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The mind behind, Jim Clendenen, is a California original whose long hair, cooking skills, bigger-than-life personality and wines are legendary. As a pre-law student at UC Santa Barbara, he developed an interest in wine, particularly after trips abroad to visit Bordeaux and Burgundy. He learned winemaking under Ken Brown at Zaca Mesa Winery, later partnering with Adam Tolmach and Bob Lindquist at Qupé Vineyards. He also was influenced after spending time in 1981 at Domaine des Comte Lafon and Maison Nicolas Potel. He founded Au Bon Climat in 1982 and quickly put the Santa Barbara region on the map as a source of premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Clendenen always touts restraint and balance over extraction and power. His lower-alcohol, higher-acidity wines, for which he was criticized early on, are now in vogue among younger winemakers in 2012. His wines have always shown age ability, but often did not receive high scores in the wine press.
His winery is at Bien Nacido Vineyard (no tasting room at the winery). 68 acres are owned, 100 acres are leased or controlled. Viticulturist is Jim Frey and Chris Hammell (Bien Niacido).
Besides Au Bon Climat, multiple brands are produced including Cold Heaven, Ici/La-Bas, ll Podere Dell' Olivos, and Vita Nova. The Pinot Noirs, which are sourced from many of Central California's most prized vineyards (Sanford & Benedict, Nielsen, Los Alamos, Sierra Madre, Le Bon Climat and Bien Nacido) are highly lauded for their restraint. Annual production is 40,000 cases of primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, of which 20% is estate grown. 805-937-9801.
2010 Au Bon Climat Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Collection, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $40. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of wild raspberry, dried herbs, and rose petal. The wine is lean and somewhat tart, but pleasing, with flavors of red cherry, raspberry, savory herbs, spice and nutty oak. True to the ABC style with demure extraction, gentle tannins and fresh acidity, all in admirable balance. Score: 90. Reviewed January 20, 2014 ARTICLE »
2009 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $19. · Lightly colored in the glass. Very appealing in the glass with bright aromas of strawberries, red cherries, spice and sandalwood. Moderately light in weight with crisp and refreshing flavors of red cherries and a very slight confected tone. Silky with slippery tannins and well-integrated oak notes in the background. A modest but spirited daily drinker that will work beautifully at the dinner table. Very Good. Reviewed August 13, 2011 ARTICLE »
2007 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $20. 76% Pinot Noir, 24% Mondeuse. · Darkly fruited nose with a touch of chocolate fudge, barnyard and hay. Juicy nondescript dark fruit with a hint of pepper, char and tea flavors. Nicely crafted with decent acidity for the table, but veers away from the typical Pinot Noir flavor profile. Reviewed November 17, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Au Bon Climat La Bauge Au-dessus Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $30. From the highest planting in the Bien Nacido Vineyard. · Intoxicating nose of fresh crushed cherries. Cherries and cranberry flavors are set off by herbal notes. The texture is soft. Nothing earthshaking, but perfectly fine. Reviewed August 24, 2007 ARTICLE »
2004 Au Bon Climat Le Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $35. From the Clendenen Le Bon Climat Vineyard. · Red fruits in the aromas are joined by significant oak. Cherry rhubarb flavors are underlain with earth and herbal touches. A decent Pinot Noir. Reviewed August 24, 2007 ARTICLE »