Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.

Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.

We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

Watch for the next Key Weekend event coming up in December as well as other great events at the Santa Barbara Vintners site.  sbcountywines.com

Field Blend Thursday

Field Blend Thursday from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Vimeo.

Mount Charleston is a great Spring Getaway, pair this with Bel Vino/Stuart Cellars Field Blend you have the Perfect Day Off.

After an afternoon hike at Mount Charleston, it was time for a simple but delicious dinner.  I had discovered beets in the garden this morning (I thought it was chard before!) so I planned to pull those up and roast them for a salad, on the way home I looked online to see what best compliments a beet salad and came up with….Riesling, pinot noir, pinot blanc, rose, and French Chablis.

We headed to Whole foods to be inspired by a protein.  Michael picked up 2 macadamia nut encrusted Mahi Mahi fillets and then some Thai quinoa salad.

In looking up pairings for the Mahi Mahi, I found some sort of matches…a pistachio crusted Mahi Mahi suggested a Pinot Noir other suggestions for Mahi Mahi included Gewurztraminer, Sav Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Malbec and Merlot…  And the Alton Brown recipe for Mac crusted Mahi suggested a buttery Chard!  What’s a girl to do?

Michael was definitely in a mood for white wine, so we settled on a Bel Vino Stuart Cellars Field Blend.  It is a blend of Viognier, Riesling and Muscat, so on the sweeter side.  We will pull it out of the wine cooler about 20 minutes before we plan to eat.

The Mahi Mahi will not have any sort of sweet glaze or fruit with it so the sweeter wine should pair nicely.  The beet salad will have Gorgonzola, herb greens and roasted salted pecans with a balsamic dressing, again not on the sweet side so the wine should be good with it.  Sweet wines should be sweeter than the dish they are paired.  I look for the saltiness in the salad and the fish to pair well with the wine.  The Thai spiced Quinoa should again be toned down by the wine and pair nicely.  Now I guess we wait and see what we get!

Overall the wine went fine with everything.  The quinoa turned out to be pretty bland, the salad with the beets, roasted salted pecans and Gorgonzola went nicely (especially the gorgonzola).  The fish smelled delicious and buttery and the initial taste was savory.  When paired with the wine it brought out a sweetness in the coating of the fish.

 

This was a perfect evening to enjoy dinner outside.  Who knows perhaps the gods will be kind and we will get another week or so of nice weather that we can enjoy before the heat takes over and we long for fall.  We will take advantage and enjoy it while we can!

Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Life is Better with Wine

I have wanted to visit Municipal Winemakers for a while.  We stopped in on our last trip through Santa Barbara a year and a half ago only to find that they were sold out and had no wines to taste!  Well, if you are going to have a problem in the wine industry, I think that is the one to have.  As we planned another trip through the area I did more research on the winery.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

They are kitschy, located in The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s “Funk Zone”.  Their winemaker Dave Potter wants to get the wine to the people.  He loves making wine and meeting people who want to drink his wine.  Distributors and sales…that creates the distance between the grape and the glass and takes some of the heart out of the process.  So…Dave makes his wines and sells them in his tasting room.  Small lots, high quality and it’s working if he is selling out before he can release another vintage!

This is not your average wine tasting room.  Outside you have to see the sign on the sidewalk to realize that it is a tasting room, otherwise it looks like an old dive shop near the beach in Santa Barbara.  There are picnic tables set up in an area out front.  When you walk in you first notice the wall of stacked filing cabinets.

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

As we walked up for our tasting the person pouring pulled one drawer open and pulled out two glasses and oversized index card with a typed list of the tastings!

We tasted through the list, which included a dry, Riesling (Bright White), a Rose (Pale Pink), a Red Blend (Bright Red), a Pinot (Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir), a Cab and a sweeter Riesling (Sweetness).  The bottles have great labels and each bottle has a bottle number listed.  The rose was Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise and the “Bright Red” which I really enjoyed was the same blend with Syrah.  The Bright Red was light on the palate but with big flavor.  They do also have a “Wine Fountain” where they serve wine by the glass or in 1 liter refillable bottles.

We walked the neighborhood enjoying some more of the “Funk Zone” before heading up State Street.  Next door there is an old red phone box labeled “Book Exchange” and filled with books.  I had seen these on Facebook, but this was the first I had seen close up!  Need a book, take a book, done with a book, leave it!  It is a great concept!  Lots of other wineries have tasting rooms in the area.  Anacapa Vineyards is not even listed yet, they are so new!  They have a beautiful tasting room with big windows and chalkboards on the walls filled with all kinds of interesting information on their grapes and wines.  It is a regular wine education classroom!

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery up the street has old trucks painted with their logo out front and a juke box in the garage that is part of their barrel room.  Pali, which is next to Anacapa, has lots of windows and a patio on the side.  Santa Barbara Winery sits in a white washed building covered in vines.  In addition to the wineries listed on the Urban Wine Trail site, there are more popping up all the time.  We saw a side door on a building that said “Drake”.  This new little tasting room evidently recently opened.  When we were later at Sculpterra in Paso, the person pouring for us said his friend had just opened that tasting room (the wine world is a small world).

While we only had time to taste at Municipal, we will happily return to spend a day or two tasting in the area and enjoying the beach.  There are around 11 tasting rooms in “The Funk Zone” and another 9 or 10 within the downtown area, including Conway’s Deep Sea Tasting room out on Stearns Wharf.

For now…we were off to take a stroll up State Street and find Au Bon Climat (or ABC as it seems to be known here).

A Cloudy afternoon at the View (Winebar not the talk show!)

View Bar Tivioli Village

I spent an afternoon with Joey at the View Wine Bar (420 South Rampart Las Vegas at Tivoli Village) awhile ago and shared with you  in my Adventures in Sauvignon Blanc blog. Well today I took Michael along for lunch at The View.  The weather was about the same, cloudy and a little windy, but the view was better because the fountain was full and working (as opposed to dry and filled with men in yellow vests cleaning it!).  The location is a little hard to find, which is why we are talking about it here and giving you directions.  You will find it above Brio at Tivoli Village. To get there, walk past the entrance to Brio and around the corner and look for LV Market!  Enter there and cross through the downstairs bistro and take the stairs to the 2nd floor. Head to the front of the building and relax in the industrial decadence of the “View”.

View from View Bar

View from View Bar

You can see the fountain out the front windows and the mix of industrial architecture with exposed ceilings and ducts and tufted couches and seats with natural woods and wine bottle light fixtures in plumbing pipes is enchanting in my opinion.  My advice is to go on a weekday mid day and sit at the bar.  Joey will be working and she is full of great advice on food and wine.  If you like a little more action, well then hit it in the evenings when Joey tells me the place is hoppin’!

Michael and I strolled up and had a seat at the bar to enjoy the view.  The menu is full of great small plate items so you can order a bunch and enjoy.  We ordered the risotto cakes (which I enjoyed last time) the tuna tartare tacos, the Tivoli wrapped dates and the Gnocchi Gratin.  Michael started with the S.A. Prum, Essence Riesling from Germany and I started with the Cloudline Pinot Noir.  The S.A. Prum is from Mosel, and the Cloudline is a Willamette Valley Pinot.  We both enjoyed the wines and felt both were good food wines.  We tasted with the Tivoli wrapped dates which are dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds wrapped in prosciutto and  then set in a balsamic reduction.  We moved on to tasting with the Tuna tartare tacos, which were mini hard shell tacos with raw tuna, avocado, fresh lettuce and a little creme fraiche.  Then the gnocchi gratin, which went surprisingly well with the Pinot! The acid cut through beautifully with the cheese and paired nicely with the risotto cakes which are breaded fried squares of risotto topped with grated parmesan and lemon zest.  The lemon zest added a wonderful fragrance!  Michael moved on to an Italian Pinot Grigio called VOGA which again paired great with the food.  We talked about European wines and how they are meant to pair with food which makes them different from many new world wines that are blended to drink alone.  As we moved on to dessert, we settled on the Dark Chocolate Nutella Cake and paired it with the Condundrum Red (which obviously is a whole lot of Zinfandel and a bit of Petite Sirah) and Joey’s favorite (that she let me taste when we walked in) Earthquake Petite Sirah from Lodi.  The Earthquake was beautiful on it’s own while the Conundrum was a little hot.  When paired with the Chocolate Nutella cake, both were stunning!

View Wine Bar Tivioli Village from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Vimeo.

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Click for more Details on the wines

 

Wilson Creek, so much more than Almond champagne

Wilson Creek Sign Art in Oil

I will admit to a bit of snobbery.  I really had no desire to go to Wilson Creek in Temecula. I mean you find bottles of their Almond champagne in Long’s Drug Stores (well you did when they were around).  I figured how could they be creating wine I would like to drink?  Well… there is a lot more to them then the Almond champagne.

Wilson Creek is located at the far east end of Rancho California Road and it is rare that you will get there and find the parking lot not full.  While the grounds are huge and beautiful, a favorite for weddings and the buildings and event center large and impressive, this is still a family affair at heart.

Wilson Creek View

Wilson Creek View

Gerry and Rosie Wilson acquired the 20 acre vineyard in 1996 with the simple intent of running a fun family business and making great wine. With the entire family, children and grand children as well as 5 golden retrievers who can be seen often on property, they have succeeded in making this a family affair.

The Lower Garden is open to parties of 10 or less for picnicing. They just ask that you don’t come to camp!  No tents or shade covers, ice chests or animals and no outside alcoholic beverages.

The Creekside Restaurant offers a menu for lunch that can be enjoyed around the grounds.  You place your order at the Concert Stage and it will be delivered to you in the upper garden.  You can enjoy this in the lower garden also, but you will need to pick up your order.  The menu includes a variety of lunch items as well as a full wine list, beer and other beverages.

With their Event Center Wilson Creek stays busy with Corporate Events and private parties.  The Event Center includes 3 spaces that can accommodate 50-300 people each with a dance floor.  In addition they have two stages that can accommodate up to 400 guests.  Really this place can be party central for 6 or 7 large parties at time!

Bill Wilson is the son and owner.  He works with his Mom & Dad, Brother & Sister, Wife, brother in law & sister in law.  (Did I mention that this was a family affair?) Bill’s Mom and Dad can often be seen on the grounds with their two golden retrievers. They have 92 acres and grow 12 varieties on the estate and then source some grapes.  The varieties used in their wines include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel.  They also . When you listen to Bill you know that you are not dealing with a corporation, this is a joyful family affair.  They incorporated what they loved about the wineries they visited when they created Wilson Creek.  And it’s not just about their winery, they want to promote Temecula and encourage people to come and taste, enjoy and learn.  Listen to the great interview with him at http://www.temeculawines.org/videos/ and see exactly what I mean.

I didn’t think it was possible that Wilson Creek used Methode Champenois for their almond champagne, and I was right. There is no way they could do that and sell it at that price!  What I was surprised by, was that they do use the Charmat method which is fermenting the wine in bulk in stainless steel tanks!  The final method they actually refer to as “cheating” on their site.  In this method CO2 is injected into the wine.  Typically this method causes very large bubble that can cause Huge headaches!  They do not cheat at Wilson Creek.  They do, by the way have a wonderful section of their website on wine education called Wine 101 that Mick Wilson put together with fascinating information on Barrels, Port, Champagne, Wine Varietals and much more.  http://www.wilsoncreekwinery.com/Wine-101/Default.aspx

Wilson Creek Picnic View

Wilson Creek Picnic View

The next time you are in Temecula, drive all the way out Rancho California to Wilson Creek, taste some wine, stroll the grounds and say hello to the Wilson’s.  You will know them by the golden retrievers at their sides!