The new hip place in Santa Barbara for food, wine and microbreweries is the Funk Zone. Located between the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101 in Downtown Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone is the heart of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail. The area has an artsy feel to it that is analogous to what Paris cafés were in the 1920’s for writers and artists.
On any given weekend you will find the area clamoring with young women enjoying wine while at a bridal shower that is taking place in one of the many wine tasting rooms. The area is bustling with crowds of people making the tasting rooms quite busy. One tasting room well worth the visit is Riverbench Vineyard and Winery.
Riverbench’s tasting room in Santa Barbara has a country rustic feel with a current contemporary flair. The walls are made up of reclaimed wood from the San Ramon Chapel in Santa Maria. The chapel dates back to the time of the Spanish Land Grant. Since the chapel is adjacent to the Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, it was easy for the owners to reclaim the wood when the church underwent remodeling.
Accenting the rustic charm are the modern bench like cushioned seating areas where one can sip a glass of the wonderful wines Riverbench produces. Perhaps the bench like sitting is reminiscent of the wineries name and its vineyards that sit on the bench of the river.
In addition to the new tasting room there have been quite a few changes at Riverbench. For about six years renown winemaker, Charles Ortman created the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs that Riverbench is known for. Chuck Ortman retired at the close of the 2011 vintage.
In 2012, the exuberant winemaker, Clarissa Nagy took over the helm. Beginning with what Charles Ortman started in the 2011 vintage, Clarissa has put her mark on these wines by way of adding a soft elegance to Riverbench’s wines, especially the Pinot Noir. There is a nice depth of structure to the wines. Clarissa’s favorite varietal is Pinot Noir because it has the most challenges and at the same time is the most satisfying.
Clarissa’s background is quite extensive. After graduating college she began her career in the wine industry in 1995 at Edna Valley Vineyards and moved her way up the ladder at Byron, Longoria and Bonaccorsi Wine Company.
At the Funk Zone tasting room, a great way to begin your tasting is with a splash of sparkling wine. In 2008 Riverbench entered the sparkling wine market with Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs, which was Santa Barbara’s first sustainable bubbly. It was the 2010 Cork Jumper Blanc de Noir that hit the spot. A clean crisp sparkling wine with hints of Raspberry that is barrel fermented in neutral barrels from chardonnay.
One must try the newly released 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé on any visit to the Riverbench tasting room. The wine is crisp and creamy with a bit of vanilla. The color is a light pink, which is due to the whole clusters being picked and gently pressed. The Rosé is barrel fermented. What is even better is that 5 percent of the proceeds from this wine go to breast cancer research.
The favored Chardonnay was the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, a lighter but balanced Chardonnay that is aged in 30% new French oak. The 2010 Bedrock Chardonnay is a no oak Chardonnay. The malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and invigorates the wine with hints of pineapple.
Almost every Pinot Noir produced by Riverbench is outstanding. Beginning with the 2010 Pinot Noirs, which were created while Charles Ortman was still Winemaker. The 2010 Estate Pinot Noir would be the number one pick of any tasting. The bouquet is blackberries, currants and cherries. This is a full-bodied well-balanced wine with a dark purple color. The 2010 Mesa Pinot Noir comes from the Martini clone and is similar to those of France with their earthy qualities. The Martini clone represents vines on the Riverbench property that are 40 years old. The 2010 One Palm Pinot Noir characterize those grapes from clone 667. This Pinot Noir has a floral raspberry nose, whose flavors come through with your first sip.
Beginning with the 2011 vintage, winemaker Clarissa Nagy had a hand in the production and aging of the wine.
All three of the 2011 Pinot Noirs are fabulous and have tremendous holding power. The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir combines the Martini clone with 667 and 115. There is a hint of spice, perhaps allspice among the cherry flavors. The 2011 Mesa Pinot Noir is 100% Martini clone. Comparing this wine to the 2010 it does not have quite the earthiness that was present in the year prior. The fact that this clone is planted higher on the bench in red clay gives the wine its spice.
The 2011 Pommard Pinot Noir is 100% Pommard clone, which was planted in 2007 at the winery. This Pinot Noir is softer and silkier and is truly exceptional and became a favorite.
The 2011 vintage truly shows Clarissa’s impact on the future of Riverbench as it is quite impressive. It will be exciting to see how Riverbench’s wines transform beginning in 2012 because it is the first vintage where Clarissa Nagy entirely takes over the helm.
For those who would rather visit the winery and see the vineyards and the scenery of the Santa Maria Valley, the winery does have a tasting room in a charming craftsman styled home on Foxen Canyon Road’s wine trail. One can picnic on the grounds and enjoy the vistas that overlook the river bench.
For more information:
Santa Maria Tasting Room
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
6020 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Open Daily from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Santa Barbara Tasting Room
Riverbench Santa Barbara
137 Anacapa St. Suite C
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Open Daily from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
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