Thank goodness for 2018, a year of addition and in some cases, multiplication. After a lean 2017, we found and welcomed the opportunity to add blocks from almost every vineyard on our roster. That took many forms from the beginning of our lease of the entire Herb Lamb Vineyard to buyers for the back half of Panek completely dropping out of the vineyard. Weather aided taking in this additional fruit as well. A cooler year provided a more leisurely schedule as there was less of a rush to pick. Harvest windows extended well past the first of November which also allowed us to massage in the biggest crop Napa had seen since 2012. The lots in 2018 showed a lot of promise early: deeply colored, densely fruited, exotically perfumed while still being very balanced. It was a big harvest so we thought we’d have to dig deep to get concentration, but the extended hang time allowed for great extraction with minimal effort. 2012 and 2018 will likely be compared due to their bounties but I’d argue that’s not really a fair fight. Because of the structure in 2018, it is a far better vintage. 2012’s jubilant press was more tied to the fact the vintage wasn’t 2011 than to the actual merits of the wines. They were and are still very joyful wines, but they always lacked punch. 2018 suffers no such drawback. If anything, there were initial concerns about too much structure early on in the wines’ elevage. As with all patient processes, the wines found their centers naturally over time and really became complete just as they assumed their final vinous qualities around January 2020. With a more stable season, we were also able to return to our 2016 vintage lineup. Just thinking about the slightest parallel between these two great vintages brings out the thought of a hopeful return to the marvelous 5 year run we saw from 2012-2016.
The 2018s and Allocations
Every active member of the mailing list will receive the same allocation. With strong quantity in 2018, we are hoping every wine lasts at least three days from the start of the release. It’s a pretty safe bet Lore and Herb Lamb will sell out first followed by the Napa, Calistoga and finally Panek. Controlling all of Herb Lamb and Panek for the first time in 2018 gets us a little closer to what our goal has always been with the Cabernet program, keep the SKU count down but make a good quantity of each. With the benefit of additional blocks for instance, both the Panek and Herb Lamb bottlings are up 50% from their 2016 levels even with stricter selection.
2018 Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley—450 cases, 14.4% alcohol, 50% new oak
I can't think of a better way to create our Napa blend than by combining lots from Herb Lamb, Lore and Panek. This is the first time we have had enough of certain sites to declassify significant portions into our appellation bottling. Not only does this help this bottling but it has made Herb Lamb and Panek much stronger wines when compared to their 2016 editions. The 2018 Napa bottling feels very complete at this young age and breaking down this attribute is very simple when looking across the components: Panek provides the fruit, Lore provides the structure and Herb Lamb contributes some varietal savory-ness. It’s hard to say if any particular vineyard component dominates the blend because you can sense shared characteristics from all the sites across the entire spectrum of the wine. Black fruits dominate the aromatic and the palate. There’s a blue fruited acidity that punches in late showcasing the coolness of the vintage. Savory elements weave through the whole experience creating a classic Napa mouthfeel, something more akin to the wines from the early 90s than the early 00s. Tannins here are medium/medium plus which makes this very drinkable upon release. As with all appellation wines, we hope this gives you good insight into the quality and character of the vintage. We think you will be very pleased with what you see.
2018 Rivers-Marie Panek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena —550 cases, 14.5% alcohol, 75% new oak
Our first ten vintages at Panek we worked with the same five blocks, one acre parcels of clones 4, 6, 7, 169 and 337. These five front blocks at Panek were all planted in 2006 and have been cane pruned since their inception. We always felt fortunate to have this much high-quality fruit to select from when finalizing the Panek blend every year. In 2018, the Panek family offered us the whole ranch, turning over the three older vine, cordon trained blocks in the back of the property. Not knowing quite what to expect, we vinified and barreled these separately. These naturally lower yielding parcels produced wines of enormous concentration and color. As we sat down to blend, we realized all of these wines were of single vineyard quality, some were even better than most of the blocks we had been working with the last ten years. Eventually we singled out a small block of clone 191 as the most logical addition to the 2018 Panek blend. This block added a tremendous amount of structure to the wine, something that is occasionally lacking from this site. It also darkened the fruit profile pushing the wine from a red/black profile to the a more purple/black expression. The vineyard signature is still there of course but feels fuller and more impactful. Purple flowers, graphite, cassis and smoke jump out of the glass at first inspection. The texture is more layered this year, due in part to both the vintage and the inclusion of a new block from the vineyard. The palate turns very stony early and then veers to blueberries, dark chocolate and some meaty, iron notes as the finish kicks in. I thought we had taken this about as far as we could with the 2016 but the 2018 is at another level.
2018 Rivers-Marie Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon —330 cases, 14.3% alcohol, 70% new oak
Keeping with the theme of expansion, we added another block of older vines from Larkmead in 2018. Neighboring our original block of Olmo clone is a tiny block of Jenkins clone Cabernet resting in the same Cortina soil. We have always loved this clone of Cabernet having worked with it at Outpost’s True Vineyard and Gemstone Estate. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world of Cabernet. It manages to be both exotic and wildly singular while still coming across as very complete. It has proven to be a very nice complement to what we’ve been working with from Larkmead since 2012. The color here is a bit darker than normal with mostly fruit tones first present on the nose. That familiar muscular walnut husk, roasted nut quality of Larkmead pokes through quickly though placing this wine stylistically in more of a classic era of California wine. Where in the past this wine could be considered the “lightest” of the lineup, the 2018 shows the power of the vintage and a marked improvement from the addition of the new block. The fruit is still purple leaning and the ethereal notes of the past still pop out on palate entry but a weightier middle kicks in almost immediately with notes of sage, graphite, cassis, lavender and a brambly spice note. The tannin starts earlier too adding texture and a dusty, baker’s chocolate note. In the past, I felt this bottling would always need a few years in the cellar to present a complete palate expression. Not so here with the addition of our little Jenkins block. All these additional blending options from all these great sites prove in 2018 that sometimes more is more.
2018 Rivers-Marie Lore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville—250 cases, 14.6% alcohol, 80% new oak
You can really see the structure of the vintage in this wine. If any wine in the lineup was going to show what maximum extraction levels in 2018 look like, it was going to be the Lore bottling. The color is a different level of dark compared to everything else this vintage. The initial aromatic notes are very brooding and backward: espresso roast, scorched earth, graphite and blackcurrants. There is some give to the palate with higher toned notes of violets, milk chocolate and cassis fighting their way in. If there is one thing I keep coming back to when tasting this wine, it’s the texture. The many layers that unfold as you move from entry to mid-palate to finish help define this vineyard’s greatness. You see that in all six vintages of the Lore bottling. The eastern Oakville hills location provides this wine with ample tannin, but it is very ripe helping to frame and lengthen the finish. Tannin maturity is what we use to determine our pick date. Color, aroma, flavor and acidity are always abundant in this wine but unlocking the true greatness of the site comes down to the quality of its tannin. Our goal is to produce wines that speak of their place first and this wine and the Herb Lamb that follows couldn’t be greater evidence of the achievement of that in 2018.
2018 Rivers-Marie Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley—310 cases, 14.5% alcohol, 85% new oak
We couldn't ask for a better vintage to begin our 10-year lease agreement with the venerable Herb Lamb Vineyard. 2018 allowed us the opportunity to wrap our arms around the entire property and get a sense of what blocks were of single vineyard quality and what would be blended into the Napa appellation wine. In the past, Herb and Jennifer had always been generous enough to allow grape buyers a center cut of the best block in the vineyard. This established core became known as HL1 and was easily the best vineyard block we harvested across all Rivers-Marie Cabernet picks in 2018. HL2 came next with some slightly more vigorous vines at the top of the property and some shade effected vines at both ends of the center block. We finished harvest here with HL3, a bottom block that has more vigor than any other spot in the vineyard plus the three bottom rows of the center block which see a lot of run off during the winter. We evaluated these three separate lots after 14 months in barrel. The initial tasting showed HL1 clearly belonged in the single vineyard wine while HL3 was destined for the Napa blend. HL2 showed a lot of promise, question was how much could make the single vineyard cut. Layering in that lot one barrel at a time showed a tremendous amount of improvement to the blend with one barrel added, less so with two barrels and then another marked improvement with three barrels. Blending is rarely linear so continuing to that 3-barrel mark proved very beneficial as we had found the blend we were looking for. HL1 provided the power and pure black fruited elegance we love from this site while HL2 layered in varietally true notes of creosote, grilled meats, camphor, sweet tobacco and olive. We feel fortunate to have the flexibility to blend across these blocks, not only for what it does for the Herb Lamb bottling but also its contribution to making the 2018 Napa the best appellation wine we have ever bottled.
Right before bottling our 2018 Cabernets, we sat down to do our first formal review of the 2019 lots. It looks like we are poised for another great run on the Napa side. It was a cooler, slightly smaller year than 2018 which has provided a very concentrated yet classic vintage. They are very perfumey at this young stage and propped up more by acidity than tannin. The cooler year definitely helped focus and preserve the more delicate attributes in the wines. The lineup for 2019 looks to be the same as this release with the same freedom of choice as far as blending is concerned. We have several lots for the four single vineyard wines to choose from even with a slightly diminished yield. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay continue their great run that started with the 2012 vintage. Quantities here too are a little smaller which I think always benefits these two varietals. The coast can be very variable weather wise but 2019 cooperated at all the critical junctures of the growing season. Pick windows for harvest were very long due to the cool but thankfully dry finish to the season. Because of this, wines ripened at much lower sugar levels too so there is great aromatic development and palate freshness. You will see an offering of seven Pinots the third Tuesday in January: Sonoma Coast, Summa, Summa Old Vines, Occidental Ridge, Silver Eagle, Bearwallow and Platt.
Offer and Shipping Details
This offer will remain open through August 7th 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