Santa Maria Valley
By Donna Polizzi
My lot in life is to seek and discover the best places to wine, dine, explore and more for Keys2theCoast. The Santa Maria Valley is definitely a Keys2theCoast 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 lovers 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 simply exudes country charm.
Established in 1973, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery has wisely chosen to primarily produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their focus has resulted in excellent wine whether it be robust smooth reds, delicious whites or bubbly and delightful sparkling wines.
Riverbench Vineyard and Winery is located at 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.
Clarissa has had a hand in making some of the region’s finest wines. She started working in the industry and honed her craft while working at Edna Valley Vineyards, Byron Winery, and several other local prestigious wineries.
Riverbench Winery and Vineyard is unique in the fact that 100% of their wines are made exclusively from grapes cultivated on their own 184-acre property.
Today, several of the most renowned wineries in California have chosen to purchase the fruit grown on site for their respective wines.
According to Clarissa, “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.”
Riverbench has become one of the most visited and most popular tasting rooms in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
If you go to the “Zone”, as locals call it…I recommend eating dinner at the Lark restaurant, 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. It was no surprise to me that the 2013 Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs received an impressive 91 Points in the September 2016 Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
If you’re hungry and enjoy pairing your wine with cheese, they have a nice selection. I find that the Havarti cheese, paired with any of the Riverbench sparkling wines, taste 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. The roses and flowers are in full bloom this time of year and butterflies flutter around the property, located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road.
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, usable 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, this year alone. I never take for granted the wealth of remarkable vineyard’s that grace the California Central Coast.
If you are from out of the area…try not to be envious. We can’t help it if Central Coast residents get to sip and savor in the sunshine… pretty much year round.
(Donna Polizzi Is a Regional Travel Expert and Founder of Keys2TheCoast.com. Keys 2 The Coast Is a Travel Resource for Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey Counties. Offering Recommendations On “Locals Choices” Of The Best Places to Wine, Dine, Explore and More!)