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Wine, Food and Sustainability at Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

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Nestled on the southeastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley along the long and winding Foxen Canyon Road you will find Riverbench Vineyard & Winery. Established in 1973, the property provided Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to local Santa Barbara County Wineries. Over the years Riverbench became a prominent name in the area due to the quality of the grapes that were produced. In 2004, a group of local wine enthusiasts purchased the property and decided to start producing their own wine label, thus creating Riverbench Winery. In the beginning, the vintages included estate and reserve chardonnay and pinot noir, but since 2004 the portfolio has increased.

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Riverbench has one of the most inviting properties you will find along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. The tasting room is located in a completely renovated farm house on the edge of the Vineyards. When we visited Riverbench, the cost for a tasting was $10 and below is a partial list of the wines we tasted:

Estate Pinot Noir (2008)
“The vivid burgundy color is slightly darker than 2006, thanks to an almost textbook perfect harvest in 2007. The wine is commanding and ripe but not over extracted. Sumptuous favors of strawberries and cherries coat the tongue, but the finish still holds our signature smoke and clove; it perfectly complements grilled cornmeal crusted quail or a wild mushroom pizza.”

Estate Chardonney (2007)
“There’s something enviable about a Chardonnay that is able to show balance between rich fruit flavors and a delicate buttery note; an oaked Chardonnay isn’t hard to find, and there certainly exists a fine line between luscious and overdone. When you find a wine this well-adjusted, you won’t want to let it go. Our Chardonnay is truly luscious, showing tropical fruit flavors typical of our vineyard while being luxurious and substantial enough to boast a lasting finish with lingering hints of honey and apple. Perhaps you’ll enjoy this one evening with grilled halibut, or as the perfect accompaniment to she-crab soup. Either way, keep a bottle in the closet for those important dinners- you’re sure to win over the boss’s wife.”

We purchased the Chardonney; it had a very nice flavor and reasonable price.

Mesa Pinot Noir (2007)
“There’s a special section, deep in the vineyard, that’s been affectionately termed “The Mesa” for many years now. The fruit from these vines is remarkably different Pinot Noir; there is a liveliness that refreshes the palate and stirs the senses. One taste of these grapes and it was obvious that we needed to try this section on its own.”

In the summer of 2008, the barrel samples revealed we had something special on our hands, and now that it’s had some time to age in the bottle, we’ve decided to introduce it to you.

This wine is surprisingly soft and feminine on the palate, yet its elegance and brightness are balanced by a lift on the palate and a more assertive finish. In other words, this is no wimpy wine. Earth tones match the red fruit flavors, and the oak plays subtly in the background. Try this one of a kind representation of Riverbench with cranberry glazed Cornish game hens or beef Wellington.”

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If you like what you find after a tasting, be sure to join the Riverbench Wine club which offers some really great benefits that include:

Complimentary tasting for up to four people in the tasting room or Members-Only Wine Room.

Select Member discounts on wines and merchandise.

Limited Production wines delivered right to your door three times annually.

A club that fits your preferences with various tiers and options.

Member exclusive events and specials.

Complimentary email newsletter.

Access to Club member VIP Day at the Winery, private events including a tour, private tasting, and winemaker’s lunch for up to 6 people.

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Aside from wine, Riverbench takes it a step further by adding food. On the Riverbench website under their “Food & Wine” section, you will find a wide variety of recipes with wine pairings. From Braised Rabbit and Herbs with 2007 Estate Pinot Noir to Truffle and Crab Mac and Cheese with 2006 Reserve Chardonnay, you are sure to find a recipe that will temp any palate. They also offer events at the vineyard that couple great Riverbench wines with food. The week after we visited, Riverbench hosted a St. Patrick’s Day event that offered green chardonnay and homemade pizza.

But it’s not all about the wine and food, at the end of the day it’s also about sustainability. As the world becomes “greener”, many wineries are looking to become more sustainable in order to preserve the environment that they operate in for years to come. After speaking with Laura Mohensi, General Manager of Riverbench Winery, she explained that “we are really proud of what we’ve put together in only a few short years, especially the “green” aspect.” The tasting room is a Santa Barbara Green Business the only one to be certified and the Vineyards are on track to be SIP certified later this year. You can learn more about it at www.sipthegoodlife.org

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If you find yourself along the Foxen Canyon wine trail be sure to stop by Riverbench Vineyard & Winery. They are located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road Santa Maria, CA 93454. If you can’t make it there in person, be sure to visit their website at http://www.riverbench.com/index.php

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Forefront 2007 Cabernet

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I recently found a new Cabernet Sauvignon that is a second label of Pine Ridge called Forefront.  I am not sure if tough economic times are the reason for the second label from Pine Ridge, or simply a new venture for the well known Napa Winery, but regardless of the reason I am a fan.   The Forefront Cabernet is an excellent full bodied everyday drinking wine under $20 that offers the quality you would expect from a wine that Pine Ridge would put their name on.  And yes, unlike some other wineries that produce second labels with no mention of their original name, Pine Ridge proudly announces on the Forefront label that they are the producer; another sign of pride in quality.  The wine is a Bordeaux style Cabernet blended with grapes sourced from various regions.  From the Napa area is 78% Cabernet, 5% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot , 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec, plus 13% Syrah from El Dorado and San Luis Obispo. The result is a fruit forward, very complex, full bodied wine with soft tannins that make the wine very approachable and easy to drink.  Along with the ripe berries, there are hints of lavender and oak nuances.  To me this is the type of everyday wine that one searches for, kudos to Pine Ridge!

In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Forefront label also offers a Pinot Noir and a Sauvignon Blanc according to the Forefront Website.  I have not yet tried the other two varietals, but I do highly recommend that you try the Cabernet Sauvignon and fully expect that the other two varietals will be as equally pleasing.

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Forefathers 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

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The concept for the Forefathers 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Lone Tree Vineyard is simple; 100% single vineyard, 100% single variety, and 100% single appellation.  The basis of this concept is that the philosophy of Goldschmidt Vineyards for their Forefathers line of wines is that one vineyard site could not possibly produce great Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, which are the three wines they love to make.  For that reason Forefathers has selected Marlborough in New Zealand for the Sauvignon Blanc, McLaren Vale in South Australia for the Shiraz, and Alexander Valley in California for the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The vineyards are selected for the ultra premium quality wines that can be produced from these sites without further blending. We recently purchased the Cabernet which offers quality as soon as it reaches the mouth.  The Alexander Valley location is perfect in that it allows the grapes to mature in the morning sun with cooler temps, rather than the hot afternoon sun which provides longer hang time resulting in complex richness. The wine has an intriguing floral bouquet with a hint of vanilla. A big full body wine with lots of ripe dark berry flavors, a smooth silky mouth feel, and soft tannins complete the taste of this quality Cabernet.  This wine is priced around $45, but I was able to purchase around the $30 price point.  A wine that is very approachable now, but can certainly rest in the cellar for a few years if you prefer to allow it to rest a bit.

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Back to Santa Barbara Wine Country

Following our trip to Cambria, it was time to get back to business and the business at hand was wine.  The first winery opened at 10 and we had a whole day of wine tasting ahead of us, so it was off again over the San Marcos Pass Rd and on into the Santa Ynez Valley.  Our first stop of the day was the Bridlewood Estate Winery.  Once the home of an Arabian horse farm, today Bridlewood boasts on of the most beautiful estate winery properties in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The buildings are designed to be reminiscent of the Santa Ynez Mission, with a large bell tower over looking the front lawn.  To taste at Bridlewood Winery, the cost is $10.00 with a glass to keep or $5.00 without.

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Below is partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Bridlewood Winery:

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 Bridlewood Monterey County Chardonnay ( 2007)

“This aromatic Chardonnay displays ripe aromas and pure flavors of nectarine and golden apples; time in the bottle will allow tropical flavors to develop.”

 We purchased the Chardonnay, it has an excellent taste and a very reasonable price.

 Bridlewood Viognier (2008)

The 2008 Central Coast Reserve Viognier expresses an aromatic bouquet of white nectarines, honeysuckle, tangerines and rich tropical fruits. Flavors of tart guava, nectarines and grapefruit unfold on the palate, culminating in a bright, clean finish. The wine is well-balanced with a crisp acidity and moderate alcohol. Its lush, creamy texture showcases how Viognier can be big and rich, yet soft and supple. The moderate acidity and full fruit flavors make this wine a perfect complement for rich foods such as lobster, crab and abalone, or more casual fare such as pâté, fresh fruit and a variety of hard and soft cheeses.”

 Bridelwood Pinot Noir (2007)

“The 2007 Winner’s Circle Pinot Noir is a blend of some of the Central Coast’s finest vineyards: Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, the Cal Poly Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, and the Olson Ranch in Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Each lot imparts its own unique flavors, creating a synergistic, well-balanced and complex wine. Layers of complementary fruit and earthy aromas give this wine a nice structure, while the silky tannins create a rich mid-palate and a clean finish. The wine was aged for about 10 months in a mix or new and old French oak barrels from the Troncais region.”

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If you’d like to visit Bridlewood Estate Winery, it is located at 3555 Roblar Avenue, Santa Ynez, CA 93460; you can also visit their website at http://www.bridlewoodwinery.com/

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Or next stop was Roblar Winery which is located less than a mile from Bridlewood.  As their website states, Roblar is more then just a winery. The winery not only promotes its wine, but also showcases they many different foods raised in the area. They also promote sustainable agriculture practices and even use babydoll sheep to “mow” the weeds in their vineyards.  Roblar takes the extra step to combine great fresh food with great wine. They also offer cooking classes and a Sunday brunch at the winery.  To taste at Roblar, the cost is $12 which includes a glass you can take or $7 without the glass.

Below is partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Bridlewood Winery:

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Roblar Syrah (2006)

“Showing true Syrah characteristics of tart cherry, tobacco, subtle spice and chocolate on the finish.”

Roblar Riesling (2008)

“Strong citrus-green apple nose with hints of tart quince, lemon blossom and apricot.
Pair with Roblar’s Chicken Galantine Caesar Salad, Margherita Pizza or Turkey Burger.”

Roblar Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon (2008)

“A rich velvety mid-palate segues into a finish layered with black currant and pomegranate. Pair with Roblar’s Barbaresco Panini or Roblar’s Sirloin Burger.”

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If you’d like to visit Roblar Winery, it is located at 3010 Roblar Avenue, Santa Ynez, CA 93460; you can also visit their website at http://www.roblarwinery.com/

After visiting Roblar winery, it was off to lunch at Patrick’s Side Street Café.  Located in downtown Los Olivos, Patrick’s is a quaint gourmet restaurant offering award winning selections to please the palate.  If you’d like to visit Patrick’s Side Street Cafe, it is located at 2375 Alamo Pintado Ave, Los Olivos, CA; you can also visit their website at http://www.patrickssidestreetcafe.com/

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Following Lunch at Patrick’s, it was off to our next winery Riverbench Vineyard & Winery in Santa Maria. As stated on their website, Riverbench was founded in 1973 when the first Pinot Noir and Chardonney grapes were planted on the property. The vineyards provided grapes to many local winemakers over the next few decades. In 2004 a group of local families purchased the property and in 2006 began releasing wine under their own label, Riverbench.  To taste at Riverbench, the cost is $10.

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Below is partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Riverbench Vineyard & Winery:

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Estate Pinot Noir (2008)

“The vivid burgundy color is slightly darker than 2006, thanks to an almost textbook perfect harvest in 2007. The wine is commanding and ripe but not over extracted. Sumptuous favors of strawberries and cherries coat the tongue, but the finish still holds our signature smoke and clove; it perfectly complements grilled cornmeal crusted quail or a wild mushroom pizza.”

Estate Chardonney (2007)

“There’s something enviable about a Chardonnay that is able to show balance between rich fruit flavors and a delicate buttery note; an oaked Chardonnay isn’t hard to find, and there certainly exists a fine line between luscious and overdone. When you find a wine this well-adjusted, you won’t want to let it go. Our Chardonnay is truly luscious, showing tropical fruit flavors typical of our vineyard while being luxurious and substantial enough to boast a lasting finish with lingering hints of honey and apple. Perhaps you’ll enjoy this one evening with grilled halibut, or as the perfect accompaniment to she-crab soup. Either way, keep a bottle in the closet for those important dinners- you’re sure to win over the boss’s wife.”

We purchased the Chardonney, it had a very nice flavor and reasonable price.

Mesa Pinot Noir (2007)

“There’s a special section, deep in the vineyard, that’s been affectionately termed “The Mesa” for many years now. The fruit from these vines is remarkably different Pinot Noir; there is a liveliness that refreshes the palate and stirs the senses. One taste of these grapes and it was obvious that we needed to try this section on its own.

In the summer of 2008, the barrel samples revealed we had something special on our hands, and now that it’s had some time to age in the bottle, we’ve decided to introduce it to you.

This wine is surprisingly soft and feminine on the palate, yet its elegance and brightness are balanced by a lift on the palate and a more assertive finish. In other words, this is no wimpy wine. Earth tones match the red fruit flavors, and the oak plays subtly in the background. Try this one of a kind representation of Riverbench with cranberry glazed Cornish game hens or beef Wellington.”

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If you’d like to visit Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, it is located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road Santa Maria, CA 93454, you can also visit their website at http://www.riverbench.com/index.php

Our next stop was Kenneth Volk Vineyards.  Kenneth Volk is conveniently located approximately 5 minutes from Riverbench.  The website states that the winery property was the original Byron Winery which was established in 1981.  In 1994, the property was acquired by the Robert Mondavi Winery Corporation and in 2004 it was purchased by Ken Volk. Unfortunately what Ken Volk got was a winery in need of some major TLC.  The Mondavi Corporation had not spent any money on the site during the period that they owned it.  Following repairs, it was time to start making wine and today creates some of the top wines in the Santa Maria Valley.  To taste at Kenneth Volk, the cost is $5 they will add it to your purchase if you decide to buy.

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Below is partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Kenneth Volk:

 Claret, Carmody, McKnight Vineyard (2004)

“Our 2004 Carmody McKnight Vineyard Claret is a vineyard designated blend of 39% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Carmody Mcknight Vineyard is located in western Paso Robles on Chinney Rock Road in the rain shadow of the Santa Lucia Coastal mountain range. This dark purple wine had aromas of ripe cherry, blackberries and clove. Rich fruit flavors of cherry and plum are followed by tannins and a long finish. The bright fruit, low pH, and excellent structure of this wine make it a candidate for extended cellaring. This wine can be served with rich cuts of meat, poultry or with pasta.”

 We purchased the Claret, it had a great flavor and was priced very reasonably.

 Cabernet Franc Paso Robles (2005)

“Rich, luscious dark cherry aromas intertwined with smoke, leather, earth and truffles with hints of fresh herbs.  Flavors are full bodied red cherries, leather, bramble berries and a plush mouth feel that lingers into an elegant finish with polished tannins.  Really very approachable with fresh, clean berry flavors tightly bound with hearty earth and oak nuances. Great aromatics with an elegant mouth feel with great structure and depth.”

 Chardonnay, Sierra Madre Vineyard (2006)

“Made in styles that range from steely, mineral laced wines with crisp green apple fruit to wines that are buttery, rich, and laden with tropical fruits, there is a Chardonnay that will appeal to every palate. Chardonnay is most closely associated with France’s Burgundy region and California’s Northern valleys though it has proven successful around the globe.”

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If you’d like to visit Kenneth Volk, it is located at 5230 Tepusquet Road, Santa Maria, CA, 93454; you can also visit their website at http://www.volkwines.com/

Following Kenneth Volk, it was off to our final stop of the day Foxen Winery.  Foxen was founded in 1985, by Bill Wathen and Dick Dore.  It is named after William Benjamin Foxen who was and English sea Captain and Bill’s Great Great Grandfather.  Foxen adopted his signature Anchor cattle brand and it has become trademark for the winery.  In 2009, they built a new tasting room oxen which is solar powered, but also still operate the older tasting room further up the Foxen Canyon Road. To taste at Foxen the cost is $10 for one building, $12 if you’d like to visit both sites.  Wine glasses are included in that price.

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Below is partial list of wines we tasted while visiting Foxen:

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Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley 2006

“Aromoas of Cola, Cherry, spice, cigar box and cedar. Not an extreme heavyweight so you can enjoy it with a wide variety of foods.”

Sauvignon Blanc, Vogelzang Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley 2008

“A gorgeous, elegant Sauvignon Blanc, dry and complex and ideal for drinking with sophisticated fare. Grown in the warmer Happy Canyon region, it avoids the green pyrazines that can mark Sauvignon Blanc, yielding intricate flavors of lemons, limes, pineapples, green melons, honey and peppery spices, gently touched with smoky oak.”

Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard Block UU, Santa Maria Valley 2008

“Tangy citrus, pink grapefruit and green apple flavors give this is mouthwatering sensation, with floral aromas.  Full-bodied, rich and layered, ending with a long, persistent finish. Drink now through 2014.”

The Chardonnay was our favorite tasting of the day and we purchased it.

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If you’d like to visit Foxen, it is located at 7600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, CA 93454 Telephone: 805 937-4251 Fax: 805 937-0415; you can also visit their website at http://www.foxenvineyard.com/

 The next day was our last full vacation day in Santa Barbara and headed downtown to see the sights. The first stop was the Old Mission Santa Barbara.  Founded in 1786, the mission was the tenth of twenty one missions founded in California.  The site offers visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the Franciscan monks who lived there in the 17 and 1800’s.  Tours run from 9-5pm daily and cost $5.00.

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If you’d like to visit Old Mission Santa Barbara, it is located at 2201 Laguna St
Santa Barbara, CA 93105; you can also visit their website at http://santabarbaramission.org/

Next stop was lunch at Brophy Brothers Seafood Restaurant.  Located in Santa Barbara Harbor, Brophy Brothers offers the freshest seafood around, with great views. We dined on the deck while watching sailboats being lowered into the harbor. 

If you’d like to visit Brophy Brothers, it is located at 119 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA 93109; You can also visit their website at http://www.brophybros.com/

The following day it was off to the airport for the 4 ½ hour flight home.   During the flight we began to plan our return trip to Santa Barbara wine country.  There are so many more wineries to visit and some great places that we can’t wait to get back too.  Until next time Salude!!

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