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Posts Tagged ‘winery’

Approaching Riverbench

View approaching the vineyard

As you wind your way down Foxen Canyon road aka the Foxen Trail, you can’t help to think about the wonderful scenery that the road bisects. On either side ancient oak trees grow in pastures, some with grazing cattle others now planted with wonderful vines producing a host of fruit from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir and the noblest of grapes Cabernet Sauvignon. The nice thing is that you can choose to sample a handful of wines or less on your way to Riverbench or better yet hold off, show some restraint, have patience and wait till you arrive at the oasis nestled amongst the vines on the flat plain just past

Entering Riverbench

Coming into the winery

Rancho Sisquoc in the Santa Maria valley. The vines surround their beautiful tasting room, a converted craftsman style home, with a wonderful outdoor seating area perfect for a relaxing tasting and picnic.

Upon exiting the car we were struck by the quiet stillness of the area so peaceful, the perfect environment for wine tasting. Upon entering the tasting room you’re greeted by a warm comfortable room complete with fire place, lots of windows, a gift area and a long robust wooden bar for tasting with the days offerings written on the chalk board.

View of Vineyard

Having been to Riverbench several times at all different times of the year I have found the experience to encompass the seasons, a roaring fire during the colder months or enjoying a tasting out on the back patio during the warmer summer months. The winery has been around since 1973 growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and producing wines as well as selling their grapes to other wine makers.  In 2004 it was purchased by a group of families in the area and is making some of very fine chardonnay and pinot noir that are amongst some of the finest in the region. A few of my favorites are the One Palm Pinot Noir that makes the trek worth it on it’s own it’s deep rich cranberry color with notes of cherry and strawberry and an earthiness to it clearly reflecting the region that it comes from. From the first sip of this wine I was hooked, small case production which doesn’t take long to sell out every year. On another recent tasting I had the pleasure of tasting their Bedrock Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Rosé two other fantastic selections.

Budding Grapes

The Chardonnay is a crisp Chablis style wine that is completely fermented in stainless steel tanks that keep the flavors of the grapefruit and pineapple with a richness that lingers on the palate making it a pleasure to drink. And last but not least is their Pinot Noir Rosé, a delightful wine that is refreshing, a perfect summer wine that gives you the best of pinot noir flavor in a lighter wine that has notes,

Riverbench, Chardonnay, Rosé & Pinot Noir

believe it or not of jolly ranchers and watermelon with a dry finish that lingers to reveal a host of citrus flavors that make for a perfect ending. This Rosé reminds me of the Rosés from Provence that I tasted recently at an event. These are but 3 from their collection of wonderful wines that I have sampled. Each time I am in the tasting room there is a different flight of wines to taste. Laura the general manager is always very helpful and is always ready to answer your questions as it the rest of the very knowledgeable and friendly staff who are always ready to pour and engage in some good conversation time permitting. This is one vineyard in the Santa Ynez/Santa Maria region that is well worth a visit. For more information check out their website – www.riverbench.com

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The limousine pulled up to the Double Tree Hotel in Santa Monica it was a sight to behold a long white stretch Excursion Limousine that normally seats up to 22 people for our group of 6 plus myself. We transferred the lunch supplies for the day and I went in to find our guests from Ireland. Dorothy and Catherine, two sisters from Dublin on holiday here in Los Angeles.


Pouring a barrel sample for tasting at Wish Vineyards

We loaded into the limo and took off up the coast. Toward Malibu Canyon. It was a beautiful day, the heat wave had broken from the previous week and I was elated. We came to our first stop Wish vineyards a wonderful boutique winery in Hidden Hills that specializes in Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Looking at a Brix tester

We were met by the owner who is also a sommelier and has a degree in the culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu.  She took us for a tour of her vineyard explaining how she came to choose the grape varietals to plant that are based on the micro climate which has hot days

Jan and Cathie listening to Sommelier at Wish Vineyards

and gets some of the cool ocean breeze coming through the canyon at night.She brought back barrel samples from her wine maker from her 09, 08 & 07 vintages and that gave us the opportunity to sample the progression of the wine making process. It’s interesting to see how much it changes with the barrel aging and then further in the bottle.


Showing us the Merlot and Cabernet Grapes

We also tasted the Cabernet and Merlot grapes where we could taste the basis from which each wine develops.  Once we got done with the barrel samples we tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and their new cab merlot blend which were all wonderful. The Merlot went well with our lunch.


Gourmet Lunch at the Vineyard

The Limo arrives at Malibu Solstice

Next we made the trek to Malibu Solstice a vineyard at 2100′, high up in the Santa Monica mountain range. This wonderful vineyard has a 360º view that is breathtaking. His vines are divided up with a northern and southern exposure. His only varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon and he’s been making wine since 2001.

2001 Malibu Solstice Cab

He has an interesting philosophy about his wines which is to let mother nature make the wine. Each of his vintages are very unique. Yes they are all cabs but unlike most wineries he doesn’t do any blending to even out the taste from one year to the next.

The North Slope at Malibu Solstice

So in this case he allows nature intent to dictate what his wine will taste like with each vintage and the result is quite remarkable.  We tasted his 2004 first then the 2005 both of which were very similar then the 2006 had a bit more spice and pepper to the finish. The terroir came through in the wine which added to the pleasure.

Tasting Inside the Estate at Malibu Solstice

Our Group at the Malibu Solstice Estate

The 2008 although young, for a Cab offered a completely different take more fruit forward. The 2002 was a the last one that we had and that was such a nice was to end the tasting.

The View from the Estate

A well balanced Cab that was difficult to put down.  Unfortunately we had to leave this wonderful environment to get on to the second half of our experience. Since we experienced 2 estates we next went on to experience some of the tasting rooms.

One of the Cielo Woodstock Collection Lables

Our first stop was to visit Cielo which makes both estate grown wines as well as wines using

grapes from both the central coast and Napa/Sonoma. There is a very distinct difference between the estate wines and the others.

Andrew Pouring for us

Cielo has a it’s woodstock series of wines that are all named after songs from the concert. These wines are easy to drink with or without food. Some of them are very fruit forward with many hints of dark berries flavors.

Catherine and Alex at Cielo

Their Estate grown wines have a bit more of a spicy finish. Again you can taste the distinct flavor of the Terroir, which is

Bill Hirsh pouring Purple Haze

mostly chaparral, on the finish. Andrew began our tasting. We tasted about 6 or 8 wines having our first whites of the day. The environment at Cielo is very relaxed. There was live music while we were there.

Tasting at Cornell

We were also fortunate to have Bill Hirsh also pour for us which made the experience that much more enjoyable. Next we descended upon the Cornell Winery to end our tasting extravaganza. We were treated to a private tasting in their special back room which has a wonderful long


Meat & cheese platter Yum

wooden table that seats about 20 people with chandeliers has such a warm inviting feeling to it.


A bit of local folk entertainment

We tasted a selection of other local wines Surfrider Sauvignon blanc, Malibu Sanity Chardonnay, Cielo Misty Roses, Mandolina Sangiovese Blend, Cantara Old vine Zin, Bodega Bomez de Malibu 2007 Cab, Malibu Valley Syrah and Anglim Grenache.

The one that truly stood out for me was the Malibu Sanity Chardonnay. We were also treated to a meat and cheese platter composed of 3 cheeses, baguette and an assortment of charcuterie which was very welcome after a day of tasting and also went well with the wines.


Old Cornell Post Office Sort Boxes

Once we were finished with our tasting we went into the private room at The Old Place, which is the former post office for the town of Cornell.

We were treated to some wonderful locally raised sirloin steak, white fish and chicken along with desserts which were out of this world. The nice thing about the cooking at

The Old Place is that their meats are all cooked over a hardwood grill which imparts a smokey flavor that is the perfect compliment to the atmosphere that surrounds you there.


Tim Skogstrom and Me

The day was full of fantastic experiences, socializing with wonderful people, great wines and fantastic food. The other nice thing is the luxurious transportation and the fact that you are taken around in the lap of luxury for the entire day. What’s not to like!

A quote from Bella Shaw, one of the people on the tour – “It was a fantastic experience because it wasn’t “commercial.” Not like a Napa wine tour at all, and Rico was the perfect host. Wish I still had my travel show
on CNN. This exclusive excursion would definitely be featured.”

For more information on how you can come with us on one of these tours visit – http://www.fineculinaryexperience.com/malibuwine.html

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