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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 4:48 am | Fair 50º

Here & There

Donna Polizzi: Riverbench Vineyard Gets Most Out of Its Grapes

Foxen Canyon Road winery takes ‘homegrown’ to next level with 100% locally sourced Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery in the Santa Maria Valley is home to some of the finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines in Santa Barbara County. Click to view larger
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery in the Santa Maria Valley is home to some of the finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines in Santa Barbara County. (Donna Polizzi photo)

My joy is to seek and discover the best places to wine, dine, explore and more for Keys to the Coast. And Riverbench Vineyard & Winery in the Santa Maria Valley is definitely a favorite.

Have you ever walked into a place and immediately thought, “Ohhh, I’m so glad I came here?” Riverbench is that kind of place.

The picturesque winding road through the rolling hills that lead you to Riverbench is a nature lover’s answer to the perfect Sunday drive through the countryside. The good news is that you can do it every day of the week.

As soon as you turn onto the property, you’ll see the cutest little white cottage house that has been converted into one of the finest and friendliest tasting rooms that I have ever visited. It exudes country charm.

Established in 1973, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery has wisely chosen to primarily produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Its focus has resulted in excellent wine, whether it be robust smooth reds, delicious whites or bubbly, delightful sparking wines.

Riverbench is located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road, on the southeastern edge of the beautiful Santa Maria Valley. It is home to some of the finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines made, crafted by world-class winemaker Clarissa Nagy.

Nagy has had a hand in making some of the region’s finest wines. She started working in the industry and honed her craft while at Edna Valley Vineyard, Byron Winery and several other local prestigious wineries.

Riverbench is unique in that 100 percent of its wines are made exclusively from grapes cultivated on the winery’s own 184-acre property.

Some of the scenic views at Riverbench Vineyard & Winery. Click to view larger
Some of the scenic views at Riverbench Vineyard & Winery. (Donna Polizzi photo)

Today, several of the most renowned wineries in California have chosen to purchase the fruit grown on site for their respective wines.

“Riverbench began producing its own wines in very limited qualities and made them available to patrons at their two tasting rooms in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, in the Funk Zone,” Nagy told me, referring to its home base and to the Santa Barbara Tasting Room at 137 Anacapa St., Suite C.

Riverbench has become one of the most visited and most popular tasting rooms in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.

If you go to the Funk Zone, I recommend eating dinner at The Lark Santa Barbara, a visit to the Santa Barbara Wine Collective and, of course, the Riverbench Tasting Room. This will guarantee a delightful day!

In 2008, Riverbench committed to a premium sparkling wine program. Personally, I almost always opt for the fabulous collection of sparkling wines when tasting at Riverbench. Not everyone makes sparkling, and in my opinion, no one in the region makes a better sparkling wine.

The author, feeling right at home at Riverbench, a favorite destination. Click to view larger
The author, feeling right at home at Riverbench, a favorite destination. (Polizzi family photo)

It was no surprise to me that the 2013 Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs received an impressive 91 points in the September 2016 edition of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

If you’re hungry, and enjoy pairing your wine with cheese, Riverbench has a nice selection. I find that the Havarti cheese, paired with any of the Riverbench sparkling wines, tastes fabulous.

Sundays are my favorite time to head to Riverbench.  Imagine wine tasting, selecting your favorite bottle, sitting outside and enjoying a picnic, while surrounded by beautiful scenery. You’ll find happy people, comfortable seating and a huge, cozy river rock fireplace. It’s magical.

My guess is that you’ll take something home to enjoy later and perhaps do some unexpected shopping. The tasting room is full of unique gifts as well as specialty foods, chocolate and beautiful photography.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting wineries, restaurants and tasting rooms in 12 countries, in 2016 alone. But I never take for granted the wealth of remarkable vineyard’s that grace the Central Coast.

Click here for more information about Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, or call 805.937.8340.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Riverbench’s wines are made entirely from grapes grown on the 184-acre property. Click to view larger
Riverbench’s wines are made entirely from grapes grown on the 184-acre property. (Donna Polizzi photo)

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