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Rivers-Marie: Show Stopper Pinot Noir

Today was remarkable and one that I will remember a long time. I was writing this issue of the PinotFile in the morning and took a break to taste Pinot Noir. The lineup included the 2007 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noirs from the Sonoma Coast. As I began to taste, I realized I was experiencing some very special wines. I sat quietly for many minutes, stunned by the wines in front of me, desperately thinking about who I could share these wines with. I called in my son, Dane, who is off to the Russian River Valley soon to work as a harvest intern and had him taste the wines. His palate is inexperienced and more beer oriented but the wines evoked a big smile from him. I called Jay Selman, a drinking buddy from Grape Radio, and he dropped everything he was doing and came to the house. Shortly thereafter my wife came home and we all sat around the kitchen table tasting these unbelievable Pinot Noirs. Jay is a hard guy to impress but he was mesmerized, draining all five glasses I had poured for him to taste. My wife loves wine but never makes too many comments. This day she raved about the wines. We passed most of the afternoon, sipping Rivers-Marie Pinots, and talking about everything from politics to barbecue. It was one of those magical days where wine was the focus that brought good friends and family together to celebrate their good fortune. To Thomas Brown, winemaker for Rivers-Marie, we will be forever grateful.

Thomas Rivers Brown and his wife Genevieve Marie Walsh have quietly developed one of California’s most cherished Pinot Noir labels. When Brown arrived in California in 1996 from college, he wanted to get into the wine business, but had no leads or connections. He began knocking on doors and was finally hired by Aaron Jordan at Turley. This was to become a fortuitous hire when in 1999 Jordan introduced Brown to Scott and Joan Zeller, the owners of the 6-acre Summa Vineyard that is located in the Occidental region of the true Sonoma Coast. Early on (2002 was the first Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir release), the Summa Vineyard was the only source of Pinot Noir for Brown, but eventually led to other grape acquisitions in the area.

Today, Rivers-Marie produces very small lots of Pinot Noir from three vineyard sources in the true Sonoma Coast, specifically the Occidental-Freestone area. Besides Summa Vineyard, grapes are sourced from the Occidental Ridge Vineyard owned by Richard and Darla Radcliffe which debuted in 2005, and the Willow Creek Vineyard owned by Raleigh and Patricia Wilson-Juckett, which debuted in 2006. Total production for Rivers- Marie in 2007 was 650 cases and in 2008 1,200 cases. It is no wonder that here are 4,000 people on the waiting list hopelessly biding their time for a spot on the mailing list. Managing allocations is more difficult for Brown than crafting the wines!

The Rivers-Marie 2007 Pinot Noirs were previously reviewed in July 2008 when they were quite young just before bottling (see wine reviews under Rivers-Marie).

2007 Rivers-Marie Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 225 cases, $25. Sourced from clone 667 from Occidental Ridge, the youngest block of Summa Vineyard and three barrels of Willow Creek Vineyard that didn’t make the vineyard cut. Aged in 25% new French oak. · Very pretty aromas of red and black cherries, wildflowers and cardamon spice. Tasty potpourri of layered fruits including black cherries, black raspberries, plums and pomegranate with hints of oak and earth. A lift of acidity on the moderately persistent finish makes for easy drinkability. A good wine in its own right that would compete with many wines priced significantly higher, but outclassed by the other wines in the Rivers-Marie lineup. Drinkable now.

2007 Rivers-Marie Willow Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 84 cases, $40. From a 2- acre vineyard planted to Dijon clone 777. Aged in 33% new French oak. · Deep reddish-purple color. Very attractive scents of black fruits, sandalwood and spices. A juicy Pinot Noir with vivid, fresh black cherry, cranberry and raspberry fruits. Rich but not cloying with a smooth texture, a good acid spine and soft tannins. Still seems a bit withdrawn and will benefit from decanting if drunk now.

2007 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 180 cases, $45. Clones 115 and 777. Aged in 40% new French oak. · Complex aromatic profile of dark stone fruits, crushed berries, sage, green garden and smoke. Rich and perfectly ripe black raspberry fruit with an underpinning of earth, oak and orange peel. Thick and robust, yet perfectly balanced with complimentary tannins and acidity. The aromatic and fruity finish is haunting. A thoroughbred that challenges the Summa Old Vines for superiority.

2007 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.2% alc., 120 cases, $45. Aged in 60% new French oak. · A wowzer nose featuring flamboyant aromas of cherries and berries enhanced with subtle smoky oak. Beautiful core of cherry and berry fruits with hints of pine tar, earth and cola. Packed with flavor yet nimble and harmonious. Smooth in texture with a hint of citric peel on the pleasing finish. Accessible now but will reward patience. A sixty-minute wine: rock ‘em, roll ‘em, all night long.

2007 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., 100 cases, $60. Aged in 100% new French oak. · The nose is similar to the regular Summa bottling but with a magical and penetrating Asian spice scent that smells like the most erotic pheromone in the world. Unbelievably delicious sappy cherry and berry fruit with wisps of sassafras, cola, and exotic spices. The velvety texture is enough to bring you to your knees. An incredible wine that defies adequate description. Suffice it to say that this is a winegasm - one of those Pinot Noirs with such a powerful charisma, that it drives men to do practically anything to get another bottle.

Rivers-Marie has not achieved the cult status accorded to California labels like Littorai, Marcassin, Kistler, Kosta Browne and Sea Smoke, but no one in California is making more striking, more perfectly balanced and age worthy Pinot Noirs than Rivers-Marie. Unfortunately, because of the tiny production, few get the opportunity to taste the Rivers-Marie Pinot Noirs. A shame really, for they represent the incredible potential that California, and in particular, the Sonoma Coast, has for Pinot Noir. Trade in your BMW, cancel your season subscription to the symphony, cancel your wife’s Nordstrom credit card, give up your country club membership and buy some Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir. The prices on the secondary market are steep (try for sources), but you will never regret the investment.

Rivers-Marie Pinot Noirs are sold through an allocated mailing list with a large list of wine lovers eager to join the mailing list. Your best bet is to search the secondary market. Because of the artisan nature of the winery, production will never be large enough to satisfy the eager audience. 707-225-7122. The website is

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