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Sips of California Pinot Noir: Recently Sampled Wines

2011 Birichino Saint Georges Central Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $18.99, screwcap. Pronounced “biri-kino,” and meaning naughty or mischievous in Italian. This winery was founded in 2008 by Bonny Doon alumni Alex Krause and John Locke. Ambient yeast, a dollop of whole cluster, elevage in neutral barrels and unfiltered. Sourced from a vineyard just below the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains. · Medium reddish-purple robe in the glass. The nose is rich with aromas of well-spiced berries and cherries. Elegant, but flavorful, offering a mix of fruits including dark cherries, purple grapes, and raspberries. Supple tannins and a dry, but shallow finish. Nicely crafted and easy to like, but lacks the complexity that oak brings to the mix. Still, I would gladly drink this any day with dinner. Good (+).

2011 Carmel Road Monterey Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.67, TA 0.56, 27,000 cases, $22. Panorama, Clark and Mission Peak vineyards certified sustainable by SIP since 2008. Clones 667, 777, 115, 2A and 23. Aged 9 months in 96% French oak (16% new) and 4% American oak (3% new). · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Extremely appealing aromas of black cherries, black raspberries, spice and fresh rose petal holding up over time in the glass. Tasty mid-weight core of dark red cherry and berry flavors with the slightest toasty oak in the background. Very easy to like with a sense of plushness on the palate and admirable balance. Unbelievable quality considering the huge production. Widely available. Very good.

2010 Cerridwen Van der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., 84 cases, $54. Inaugural bottling. This vineyard sits at 1400 feet elevation. Soils are loam with volcanic and decomposed river bed components. Yields 1.5 to 2.0 tons per acre. Grapes were hand de-stemmed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Clones 828 and 23. Aged 16 months in 100% French oak barrels with lees stirring. Unfined and unfiltered. Aged 12 months before release. Winemaker Deborah Bennett interned with winemaker Greg La Follette and worked a harvest in New Zealand before crafting her first wine. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Slight reduction upon opening blows off. Aromas of fresh, hi-tone cherries and cherry pit leading to lighter-weight flavors of cherries, raspberries, cranberries and a slight pharmaceutical note, offering a backbone of dusty, dry mountain tannins, finishing very dry with a kiss of cherry. Tasted two bottles. Good.


Chasseur - Hunter Wine Cellars Proprietor and winemaker Bill Hunter produces about 2,700 cases of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay and Vin Gris from west Sonoma County vineyards at a garagiste winery in Sebastopol in the retired Vacu-Dry apple processing plant on Gravenstein Highway. The small size allows Hunter complete control over the winemaking process. Chasseur wines are highly allocated and sold almost exclusively through a mailing list. Five vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs were produced in 2010 and one Russian River Valley appellation Pinot Noir. The vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs are very impressive considering the challenges of the 2010 vintage. The wines are consistently fine and in this cooler vintage show more differences in the terroir from the different vineyard sites. Highly recommended.

2010 Chasseur Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.61, 393 cases, $40. Unfined and unfiltered. Sourced from Holder, Ferguson and Sylvia’s vineyards. Aged 10 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Hi-tone aromas of fresh cherry pie glaze. Middleweight flavors of black cherries, cola, and subtle oak, noticeable on the attack and carrying over to the finish. Good concentration without weight. A solid appellation wine. Good.

2010 Chasseur Blank Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.59, 118 cases, $60. Blank Road Vineyard is a collaboration between William Hunter and Kenneth Goodin. Clones 115 and 777.Aged 10 months in 67% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. More rugged, with darker fruits and more tannin. Aromas of blackberries and wooded forest. Flavors of black plum, black currant and tar with a good cut of acidity on the finish. Softly textured and well-crafted, but doesn’t quite deliver the flavor of other wines in the 2010 Chasseur lineup. Good (+).

2010 Chasseur Freestone Station Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.68, TA 0.71, 117 cases, $60. A collaboration between William Hunter and the Cleary & Dutton familes of Freestone Station Vineyard. Clones 114, 115 and 667. Aged 10 months in 67% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Fruit veers to the ripe side but never reaches over ripeness. Aromas of black cherries, forest floor, wet stones and anise. Mid weight flavors of dark red cherries and berries with accents of cherry cola, sassafras and cardamom spice. On the delicate side and light on its feet with admirable balance, picking up intensity and interest over time in the glass. A tad shallow on the finish. Very good.

2010 Chasseur Holder Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.59, 77 cases, $60. A collaboration between William Hunter and the Holder family of Holder Vineyard. Aged 10 months in 67% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Nicely perfumed with bright aromas of dark red and black cherries and berries with a hint of oak spice. Tasty essence of darker cherries and purple berries with a dash of sassafras and cola. Soft in the mouth and very enjoyable with mild, dry tannins, well integrated oak, and some finishing length. Very good.

2010 Chasseur Sexton Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.57, 100 cases, $60. A collaboration between William Hunter and Jim Pratt from Cornerstone Vineyard on Sexton Road. Dijon clones 113, 114 and 115. Aged 10 months in 67% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The intoxicating nose really draws you into the glass with explosive aromas of Bing cherries and exotic spices. Delicious cherry essence with riffs of cola and spice. Ethereal, seamless and a wine that makes you sit up and take notice. Wow! The pick of the litter.

2010 Chasseur Umino Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., ph 3.66, TA 0.61, 266 cases, $60. A collaboration between William Hunter and Davic Umino of Umino Vineyard. Aged 10 months in 67% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. The scents of black cherries and dusty oak jump out of the glass. Very soft and smooth on the palate with a deep cherry flavor. A polished wine that is very Russian River Valley in character but with the typical lush fruit reigned in a bit for more charm. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was still exceptional. Beautifully crafted and one special wine.

2011 dept. C Chileno Valley Vineyard Marin County Pinot Noir

12.8% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.56, $42. Clone 115. 100% de-stemmed, aged 11 months in 25% new French oak barrels. · Light reddish-purple color in the glass. Delicate aromas of red cherries, allspice and rose petals. Very light and demure cherry flavor with a trace of tarry oak and a green thread running through. Very soft tannins. Decent.

2011 dept. C Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.60, $30. From the Paraiso Estate, clones 115 and 777. 100% de-stemmed, inoculated with RC 212 and Assmanhausen yeasts. Aged 11 months in 15% new French oak barrels before a single racking before bottling. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. First bottle showed aromas of fermented fruit and overripe melon (acetaldehyde). Decent core of dark red and black fruits, slightly sweet and candied in character, backed by caramelized oak, mild tannins and citrusy acidity. A flawed wine. Second bottle showed aromas of blackberries, plum and apple core (a hint of acetaldehyde). The dark fruit core was rich and very soft in the mouth and more appealing. Easy to drink with supple tannins and complimentary oak in the background. Very slight fault, but decent.

2011 Drew Morning Dew Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

12.6% alc., $50. 50% whole cluster. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Very shy fruit on the nose with a forest floor, bell pepper aroma. Bright red fruits are featured with excellent verve due to bright acidity and mild tannins. Darker berries, cherries and plum flavors are satisfying, complimented by a pleasing mouthfeel. Showing some whole clusterdriven savoriness and greenness now. Relatively closed and not at all like the stunning example I sampled from barrel last summer and more recently at In Pursuit of Balance. I would check back with this wine in 6 to 12 months. Withhold judgement.

2011 Failla Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $46. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of red cherries and berries, oak, stem and balsam. Mid-weight flavors of red cherries with a savory herb and smoky oak accent in the background. Soft in the mouth with gentle tannins and bright acidity. Well-crafted, but doesn’t have the ripeness and stuffing I have come to expect from this stellar vineyard. I do like it for its femininity. Good.

2011 Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $35. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Well-perfumed with fresh berry jam and spice. Middleweight flavors of black cherries and black raspberries which show good ripeness, backed by suave tannins and zingy acidity. The finish comes up a bit short. Not extraordinary, but a solid wine for the dinner table. Good.

2010 Fort Ross Fort Ross Vineyard Sea Slopes Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $36. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 24% new and 76% neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Upfront aromas of plum and wild berry fruits, sandalwood, spice, and moss. Tasty core of dark red stone fruits and berries with an underlying savory herb and dried flower note, wrapped in muscular, sinewy tannins. Lightest in concentration of the three Fort Ross 2009 Pinot Noirs tasted here but with an appealing dry, black cherry-driven finish. Good.

2009 Fort Ross Fort Ross Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.63, 1,438 cases, $42. Dijon 115, 777, Pommard and heritage selections of Calera and Swan. 100% de-stemmed, aged in French oak barrels. Aged 10 months in 30% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, sassafras, soy sauce, seaweed and vanillin oak. Relatively full-bodied flavors of dark cherries and raspberries, root beer, brown spice and subtle oak. This wine has a definite minerality to it with an earthy, salty, soil-bound quality. A long finish adds to the appeal. Very good.

2009 Fort Ross Fort Ross Vineyard Reserve Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.55, 303 cases, $65. A barrel selection. 100% de-stemmed. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Dark and inky in the glass. Very aromatic with scents of blackberry jam, plum pudding, dark red rose petals and seaweed. Compared with the regular Fort Ross Vineyard bottling, this wine has more concentration, more sweetness, more tannin, and more length on the finish. Dark-fruited with subtle spice, the sheer fruit volume tunes out most of the minerality. About as big as Pinot Noir gets without falling into the realm of Syrah. Bigger is not usually better for me, but to its credit, this wine is not jammy. Good (+).

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Napa Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 26,300 cases, $35. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of pine-scented oak, black cherries, ollaliberries and warm biscuit. Tasty with impressive fruit presence in a mid weight style featuring flavors of black cherries and black raspberries with a touch of spice and oak. Soft and smooth on the palate with some finishing persistence. Good (+).

2010 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.65, 6,842 cases, $42. Released December 2012. Sourced from multiple premium vineyards including Toboni, Hallberg, Floodgate and Rochioli. 100% de-stemmed, aged 8 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · The nose is quite charming, particularly for those who cherish Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Aromas of Bing and Maraschino cherries, spice and brioche, with a slight confected tone. Mid-weight cherry core with a subtle oak riff and a crisp, citrus-driven finish. Elegant and pleasant with a refreshing tone. Good.


Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards The name of this winery, previously Freestone Vineyards, has been changed beginning with the 2009 vintage to more prominently feature the owner’s name and heritage. Winemaker Theresa Heredia (now at Gary Farrell Winery & Vineyards) told me the following about the 2010 wines she crafted at Freestone Vineyards. “We went to the extreme in this vintage to eliminate all the raisins and mildew, both in the vineyard and on the sorting table. We only processed one 4.5 to 5 ton tank per day as compared to an average of about 15 to 20 tons per day in a larger crop year like 2008. The sorting was extremely slow in 2010 and we lost about 25% to 30% of the Pinot Noir after sorting was complete.” She recalls that the Pinot Noirs were 60% to 75% whole cluster.

2010 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.60, 2,650 cases, $55. 50% Pastorale Vineyard and 50% Quarter Moon Vineyard. Clones 828, 459, 777, 667, 115, 113, Pommard and several heirloom selections including Calera, Swan, and Mt. Eden. Aged in 50% new and 50% two to three-year-old French oak barrels, light to medium toast. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas really draw you into the glass offering scents of black cherries, black raspberries, violets, exotic spices and a hint of stem in a good way. The flavors echo the nose with a complimentary touch of tobacco-laced oak. Full-bodied and intense, soft in the mouth, finishing with a grainy earthiness. Impressive concentration for this vintage. Highly approachable now. Much more interest than so many Dijon clone destemmed Pinots. Very good (+).

2010 Joseph Phelps Quarter Moon Vineyard Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.61, 1,130 cases, $75. 41-acre vineyard five miles from the Pacific coast at 500 feet elevation on a well-drained, steep hillside. Aged in 67% new and 33% two to three-year-old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. An ooh la la nose developing slowly over time revealing itself seductively. Aromas of cherries, Asian 5-spice and hibiscus. Rich and luscious dark red fruits are complimented by Asian 5-spice, backed by fine-grain, velvety tannins, and elevated with good acidity. Unbelievably long, focused and electric grand cru finish. Like the Energizer bunny, it keeps going and going.

2010 Joseph Phelps Pastorale Vineyard Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.60, 550 cases, $75. This 34.5-acre vineyard surrounds the Freestone winery facility and is 8 miles from the Pacific coast. Aged in 70% new and 30% two and three-year- old French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark cherries and blackberries with subtle spice and oak highlights. Impressive concentration without weight, offering earthbound flavors of dark red and black fruits including purple grapes with a hint of spice and tobacco-laced oak. Impeccable balance and a finish that hangs on tenaciously. The next day when sampled from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine had blossomed further, becoming an “Oh my God” wine.

2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards Cuvée de Trois Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $29. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Slit reduction upon opening. Aromas of black cherry, oak cask, black tea leaf and stem with more fruit showing up over time. Juicy flavors of black cherries and dark berries that go down easy. A little earthy with a hint of citrus in the background. The flavor picks up intensity and interest over time in the glass. Good.

2010 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 310 cases, $55. · Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Aromas of dark cherries, wooded forest and rose petals. Slightly lighter in this vintage but very flavorful featuring moderately full-bodied black cherry and plum fruits with signature spice. Restrained but evident tannins, a polished texture, and an exemplary finish. A little heat peaks out at the back end. Very good.

2011 La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.61, TA 0.56, RS 0.08%, 4,900 cases, $40. Focus on Laughlin and Piner Estate vineyards but grapes are sourced from diverse regions of the Russian River Valley including Green Valley, the Santa Rosa bench and the hills of Occidental. Clones are Pommard, 23, 777, 115, 667, 828, 2A and Martini. 100% de-stemmed, 70% whole berries, aged 10 months in 31% new French oak barrels. Racked once at blending before bottling. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Very fragrant with an enticing perfume of black cherries, black berries and a hint of cardamom spice maintaining an intensity over time in the glass. Full-bodied and lush, with a delicious core of black cherry and cola flavor with a hint of toasty oak adding interest. Nicely balanced tannins, excellent acidity and some finishing length. One of the better Russian River Valley appellation wines tasted from this vintage. Very good.


Longoria Rick Longoria has been making wine in Santa Barbara County since the Ice Age, no make that 1982. His wines are dependable and reasonably priced. The estate Fe Ciega Vineyard in 2010 and 2011 was especially memorable.

2011 Longoria Lovely Rita Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., pH 3.24, TA 0.69, 321 cases, $32. 100% de-stemmed, aged in 20% new French oak barrels. Unfined, lightly filtered. · Medium reddishpurple color in the glass. Wonderfully perfumed with aromas of black raspberries, black cherries and spice. Very tasty with flavors of red plum, pomegranate and black cherry with a hint of Asian 5-spice. Easy to drink with mild, dry tannins and bright acidity. A slight bit shallow in the mid palate attack and finish, but I would be happy to drink this wine anytime with a casual dinner. Good.

2011 Longoria La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., 50 cases, $50. Release May 2013. First vintage from this vineyard. Located directly across the valley from the Longoria estate Fe Ciega Vineyard. Dijon 777. 100% de-stemmed, aged 14 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddishpurple color in the glass. Shy fruit on the nose with primarily aromas of forest floor, tarry oak and cigar. Darker berry flavors are featured with hints of tar, earth, animale and tobacco, finishing with a plethora of fruit and length. Good.

2011 Longoria Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., 73 cases, $45. Release May 2013. Rick has been producing this wine from the same eight rows in Block N since 1993. Martini clone. Aged 14 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, wood shop and pine. Very flavorful on the palate with tastes of dark red berries and cherries underlain with dried herbs and oak. A charming wine that has supple tannins and a dry, lengthy finish. Needs some time in bottle to shed some of the oak topcoat. Good (+).

2011 Longoria Fe Ciega Vineyard Block M Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 53 cases, $60. Release May 2013. The first vintage from a block Rick planted in 2008. It is a 1.25-acre block located on the steepest part of the site and planted to Mt. Eden clone. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Brooding aromas of black plum and black grape. Ambrosial core of dark plum, berry and purple grape flavor with appealing hints of iron and spice. The fruit is striking and it carries over to an unbelievably intense and long blackberry-driven finish. The fine-grain tannins are more reserved in this vintage making the wine very approachable. One of the best wines I have had from this vineyard.

2010 Longoria Fe Ciega Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.54, 430 cases, $48. 100% de-stemmed and crushed into open top fermenters. Inoculated fermentation averaging 12 days. Aged 15 months in 28% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. A more delicate, red fruit themed vintage for this vineyard, yet highly appealing. Enticing aromas of cherries, pie crust, and wood spice. Soft and smooth in the mouth, with enchanting flavors of cherries, raspberries and oak vanillin. Balanced dry tannins and well-honed acidity, finishing with some respectable length. Extremely comforting and easy to like. Very good

2010 Merryvale Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $30. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas are slow to emerge revealing delicate scents of cherry glaze and oak. Very soft in the mouth with mild tannins, featuring flavors of dark red cherries and raspberries. Nicely balanced and easy to drink, but lacks pizzazz. Decent.

2011 Pfendler Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., 275 cases, $45. From four estate vineyards located in the Petaluma Gap. Swan, Calera and Pommard selections. 100% de-stemmed, aged 8 months sure lie and 22 months total in 50% new French oak barrels. This wine celebrates the memory of Peter Pfendler who planted the first vineyards on the family ranch in 1992. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Attractive aromas of fresh cherries and berries with a hint of tobacco oak and dried rose petal. Mid weight flavors of dark red cherries and berries with hints of cola, rhubarb and herbal oak, with a reasonably good black cherry presence on the finish. Light, elegant and very approachable, but just seems a tad flat and uninspired. Two bottles sampled. Good.


Stomping Girl Wines This is a husband and wife owned winery based in Sebastopol with an urban outpost in Berkeley. Kathryn and Uzi Cohen have owned and operated Stomping Girl Wines since 2008 sourcing grapes from top vineyard sites in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. Stomping Girl Wines was founded in honor of Uzi’s grandmother who began the tradition of family winemaking in Israel and recruited Uzi as a young boy to stomp grapes during harvest. Years later, Uzi and Kathryn were inspired by the childhood memories while visiting family in Burgundy, and decided to revive the family’s winemaking tradition. They began by making wine in their home cellar in 2003, and as their knowledge and fondness for winemaking grew, they founded Stomping Girl Wines in 2008. The first vintage at a bonded premise produced 100 cases. In 2009 and 2010, production grew to just under 500 cases at a shared facility in Berkeley, CA. They are active members in the East Bay Vintners Alliance, a wine association made up of 23 urban wineries. In 2011, Stomping Girl Wines moved to a shared facility in Sebastopol where they produce close to 1000 cases, while maintaining their outpost in Berkeley. Both Chardonnay (Hyde Vineyard) and Pinot Noir are produced.

2011 Stomping Girl Lauterbach Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.4% alc., pH 3.6, TA 0.52, 75 cases, $38. Released March 1, 2013. This vineyard is owned by Stew Lauterbach and farmed by Lee Martinelli, Jr. Pommard and Dijon clones. 100% de-stemmed, aged 11 months in 100% French oak barrels, mostly neutral. Unfiltered. · Moderately light reddish-purple hue in the glass. Sexy perfume of dark red cherries and berries with a hint of red licorice, rose petal and musk. Light and flush with finesse, featuring flavors of red cherries brought to life with vivid acidity. A slight green note of unripeness runs through. Good.

2011 Stomping Girl Beresini Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.58, 150 cases, $36. Released March 21, 2013. Steve Beresini is a retired winemaker who worked alongside Andre Tchelistcheff and planted his own vineyard in 1989. Pommard, 777 clones and Calera selection. 100% dstemmed, aged 11 months in 100% French oak barrels, mostly neutral. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black fruits, oak, mushrooms on the grill and bay leaf. Good concentration with tasty dark red and black fruits with a hint of toasted oak in the background. Lively acidity out paces the fruit, finishing with more acid than fruit on the finish. Good.

2011 Vaughn Duffy Suacci Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., 29 cases, $40. Very meager yields in 2011. Dijon clones. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, spice and smoky oak. Lean and acid-driven, with flavors of cranberries and unripe strawberries, lacking enough concentration to please and finishing very short. Decent.

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