Are you a wine snob? Do you only drink Grand crus? Do you scoff at New World wines? Does anything this side of a St. Émilion taste like vinegar to your sensible palate?
I never considered myself to be a wine snob, but I fully admit to having previously possessed some very biased feelings toward le vin français. It’s not that I refused to drink anything other than French wine, or even thought that non-French varietals couldn’t be delicious. It’s just that I largely preferred to drink wines from Burgundy rather than Tuscany. Given the choice, I would take a Champagne over a Cava any day. And I definitely didn’t have many nice things to say about wines from my own country. Let's just say I had never met a California wine I enjoyed.
But a trip to Santa Barbara County changed all that. Lining up tastings at two different wineries – Tres Hermanas and Riverbench - I went into the experiences with an open mind. More than that, I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised; hoping that I had been unfairly judging CA wines all this time. The first sip sealed the deal. It was a Riesling/Gewürztraminer blend that was so crisp, clean, and delicious that I couldn't believe my taste buds. Riverbench had a pair of Chardonnays that made me realize, yes, I actually do like Chardonnays. After the extensive tastings were done, and we had sufficiently chatted up the friendly and knowledgeable winery owners, I had a shipment of both wines crossing the country on its way to chez moi.
Maybe I thought I didn't like CA wines because the good CA wines simply aren’t making their way into grocery stores. Tres Hermanas, for example, is a small producer with only about 3500 cases produced per year. I imagine most of those wines stay in the surrounding area, or are picked up by wine tourists, but they certainly aren’t making it all the way to my neighborhood on any kind of regular basis. So while I’ll never, ever take a Barefoot Cellars over a Vouvray, I will sing the praises of both Tres Hermanas and Riverbench wines. And I will hope there are many more non-French wineries like theirs to discover. The only question that remains is when do I get to visit Napa?
If you go:
Owners Paulette and Marvin Teixeira are très cool. Ask to take a peek around the grounds, as they also rent out space for events.
9660 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA
Sip wines in this historic California ranch home, which has been so gorgeously remodeled you'll want to move in immediately. Be sure to taste their One Palm Pinot Noir, named for - you guessed it - the lone palm tree in the front yard.
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
6020 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA