Hard to believe but this winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown has produced 25 perfect point scores from Robert Parker in the last 15 years. He is probably the most sought out winemaker in Napa Valley and behind some great labels. Heres a little more about him and forget about the mailing list try to find some of 65.00 priced reds , perfect for the cooler weather.
The Southern Winemaker Who’s Making a Name for Himself in California
by JAY MCINERNEY
SEP 21, 2017
The first time I met Thomas Rivers Brown, almost a decade ago, he brought several wines to lunch at Solage in Calistoga. Two of them, Napa cabernets, had just received 100 points from Wine Spectator; the third was a pinot noir from Sonoma. The cabs, though by no means interchangeable, were both big, juicy blockbusters. The pinot was from another universe altogether: herbal, earthy, and restrained; I would have guessed it was a Burgundy if I hadn’t seen the label. Brown made all three.
In the past 15 years he has made more than 25 wines that have received perfect scores from Robert Parker or the Spectator. (He’s not sure of the exact number, which seems in character for this laid-back Southerner.)
In person Brown is affable and low-key, and as a winemaker he’s self-effacing, claiming not to have a signature style. “We pride ourselves on there not being a recognizable trait,” he says, which hasn’t prevented him from being, by almost any measure, the most successful winemaker in California.
Brown grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, where his family had deep roots, and attended the University of Virginia, where he developed an interest in wine thanks to a girlfriend whose father was an oenophile. After college he waited tables at a restaurant near Richmond and soon took over as wine director.
He visited the Rhône and Burgundy regions several times before moving west, arriving in Napa in 1996, where he found a job at a wine store in Calistoga called All Seasons, a tribal gathering spot for Napa’s wine community. There he met Ehren Jordan, who had just become the winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars; Jordan hired Brown and later connected him with his first winemaking client, a new winery on a spectacular ridge of Howell Mountain called Outpost.
“The valley was small then,” Brown tells me over breakfast at Meadowood, the resort owned by wine baron Bill Harlan. “Everyone knew everyone. Everyone was tasting together, comparing notes.” Among those Brown met at All Seasons was Fred Schrader, a former art and antiques dealer who had been half of the short-lived Colgin-Schrader label before his divorce from Ann Colgin.
In addition to wine the two men shared a passion for fast cars, particularly Aston Martins, which Schrader collected and raced. He hired Brown for his Schrader Cellars venture, and their subsequent success would enable the young winemaker to indulge his passion: In 2007, Brown bought an Aston Martin Vantage, and later a DB9 and a Rapide.
With Schrader, Brown made cabernets from plots in the prime To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, earning the first of many perfect scores from Robert Parker with the 2002 vintage. The Schrader cabs were powerful, ripe, and viscous—stylistically very much akin to the so-called cult cabernets that redefined Napa winemaking in the ’90s, wines like Harlan, Colgin, and Screaming Eagle. Although Brown, unlike many Napa winemakers, collects and drinks classic European wines, he doesn’t necessarily try to emulate them.
“I love Bordeaux,” he tells me as we take in the view from atop Howell Mountain, “but you can’t make it here.”
Brown’s success at Schrader attracted a host of clients eager to avail themselves of his magic, including Maybach, founded in 2004 by descendants of the engineer who invented the high-speed internal combustion engine and co-founded Mercedes. Napa has other superstar winemakers, but it’s hard to shake the impression that every deep-pocketed wannabe arriving in the valley over the last 15 years has hired Brown to produce a trophy cab.
As of this fall he oversees a total of 40 wineries, making multiple cuvées for most, at five different facilities. His current roster includes Chiarello, Outpost, Schrader, Aston Estate, Boars’ View, Maybach, Rivers-Marie, Seaver Vineyards, Hestan, Casa Piena, Saunter, Wallis, Black Sears, Harris Estate, Kinsella, Jones Family, Travail, Stone the Crows, Pulido-Walker, Post Parade, Riverain, Shibumi Knoll, Hobel, Revana, Ampère, 4 Winds, the Grade, Round Pond, Theorem, Senses, Mending Wall, Sodhani, Vermeil, Gemstone, and QTR.
In the works are four new labels: Diamantis, Denali, Caterwaul, and Selah, plus a wine program for the new Four Seasons being built in Calistoga. Curiously, most of these are virtual wineries, without vineyards or a dedicated winery: Brown produces wines from purchased fruit in one of three facilities he designed and built from scratch.
While it was blockbuster cabs that put Brown on the map, his first love was pinot noir, and in 2002 he founded his own label, Rivers-Marie, with his wife Genevieve. Through yet another contact from his All Seasons days, they managed to purchase pinot from the Summa Vineyard in Sonoma, which is renowned as the source of some of Williams Selyem’s greatest pinots of the ’80s and ’90s. (The very first $100 California pinot noir was the 1991 Williams Selyem Summa Vineyard.)
The first time I visited Summa I was underwhelmed by the small vineyard, essentially the back yard of a modest ranch house in Occidental, until I saw the fat, gnarled trunks of the original two-acre planting. These are among the oldest pinot vines in Sonoma, and old vines produce wines of greater intensity—though the site itself is clearly blessed, viticulturally speaking.
The 2007 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines was the wine I tasted with Brown the day we met—a baby, yes, but a baby with a gorgeous head of hair and a massive trust fund. Stylistically, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from his Napa cabernets—distinguished more by finesse and complexity than power—a fact that Brown attributes to the vineyard rather than any conscious decision on his part.
The Browns almost passed on the offer of fruit from Summa. In 2002 “we didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” he says. Happily, they have found a huge pile of nickels since, and in just eight years—such was Brown’s success—they were able to purchase the five-acre vineyard for a record-shattering price: $2.5 million. Brown now makes several other wines under the label, including a lean, mineral chardonnay from the Thieriot vineyard, across the street from Summa, and two Napa cabernets that represent great value (about $65) compared with the trophy wines he makes for Schrader, Maybach, and other clients.
Find them if you can. If his cabernets are like red Ferraris, his Sonoma pinots are vintage Aston Martins in British racing green. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t make any Toyotas.