Rivers-Marie 2009 Pinot Noir
This year I tasted the Rivers-Marie 2009 Pinot Noir lineup three times: once with winemaker Thomas Rivers
Brown, once earlier this year, and again recently. Rivers-Marie has become one of the most sought after Pinot
Noirs made in California. Production is always small but was unusually limited in 2009 and the day the wines
were offered, all but the Sonoma Coast appellation Pinot Noir were sold out within a few hours. Little did most
eager buyers know that all the wine from the younger vines of Summa Vineyard was added to the Sonoma
Coast bottling and not bottled separately as a vineyard designate as is the usual rule (there was a Summa Old
Vines Pinot Noir in 2009). The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was a steal at $25.
Thomas Rivers Brown and spouse Genevieve Marie Welsh became the second owners of the Summa
Vineyard in September, 2010, when they bought the vineyard from the Zeller family who still farm this beautiful
site on Taylor Lane in the West Sonoma Coast. The original vines were planted in 1980 (1978 also sited) by
Taylor Lan. The Zellers will not disclose the clone(s) planted here, even to new owner Brown. In 1998,
interplanting and additional plantings on resistant rootstock added to the vineyard. The acquisition of this
vineyard has great meaning for the Browns, whose winery was launched in 2002 when Summa Vineyard
owner Scott Zeller offered Brown some fruit from his vineyard. Later, Zeller also was able to introduce Brown
to other nearby Occidental vineyard owners which led to further Rivers-Marie grape sources.
Summa Vineyard was the source of a vineyard designated bottling by Williams Selyem beginning in 1988, but
discontinued when the winery was sold in 1997. The 1988 Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir
inspired many California winemakers including Brown who has said, “I had never tasted anything like that
before from California.” For a few vintages in the late 1990s and 2000 Mueller Winery made wine from this
vineyard. Brogan Cellars produced wine from Summa Vineyard after the sale of Williams Selyem Winery.
Littorai has also been a buyer of Summa Vineyard fruit. With the sale of the vineyard, Brown will probably keep
all of the small production from Summa Vineyard for himself.
Brown felt that the 2009 Summa Vineyard young vines Pinot Noir lacked character and all of it was added to
the Sonoma Coast bottling as I noted above. The other 2009 wines are considered by Brown to be the best
since 2005 for his style of Pinot Noir. He says, “They are the most intensely focused, varietally pure set of
wines we have ever made. We’ve also never seen the individual bottlings differ from one another so greatly.
Though all the vineyards that contribute to the 2009s are within two miles of each other, each wine shows a
decidedly distinct personality." For me, the 2009 wines are not quite up to the very high standard I have come
to expect from Rivers-Marie, but that is only because recent vintages have been so spectacular. The wines
were tasted 6 months apart in bottle and my impressions were consistent.
Newer vineyard sources are becoming available to Brown including Lancel Creek Vineyard and UV Vineyard,
both farmed by Ulises Valdez, Silver Eagle Vineyard, and all the planted Chardonnay in the B.A.Thieriot
Vineyard. As a result, more wine will become available in 2010 with new vineyard designates and more
Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir although the established single vineyard bottlings remain about the same ( a total of
about 1,800 cases for the vintage). Production will never be large, however, as this is simply a personal project
for Thomas and Genevieve. Brown’s other job keeps him busy enough, as he is making wine for multiple other
wineries from his base at the Outpost Winery in Angwin (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon). The fact that he is
famous for so many high scoring Cabernets, wine lovers expect his Pinot Noirs to be styled in the same
fashion. That is simply not the case and the Rivers-Marie Pinot Noirs display plenty of charm and elegance
typical of wines made from this grape.
2009 Rivers-Marie Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 279 cases, $25. A
12 barrel blend composed roughly of 50% Summa Vineyard (declassified), 25%
Willow Creek Vineyard and 25% Lancel Creek Vineyard. Aged in 33% new
French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of ripe
strawberries, dried rose petals and smoky oak. Redder fruits are featured in a
slightly terse, almost steely wine with supple tannins, finishing with an acidic
tang of grapefruit peel. An excellent wine for the dinner table. Good.
2009 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 133 cases, $45. Aged in 33% new French oak barrels.The grape
berries were exceptionally small in 2009, composed of only skin and seed.
resulting juice was dark purple. Dark black plum color in the glass. Aromas of
blackberries, dark stone fruits, oak spice and slight reduction. Richly fruited with
intense flavors of grilled black fruits, cassis and an underlying savory note.
Bright acidity, soft tannins and a smooth mouth feel add to the appeal. This Pinot
has as enough acidity to balance out the bold fruit. Very good.
2009 Rivers-Marie Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 86 cases, $45. Aged in
50% new French oak barrels. Made with reduction so locked down since bottling.
color in the glass. Reduction upon opening with a heavy scent of oak-derived coffee. Medium-weighted
flavors of black cherries and dark red berries with smoky oak and coffee notes in the background. Impressive
elegance and softness with a bright lift of acidity on the finish. Decanting recommended. Good (+).
2009 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., 106 cases, $60. Aged
in 80% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. An enticing and
aromatically exotic nose featuring mixed berries and black cherries with a hint of toasty oak. Clearly
the most intoxicating perfume in the lineup. Smooth and polished on the palate with ripe flavors of red
plums and cranberries with an underpinning of savory herbs and oak. Similar to the Sonoma Coast
bottling in its flavor profile, but with more body, flavor, mid-palate impression and nuance. A delicious
wine that has the balance to age extremely well. There is really nothing else quite like a Pinot Noir
from these old vines in the Summa Vineyard.
This summer, Rivers-Marie is offering the first ever releases of single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons along with
the traditional Napa Valley blend. The two new wines are from Roberto Corona Vineyard up Oakville Grade
and Panek Vineyard in St. Helena. Each bottling is less than 150 cases. A Chardonnay from B.A. Thieriot
Vineyard is also offered in 2009 (previously reviewed). Visit www.riversmarie.com to join the mailing list. The
winery is not open to the public.