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Rivers-Marie: 2010 & 2011 Reflect the Challenges of Farming on the Edge

Readers know that I have been a fan of the Pinot Noir wines from Thomas Brown and his Rivers-Marie label. I have enthusiastically reviewed practically every release through 2009. I haven’t spoken with Thomas about the 2010 and 2011 wines, but I have to believe that he was frustrated by the formidable growing seasons of 2010 and 2011 on the true Sonoma Coast where his vineyard sources are located. In spite of that, he managed to craft some exceptional wines, particularly in 2010, when vineyard sources managed to avoid the heat spikes of that vintage experienced in more inland winegrowing regions. The 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (600 cases) and 2010 B. Thieriot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (180 cases) were not reviewed.

The 2011 vintage was the tenth for Rivers-Marie. As indicated by the lower finished alcohol percentages in 2011, the growing season was very cool, fruit was hung longer than normal, grapes were picked at a lower average Brix than either 2009 or 2010 and ripeness was an issue. Brown did say in his newsletter, “The vintage (2011) produced the most delicate set of wines in our short history.” Summa Vineyard did not perform up to its customary high standards and an old vines bottling was not offered in 2011. Production was down about 500 cases in 2011 compared to 2010. The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir(450 cases) and B. Thieriot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (185 cases) were not reviewed.

Brighter days are ahead, for Brown touts the 2012 vintage in his last newsletter. Two new vineyards came on board including Ulises Valdez’s Manzanita Vineyard and Kanzler Vineyard. In 2012, Rivers-Marie surpassed 2,000 cases of Pinot Noir for the first time in its history. This will allow some new customers to be added from the waiting list for the first time in three years. Visit the website at www.riversmarie.com.


2010 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 185 cases, $45. Aged in 60% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Ying (savory) and yang (fruit) nose offering scents of dark stone fruits, cinnamon spice, forest floor, pine, mushroom and oak. Plush, full and creamy on the palate featuring flavors of dark red berries and plums, finishing soft and intense with a good cut of acidity. The ripest and most concentrated wine in the 2010 lineup, but not weighty. One of the biggest Rivers-Marie wines ever and a magnet for fruit lovers. Very good.

2010 Rivers-Marie Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.2% alc.,169 cases, $45. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels. Farmed by Ulises Valdez. Clone VR and 828. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color and hazy in the glass. Very brooding, with shy aromas of blackberry jam, black currant, and oak cask. Mid weight core of tasty black fruits backed by complimentary oak. The wine displays a soft, polished texture, balanced tannins, and a welcome cut of acidity on the finish. Very good.

2010 Rivers-Marie Gioia Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 120 cases, $50. Aged in 80% new French oak barrels. Gioia is a 2-acre vineyard just west of Occidental on Joy Road, about a mile from Summa Vineyard as the crow flies. A mix of 115 and Pommard clones. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. The most aromatic wine in the lineup, filling the glass with a perfume of fresh black cherries, raspberries, clove and other spices, and sandalwood. Discretely concentrated dark raspberry and cherry fruit flavors with a hint of brown spice and dark chocolate. The mid palate fruit is very exotic and striking in its vividness, persisting with uncommon clarity in a very juicy, splashy finish. Seamless, with modest tannins, and easy to dance with now.

2010 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., 200 cases, $50. 10% whole cluster. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Very unusual array of aromas and hard to pin down with proper descriptors. I get some aromas of cherries, orange pekoe tea, spice and vanilla wafer. Middleweight flavors of cherries, raspberries and blueberries with the slightest oak in the background. A well-mannered, but not exciting wine, with balanced tannins and crisp acidity. Good.

2010 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Old Vines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 137 cases, $75. Aged in 80% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, orange peel, exotic spices and espresso-laced oak. Sumptuous, long and full on the palate featuring flavors of ripe cherries, citrus flavored cranberries, and spice. Picks up interest and intensity over time in the glass. This wine offers obvious sophistication in a gentle, more demure style in this vintage. Very good.

2011 Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

12.8% alc., 160 cases, $45. One of the lightest wines in 2011. Aged in 33% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy and not particularly appealing with aromas of red and blue berries, apple and green beans. The red fruit flavors trump the nose but the wine is still rather shallow from entry through the finish, and noticeably less concentrated and ripe than the 2010 vintage. There is an appealing finesse and elegance on display, but the crisp acidity overwhelms the meager fruit. Slightly better the next day from a previously opened and recorked bottle. Good.

2011 Rivers-Marie Silver Eagle Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., 225 cases, $50. The vineyard’s location in the northeastern part of Occidental allowed it to achieve full maturity before the rains and it shows in this wine. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with bright aromas of dark raspberry jam, pine and spice. Soft in the mouth with mid weight flavors of black raspberries, black plums and mocha. The most concentrated wine in the 2011 lineup, with tenacious fruit that seeks out every corner of the mouth, finishing with impressive persistence. Even better later in the day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2011 Rivers-Marie Gioia Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 143 cases, $50. Clone 113 and Pommard. Located in proximity to Summa Vineyard. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, raspberries, forest floor, moss and graham. Very tasty with a vibrant core of cherry and red berry fruit accented by notes of sassafras and Asian 5-spice. Presents a charming elegance with supple tannins and a refreshing finish. Not as big and boisterous as the 2010 vintage, but the similarities between the two vintages are evident, and the wine is quite charming in its own right. Very good. Looking forward to trying the 2012 vintage from this vineyard.

2011 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

12.8% alc., 204 cases, $50. A combination of all blocks at Summa Vineyard. Aged in 75% new French oak barrels. · Light reddish-purple color in the glass. Red fruited on the nose and palate showing its usual spice and orange peel highlights, but offering an uncharacteristic and curious savory and smoky note. Very good acidity and brisk on the palate and finish. A skeleton of its usual self. About the same the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good at best.

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