his red wines.
“Wabi-sabi,” said Byron, “the beauty of imperfection. You need that touch of imperfection to relate to the wine.” And while wines from a number of other producers will be released this coming January, Goatboy will remain small. “We will let the book take its lead from our vignerons. It’s like a good band in the recording studio. I want them to guide what they want to release.”
For selections from Domaine Le Mazel, read here...
For selections from Sylvain Bock, read here...