Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rest in Peace, Seymour

It's bittersweet, this year of changes for Riverbench. We have now become a 262 acre vineyard after removing a large section of Chardonnay vines which have hit the ripe old age of 40 and are no longer productive enough to continue to support farming them.

It's rather sad to see these beautiful, gnarled trunks pulled out of the ground. We'll grind them up and use them as compost, so they'll do what they were supposed to do and recycle themselves. These sections are eerily empty, though still peaceful and beautiful in their own way. The empty parts of the vineyard will remain fallow for at least a year while we decide what replanting measures to take.

All that upturned earth creates such a beautiful Riverbench-y smell. Hard working vines, we salute you!

I wish I had a picture of Seymour, but I can't seem to find one (sometimes the OCD gets the best of me and I end up deleting things I shouldn't). He was a special vine right outside the tasting room who happens to be a different clone of Chardonnay than those around him. Every year in the summer when the vines are green and leafy, Seymour was the greenest and leafiest and biggest of them all. Seriously, he stood out in a crowd. Alas, he was part of the removal, but he'll not be forgotten.

Lest it seem morbid that we're taking out so many vines, I'd like to point out that there are still many more original vines left on the property which still produce enough grapes to make sense. Maybe they'll be around another 40 years. These phases of vineyard renewal are just part of the process that will keep the quality of Riverbench grapes excellent for many years to come.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cheese Disasters: An Update

I took a bit of a break from cheesemaking for a while, but I realize that I haven't even mentioned my favorite food at all in the past few months, so it's due a blog post. (Bees coming sometime soon, promise.)

I had a little free time before class started last week, so I planned to make a batch of feta. It's half cow half goat milk, which always gives it a really nice tang. But apparently I've been too distracted to make cheese, because immediately I heated the milk too much, then realized I was out of lipase, which is an enzyme I use to give cheese flavor, then heated it too much again. Eventually I ended up with something resulting that was a little less like feta and more like a grainier chevre. Though it did taste ok.

The point is that making cheese under duress or while you have other things on your mind just doesn't work out well. Don't get me wrong; it's nothing a bottle of Cork Jumper bubbly couldn't fix, but I found myself frustrated at my own hobby. In fact, doing anything when you just don't have the mindset just doesn't really work. I tend to be pretty good at psyching myself up even in my most dire moments, but sometimes a girl just needs a break.

I'll have to give it another good shot in a few weeks. Until then, at least I can buy and eat some good stuff. Here are a few of my favorite pairings of wine and cheese:

Crottin de Champcol and bubbly, preferably Brut Rosé.

Trader Joe's Truffle Cheese and Pinot Noir - earthy and creamy. Yum!

Fontina and oakier Chardonnay - the cheese has a nice soft bite to it that matches well.

And the old favorites which go with everything are Pecorino and Manchego.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Lordy, Lordy, Riverbench is Forty

Riverbench the wine label is new (first vintage: 2006).

Riverbench the vineyard, however, is one of the oldest planted vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley. The first vines were put into the ground in 1973. It's kind of amazing to think on what those vines would say if they could talk: "Man, that was a helluva frost we just had," or "That winemaker Clarissa sure is picky!" (in a good way) or "Who is that goofy chick who gets a kick out of riding the night harvester at midnight?" (That last reference is to me, in case you couldn't guess.)

But seriously, those vines have seen generations of winemakers and vineyard crews, overseen the opening of our tasting room in 2008, and posed for many an amazing photograph. They've produced some gorgeously delicious grapes and weathered a few storms and heat spikes here and there.

So we'll start celebrating now. Heck, you only turn 40 once! We'll be doing some fun events across the country, spreading the word about this special place and its place in Santa Maria's history.

It's auspicious that we'll be opening our second tasting room in Santa Barbara during our anniversary year; that has to bode well for Riverbench's future for sure! It's a good thing we make celebratory sparkling wine now, because I know that this year above all others we'll be needing a lot of it.

Happy New Year, everyone!