Since Calistoga is home to renowned winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and his partner Genevieve Marie Welsh, it makes sense that the two have located their newest project, Rivers-Marie Wines, on Foothill Boulevard just on the edge of town.
What makes the location of this architecturally clean, modern winery with spectacular views truly distinctive is that it was built on the site of Welsh’s childhood home.
“I literally grew up on this property,” she said. “I was a Calistoga ‘townie’ and I still am. We bulldozed my childhood home, and now Thomas and I live just three blocks away.”
The couple purchased the property on Foothill in 2002 to build a winery that focused on single variety wines to reflect the vineyard and vintage from which they came. More specifically Rivers-Marie focuses on Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and most importantly, Pinot Noir. Rivers, who has made his name in the production of some of Napa Valley’s most distinctive Cabs, is making his first foray into Pinot Noir. “Thomas (Rivers) was really ready to get into Pinot,” Welsh says.
Rivers-Marie opened the last week of August. The distinctive red-bird logo is actually a swallow inspired by a “McSweeney’s 8,” an anthology the couple read that features works by the Bay Area writer Dave Eggers. The cover of the publication features a red bird in flight, and another image of the bird flies across the book’s spine. Rivers-Marie’s swallow is visible not only on the winery’s façade, but another image of the bird also swoops up toward the rooftop.
While the winery appears immense from the street, according to general manager Will Segui, Rivers-Marie’s production and tank room is only 3,550-square-feet, with a 3,062-square-foot barrel room, and an open-air tasing room. The tasting room will feature a view of the winery’s still-to-be landscaped back property on to the old Forni-Brown nursery and the every-changing backdrop of the Palisades in the distance.
Rivers-Marie is a small-production winery basing its offerings largely on supply and demand. Its grapes come from vineyards throughout California with its Pinot Noir harvested from the couple’s own vineyard in Occidental. The winery is gearing up to offer limited tastings of five single-vineyard wines in its open-air tasting room; at some point a “full tasting experience” will be offered according to Segui. The winery does not have a wine club, but those on its email list receive information about new releases three times a year per varietal. Its wines run the gamut pricewise, from some Pinots and Chardonnays available for $30 a bottle with others in the $135 price range and higher. Tastings are $75 per person.
When asked about opening the winery during both a pandemic and wildfire season, Welsh said, “Maybe it was a gutsy move. But people in the wine industry all work together. And we want to stay in the game.”