Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

2008 Estate Chardonnay


California: Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria Valley

Offer Expired:Nov 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm
Avg. Price

What We Say


Today’s exceptional Chardonnay from Riverbench is a very special wine. This quintessential California Chardonnay will find itself at home with your most elegant dinners.


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Mission Codename: Mr. Chardonnay Comes To Town

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Investigate Riverbench Vineyards and winemaker Chuck Ortman’s latest release of their Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Riverbench Vineyards & Winery

Wine Subject: 2008 Santa Maria Valley Estate Chardonnay

Winemaker: Chuck Ortman

Backgrounder:Chardonnay is arguably the greatest of all white grape varietals, showing its influence in the legendary sparkling wines of Champagne, the great whites of Burgundy and of course its expression as ‘the’ white wine of California. Chardonnay represents over 50% of the planted white grapes in California with nearly 100,000 acres planted. With such a great number of wines made from this grape, it stands to reason that finding wines of immense quality would be hard, but look no further. In this wine, we have found a superb expression of the California Chardonnay.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Beautiful crystal clear deep straw golden-yellow, with edges that are slightly more pale showing straw hues. The wine has slightly more viscous texture and leaves behind widely spaced clusters of medium thick legs that hang on the side of the glass.

Smell – Bright aromas of citrus, tropical and green tree fruit with a distinctive sweet orange blossom honey and subtle mineral and toasted oak and nutty notes. Add tiny hints of spice for additional depth.

Feel – Smooth and dry, this full-bodied white has an exceptional weighty and generous mouthfeel that is expansive on the palate along with a lively acidity that is in perfect balance.

Taste – Both rich and plush with citrus creme, tropical melon fruit and both tart under-ripe and fresh Bartlett pear blend sweet orange blossom honey and subtle toasted oak notes. Hints of slate minerality and a touch of sweet spice and beeswax that is also felt on the palate.

Finish – Long and clean with its creamy lemon citrus leading off then fading leaving bright and tart citrus, green pear behind as a touch of spice and toast adds depth and complexity.

Conclusion – The 2008 Riverbench Vineyards & Winery Santa Maria Valley Estate Chardonnay is a plush wine with clean and bright fruit aromas and a mouthfeel that is expansive and generous. Bright citrus and green fruit, orange blossom honey, subtle toasted oak and creamy nuttiness makes this wine ideal for anyone who loves the unique California expression of Chardonnay

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Chuck Ortman

WINE EDUCATION: Cellar rat since 1967, classes at UC Davis

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Chuck Ortman is recognized as one of California’s most accomplished winemakers. His winemaking career spans nearly 40 years in California, during which he cultivated his signature “Ortman style” of winemaking.
Chuck’s winemaking career began as a “cellar rat” at Napa Valley’s Heitz Cellars in 1968. He quickly worked his way up the winemaking ranks, and by the mid-1970s he was a renowned winemaking consultant to some of Napa Valley’s finest wineries, including Far Niente, Shafer and Cain. Along the way, Chuck became one of the first California winemakers to explore the benefits of barrel fermentation of Chardonnay, earning him the nickname “Mr. Chardonnay.”

Chuck later founded Meridian Vineyards in Paso Robles. The success of Meridian Vineyards helped establish the Central Coast as one of California’s most dynamic and prestigious winegrowing regions.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Make wines that showcase a special vineyard. Riverbench has long been a quality vineyard site.



AGENT RED: Greetings, Chuck. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Chardonnay today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

CHUCK ORTMAN: Thanks for your support!

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

CHUCK: When I went to Napa in 1967, Dave Bertolli of Chateau Souverain was one of the first people I met. I fell for winemaking and was able to get a job with Joe Heitz as a cellar rat. We wanted to get out of the city and into the country lifestyle, where everyone knows everyone and we could raise our daughter. Wine was a huge part of that lifestyle.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

CHUCK: Mike Collini from Stony Hill makes complex Chardonnays. His wines all have magnificent subtleties that bring out the character of each vineyard site. I admire that.

RED: We recently featured a Stony Hill Chardonnay. I can’t stop raving about that wine, either! Tell me, who do you make wine for?

CHUCK:I don’t make wine for the reviewers. I make wine for mother nature, based on what she gives me to work with.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

CHUCK: The Estate Chardonnay featured here is our flagship Chardonnay for Riverbench. It’s a great expression of the vineyard site, with tropical fruit and some up front toastiness. It’s made in a classic, traditional style with only French oak (about 40% new), so it’s very approachable and balanced. We use a good bit of Clone 4 Chardonnay, which is one of the noted clones in the Santa Maria Valley.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

CHUCK: Baked chicken is delicious with this wine. Buttery cheeses, pastas.

RED: In your opinion, what makes the [REGION] so special?

CHUCK: The soil – which is sand mostly- and the direct marine influence. Foggy nights, sunshiny days, and it rarely gets too hot. The Santa Maria Valley is located in a transverse mountain range, which means it runs east to west instead of north to south. This funnels in those cool ocean breezes, creating an ideal climate for Burgundian varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

CHUCK: For the most part, I’ve retired. Riverbench is a small project which I love, but for the most part I spend time with my family. I just turned 71!

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

CHUCK: First, look at aromatics and fruit nuances. Look for smoothness, silkiness in Pinot Noirs, and balance in all wines. A well balanced finish means you don’t know exactly what’s there- you know there’s fruit and you know there is oak, but they work together in perfect harmony. A great wines makes you ask, “What do I like so much about this?” and then go back for another sip.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CHUCK: Over the past forty years, Riverbench has been fine tuning its vineyard practices, and selling grapes to other producers around the state. It’s always stood out- I remember at Meridian, the Riverbench grapes were always really special. Finally having an opportunity to showcase this site is extraordinary.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Riverbench Vineyards & Winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About The Wine:

Finding an oaked Chardonnay? Simple. Finding one with a balance between rich fruit flavors and a delicate toasty note? Not so much. There certainly exists a fine line between luscious and overdone, so when you find a happily well adjusted wine, you won’t want to let it go! Our Chardonnay is truly luxurious, showing typical Riverbench tropical fruit nuances with a lasting finish of pear and honey. This wine is the perfect partner to decadent potato latkes, roasted butternut squash or some creamy Southern she-crab soup. Either way, keep a bottle handy for dinner with friends- you’re sure to get invited back.

About The Winery:

Riverbench promotes environmentally and economically sustainable vineyard practices.

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, when its first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were planted on the property. For years since then, some of the most renowned wineries in Santa Barbara County have purchased our fruit for their own wines. Over time Riverbench has become a prominent name for high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Maria Valley.

In 2004, a group of local families purchased the property. Wine drinkers themselves, the owners quickly became enamored with the wine industry and decided to start producing their own wine label using small quantities of their exceptional fruit. Riverbench Winery was born.

The first vintage included both Estate and Reserve versions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Since then, our portfolio has increased to include new interpretations of these noble varietals. All Riverbench wines are made in limited quantities, and many are available exclusively through our tasting room.

About The Winemaker:

Chuck Ortman is recognized as one of California’s most respected winemakers. His winemaking career extends over nearly 40 years, during which he cultivated his signature “Ortman style” of winemaking.

Chuck began his winemaking career in the cellar at Napa Valley’s Heitz Cellars in 1968. He quickly worked his way up in the winemaking ranks, and by the mid-1970’s he was consulting for some of Napa Valley’s premium wineries, including Far Niente, Shafer, and Cain. Along the way, Chuck became one of the first Californian winemakers to explore the benefits of barrel fermentation of Chardonnay, earning him the nickname “Mr. Chardonnay.”

Later, Chuck founded Meridian Vineyards in Paso Robles. The success of Meridian helped establish the Central Coast as one of California’s most dynamic and prestigious winegrowing regions.

Chuck now returns to his earlier years, when he sourced the fruit from Riverbench for Meridian. Over three decades, he has watched the progression of the vineyard, and is proud to carefully hand craft stellar small lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the paramount sections of our property.

About The Vineyard:

Riverbench Vineyard is situated on the southeastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley, an appellation known for its diverse microclimates and ideal conditions for growing Burgundian varieties. This distinct wine region is characterized by the valleys in our Pacific coastline which run east to west instead of the more common north to south. Such a geographic peculiarity channels the cool ocean breezes inward, resulting in a mild and moderate climate where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive.

Our vineyard is situated on the Santa Maria Bench, which is land made up of alluvial soils. These soils are formed of sediment deposited by flowing water thousands of years ago, and typically contain particles of clay, silt, sand and gravel. They are extremely fertile because of their medium to fine textures; yet they are shallow in depth which allows for a great growing medium with a boundary that does not encourage the vines to become overly vigorous. Since our benchland is of a rocky or gravelly nature, it provides excellent drainage and in turn allows vineyard growers to define growth without a large amount of outside input.

Riverbench Vineyard was planted in 1973 as one of the Santa Maria Valley’s first vineyards. Originally, the vineyard consisted of 220 acres of Chardonnay and 55 acres of Pinot Noir, and in 2007, we added an additional 37 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Viognier.

Technical Analysis:

Varietals: 100% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 14.7%

pH: 3.52

TA: .697 g/100mL

Cooperage: 33% new oak, 17% 1 year old oak, 23% 2 year old oak, 27% older (all french oak)

Bottled: August 2009

Production: 628 Cases

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