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Rivers Marie: Back on Track in 2012

Rivers-Marie experienced two challenging vintages in 2010 and 2011 due to the marginal location of the winery’s vineyard sources. The lineup of wines in these cool vintages were good to very good, but not exceptional. In 2011, yields were so poor that all blocks of the Summa Vineyard were combined in one bottling. 2012 was a totally different story.

Grapes were harvested in 2012 between September 16 and October 20 at Brix ranging from 22.2º to 25.3º. The wines are concentrated but not heavy. Fruit flavors are still primary and winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown has said that he doesn’t expect much in the way of bottle complexity until at least 5 years after release.

Winemaking advances at Rivers-Marie have led to more refinement in the wines. 2012 saw the beginning of a series of trials of some whole cluster fermentation, attempting to broaden the mid palate of of wines from sites that were too overtly fruity upon release.

The winemaking regimen includes hand sorting and de-stemming into bin before transfer to open top tanks with as many intact whole berries as possible. In the case of small whole cluster adds, the fruit is hand sorted across a conveyor into an empty picking bin and dumped into open top fermenters before any de-stemmed fruit goes in. The grapes are cold soaked for 7 days and then cooling is turned off to ignite spontaneous fermentation. At pressing, free run and press juice are combined in tank and then sent to barrel where they undergo natural malolactic fermentation. The wines are racked clean and see their first sulfur addition after secondary fermentation is complete. The wines are bottled at the end of August, unfined and unfiltered.

In addition to the wines reviewed here, Rivers-Marie produced a 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (800 cases) comprised of Manzanita, Riddle and Lancel Creek vineyards and declassified Summa, Occidental Ridge and Silver Eagle barrels. No new oak was used in this wine with most of the structure coming from fruit tannin.

All wines show impeccable craftsmanship with a seamless character. The wines are still very young and will benefit from several more years in bottle. That is not to say you cannot drink them now, because they are very accessible. I tasted these 6 wines blind, because I have a close affinity for Summa Vineyard, and wanted to make sure I was not influenced by the labels. All the wines (except the Silver Eagle) were noticeably better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle.

2012 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 325 cases, $50. Clones 115, 667 and 777. The warmest site, yet also the most acidic. Small amount of whole cluster inclusion. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The expressive nose reaches more heights over time in the glass to reveal aromas of cherry, raspberry coulis, sandalwood and earth notes. Clean and silky on the palate with mid weight flavors of red cherries and berries, picking up weight over time in the glass. Well-crafted and very pleasant with a good cut of acidity and a charming cherry-infused finish. The most feminine wine in the lineup. Score: 93

2012 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 325 cases, $50. Clones 115, 667 and 777. The warmest site, yet also the most acidic. Small amount of whole cluster inclusion. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The expressive nose reaches more heights over time in the glass to reveal aromas of cherry, raspberry coulis, sandalwood and earth notes. Clean and silky on the palate with mid weight flavors of red cherries and berries, picking up weight over time in the glass. Well-crafted and very pleasant with a good cut of acidity and a charming cherry-infused finish. The most feminine wine in the lineup. Score: 93

2012 Rivers-Marie Gioia Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 212 cases, $50. Clone 115 and Pommard. 33% new oak. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. This wine comes at you with darker fruits and a more earthy pretense. Aromas of blackberries, black grape, dark chocolate, briar, oak spice and a hint of pine resin. Very accommodating flavors of dark red and purple fruits with an earthy underpinning. Very juicy with a lip-smacking finish. Deeper, denser and modestly tannic with oak in the background. This is the most brooding wine in the lineup at present. Score: 91

2012 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., 450 cases, $50. Vineyard dry farmed for the first time ever. · Moderately deep reddish purple color in the glass. A sexy nose of black cherry, spice, root beer, toasty oak and iron and is a chameleon in the glass. Middleweight, refined flavors of dark red cherries and berries that expand in the mouth and leave an impression on the glorious finish. Suave tannins, juicy acidity and a judicious touch of oak add charm to the experience. This beauty leaves a lingering message of spiced plum and raspberry on the finish. Score: 94

2012 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., 275 cases, $75. · Moderately dark, very pretty garnet color in the glass. The aromas pull you into the glass with a fascinating array of scents including dark berry coulis, forest floor, molasses and even pulled pork. A delicious onslaught of dark plum and black raspberry fruit engages the palate with hints of earthy goodness and exotic spices. This wine has an exceptional presence on the palate. Beautifully composed, with supple, balanced tannins and integrated acidity, finishing with length and aplomb. An argument for old vines. Wines like this make you want to go to church to give thanks. Score: 97

2012 Rivers-Marie Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 350 cases, $50. 10% whole cluster inclusion. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Interesting nose with an array of quirky aromas including citrus, cedary oak, stainless and jerky complimented the mixed dark fruit. Much more traditional on the palate with moderately rich flavors of juicy dark red cherries and berries that really grab on and hold through a lengthy finish that has considerable textural interest. Still tight, and the nose is a bit awkward, but this wine leaves you wanting more. Look to the future. Score: 90

2012 Rivers-Marie Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 200 cases, $50. Inaugural bottling from this vineyard. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. · The outlier in that it is clearly different from the other wines in the 2012 lineup. Moderately dark reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose has a vivid aroma of black raspberries and black cherries with oak-driven espresso highlights. This wine displays a riper profile, and has more concentrated sap, but is not jammy. The core of dark stone and berry fruits are nicely spiced and there is a hint of cola and sassafras peaking out. The tannins are silky and the finish is flush with black cherry goodness. The finish really stands out for its generosity and length. I love the sweet fruit and oak interplay in this wine. Score: 94

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