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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. · The 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. · Moderate reddish-purple 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 to join the mailing list. The winery is not open to the public.

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