This will be it for Cabernet for at least a couple years. The good news is we will be pausing at a qualitative zenith for Rivers-Marie. Most of this is due to the 2019 growing season but it can also be attributed to a refinement of our site selection and the increased emphasis on farming each vineyard to vintage conditions. We also were blessed in 2019 to receive an abundance of rainfall in the spring which helped push fire season back and allow us to delay initial irrigations until early July in most cases. This wet spring is etched in our memory due to it coinciding with us building a winery that year. We lost 40+ days of construction to the rain and quickly realized we would not be crushing at our new facility in 2019. Though frustrating at the time, it’s easy now to wistfully look back at this period and realize we were about to experience something great with the vintage. With Herb Lamb in year 2 of our lease and all of Panek being farmed to our specifications, we had a lot of great raw material to work with. We also picked up another mature block of Larkmead (Jenkins clone, one of our favorites) and a new piece across the Silverado Trail from Rudd Winery, the Buselli Vineyard. This tiny piece sits in the A+ east side neighborhood of Oakville. Lore, now returned to its original name of Oakville Terraces, continued to improve as we hit our 6th year of full control of the site. This vintage has most of the hallmarks of the 2016 season. It started life as a charming, medium-bodied year but concentrated, deepened and gained intensity every time we tasted the wines from barrel. The wines are balanced more by acidity than tannin which makes for a nice contrast to 2018. If those wines needed time to find their centers and cast off a bit of youthful structure, the 2019s were balanced really early showing good site and varietal expression. Now that many 2019s have hit bottle, the debate will begin as to which vintage is better. They are hard to compare directly due to the aforementioned juxtapose of styles but it really comes down to personal preference, power vs. finesse and maybe density vs. transparency, not bad choices for back to back vintages.
The 2019s and Allocations
Everyone receiving this gets the same offer. The allocations this year are a little lighter so we can stretch the wines over two years especially now that our winery/tasting room in Calistoga is open. Given the smaller number of bottles, we expect every wine to last until the weekend with the exception of Oakville Terraces. There is also a small wish list for the Napa bottling this year. Quantities permitting, the offer will stay open until Friday August 6th.
2019 Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 425 cases, 14.5% alcohol, 50% new oak
The base here is incredibly similar to the 2018 version but what sets it apart is the addition of the Buselli Vineyard from Oakville. We debated for quite some time about bottling this new site separately but, in the end, we felt it wasn’t quite good enough. It was close so it definitely takes the quality of the Napa bottling up a couple notches. It’s in the same neighborhood as Oakville Terraces so here it adds a black fruited streak plus some some crushed rock and white flower notes. The same lots from Panek, Herb Lamb and Oakville Terraces make up the rest of the blend with Panek contributing the fruit, Herb Lamb a top note of varietal herbaceousness and Lore the minerality. There’s plenty of acidity to frame all these different elements and give the wine focus. As we mentioned in the opening, there are no mediocre sites represented in the entire 2019 line up and the appellation wine provides best testament to this fact. We never set out to source appellation quality vineyards. We only want to grab what interests us and then sort through the lots as they develop in barrel. This makes our appellation Cabernet one of the best QPRs in the valley.
2019 Rivers-Marie Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon 310 cases, 14.3% alcohol, 70% new oak
The Calistoga always reminds us of what wines from Napa used to taste like. It’s more savory then sweet, more structured and reticent than fruity and open knit. This bottling achieved a new level last year with the addition of the small Jenkins clone block next to our original Olmo clone section. The two lots were picked, fermented and barreled individually to make sure they were compatible before final blending. As much as we focus on the clonal selection across the blocks, the thing that really stands out is the site. Larkmead for us has always produced aromatically intense, inward focused wines that tend toward a walnut husk, dried herbs and tobacco varietal expression. These wines are always the least complete in the lineup at release but then quickly fill out and find their balance after a year or so in bottle. It takes a while for wines from this site to find their fruit and throw off some initial structure. The density of the 2019 helps balance the structure and provides ample buffering for all the savory notes of licorice, cedar wood, forest floor and violets. Fruit comes up in the end after an hour or so in decanter and features elements of crème de cassis, black raspberries and blueberries. There’s a dustiness to the finish that adds grip and texture and an element of perceived ageability to the 2019 Calistoga.
2019 Rivers-Marie Panek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 515 cases, 14.6% alcohol, 75% new oak
We continue to add a bit more of the mature blocks of Panek into the final blend. 2018 saw the addition of three barrels from an older clone 191 block and we did the same here plus a few barrels each from clone 4 and clone 7 blocks. There’s a seriousness to these original Panek plantings that complements the 5 acres of younger vines in the front of the parcel. I don’t think it’s just vine age, it definitely has something to do with the soil where you see more evidence of old river bed on the surface of the site. The cordon training here also contributes a naturally smaller crop that is black fruited and deeper in color. We now ferment up to 8 blocks individually before making the final decision as to what goes into the single vineyard wine and what ends up in the Napa blend. The 2019 opens with notes of smoke, cassis, dried herbs and graphite. The palate is much darker than previous years with blackberry compote, currants, crème de cassis and violets leading into a long, textured finish that has plenty of tannin to buffer all the fruit inherent in the site.
2019 Rivers-Marie Oakville Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 230 cases, 14.8% alcohol, 80% new oak
The only thing that has changed here is the name. This represents the 6th year of our lease of this site and we continue to refine the farming every year. The vineyard was really struggling when we took it over, nutrition, irrigation protocol and canopy management were all neglected under the previous owners. With focus on individual block health, we now feel we have harnessed all the potential of this A+ Oakville site. Oakville Terraces continues to be the most serious wine in the Rivers-Marie Cabernet portfolio. The 2019 is full of pure black fruits, liquid smoke, graphite, scorched earth and espresso roast. The acidity of the vintage cuts through all the structure. It also helps make this the most aromatically lifted version of Oakville Terraces to date. The nose leads with blueberries, crushed rocks, spring flowers and camphor. The texture might be the most intriguing thing about the wine helping to prolong the finish and give the wine a lightness that belies its origin.
2019 Rivers-Marie Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 370 cases, 14.5% alcohol, 85% new oak
This is it for Herb Lamb Vineyard for us for now, the vineyard was lost to fire in 2020. We did harvest fruit from the site last year but the smoke taint was too much to consider bottling it. So, 2019 is it. It’s all a huge tragedy especially for Jennifer Lamb and her family who have put so much energy and passion into growing some of the best fruit in the Napa Valley. As I was writing this though, Jennifer reached out to say Herb Lamb Vineyard was replanted on Bastille Day 2021, amazing news after a tough year. This wine represents the second year of what was supposed to be a 10 year lease of the vineyard. To put a positive spin on things, the two wines that have come out of this lease are two of the best wines I’ve ever made. There’s nothing else in Napa that tastes like Herb Lamb where the resulting wines feel like they have a foot in two different eras. The idea of varietal greenness or herbaceousness is such a frowned upon trait in modern Cabernets. There’s no getting around that here and it makes for such a compelling experience combining the best of Napa’s past with all the current refinement in farming and winemaking. The varietal character is more of a top note of tobacco, olive, pencil shavings and menthol which become more pronounced as the wine opens in the glass. The fruit profile is blue and black fruits complemented with spring flowers, white chocolate and sandalwood. I’d love to see this one day pop up in the portfolio again but barring that, this is a great way to go out.
Not too much to report in the near future. We have slowly worked our way through all the 2020 lots we harvested. It looks like the only wines that will make it to bottle are our 5 Chardonnays and the Bearwallow Pinot Noir. The smoke was a little less intense as you headed north up the coast so Anderson Valley looks to have fared well in 2020. These wines will be offered the third Tuesday of January and they will go fast. It also looks like we will have a 2020 Aston Pinot bottling as well. No 2020 Cabernet lots made the cut for bottling. Everything Cabernet wise has been sold off in bulk. This leads us to 2021 where everyone is currently holding their breath and hoping for a strong year. Set on the coast looks strong and it has been cool out there most of the summer. Napa looks to have a small crop this year, setting up to resemble 2015 in both quantity and climate. Harvest on the Napa side will be early, light and compressed.
Offer and Shipping Details
This offer will remain open through August 6th quantities permitting. The allocations are not guaranteed but we hope all bottlings last at least a week. Everyone for this release receives the same allocation and we try to spread our wine out to as many people as possible. Ground shipping is free for this offer. If you’d like 2 day air please contact Will at firstname.lastname@example.org for rates. You can also reach out to Will with magnum requests.
Thank you for your continued support.
–Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh