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Wine Briefs —Newsletter 12.19

Jim Clendenen Dead at Age 68 Jim, fondly known as “The Mind Behind,” was the founder and winemaker for Au Bon Climat, a Santa Barbara County winery that grew to an annual 50,000 case production from its humble beginnings in 1982. His winery, located on the Bien Nacido property, was best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but Jim toyed with many other varietals. He was famous for the elaborate lunches and dinners that he cooked for visitors, generously offering many Au Bon Climat library wines to accompany the meals. Through the years, he hosted many dinner events for attendees of the World of Pinot Noir Despite the accolades for Jim’s wines, he never jacked up prices to reflect notoriety. He could be outspoken about California wines, particularly sturdy, higher alcohol ones, preferring instead to craft his wines with reasonable restraint in a classical style. One of my readers spent a week with Jim as an auction prize and has written in detail about his experience. Offering considerable insight into Jim’s day-to-day life, this article will appear in a future issue of the PinotFile.

Another reader and friend, Blake Brown, passed on some thoughts to me about his relationship with Jim. “I first met Jim in the early 1980s and a few years later connected at a wine tasting. It was like two long-lost brothers who had just reunited. Yes, wine was the common denominator but it was also about rock and roll, college hoops and all things sports, travel and eventually food., Being a vegetarian, my food knowledge and choices were limited but Jim was a budding gourmet cook and I ate everything he made (in smaller portions). Jim dubbed me a “situational vegetarian.” Both of us had played a significant amount of golf and like everything he did, Jim engaged the sport with full-on passion and conviction. Over a round of golf during a 15 year or so timespan, we shared our lives, the good and the not-so-good, and eventually, our golf game was also about figuring out things in our lives in order to get them right. We shared amazing times together on special occasions, celebrations and events, but it was the kindred brotherly support that meant the most to me. For about 30 years, we shared a table(s) at the Central Coast Wine Classic and Jim was always the most active and gracious bidder. He was not only into supporting charities, he was into supporting people and often bought auction lots just for that reason. He also created and contributed one-of-a-kind events that always went for top dollar at auction and rewarded the purchasers beyond their expectations. The guy had a heart of gold. Jim was the worldwide ambassador for Santa Barbara County wines. There were incredible pioneers before him and some great vintners during his tenure, but no one brought more attention and awareness to the area. Another amazing attribute was his wit. He was smart as a whip, and when he combined his intellect with his sense of humor, he became a lovable stand-up comedian. Wherever he went, he was in command of the audience and the ambience was filled with joy and laughter. Jim was very supportive of his children as well as other winemakers. Finally, his choice of dress was unique in that a considerable amount of his wardrobe was one-of-a- kind Hawaiian shirts.”

Latest News from AIM (Alcohol in Moderation) A study in China, the US, and the UK found that alcohol consumption is associated with lower disease activity and less incapacity in rheumatoid arthritis patients. A paper published in the Journal of Affective Disorders concludes that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption is significantly associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms on a long-term basis compared to never drinking. Another paper found a significant decrease in the risk of cataract surgery for low- to- moderate drinkers, versus non-drinkers. A Danish physician, Erik Skovenborg, has a special interest in the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, For many years, he has lectured extensively on alcohol and health. In reviewing alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk, he concludes, “A strategy for future risk communication about alcohol and breast cancer might underline the low risk of light drinking - especially light drinking with a meal - like a glass of wine or beer sipped slowly during the meal as opposed to drinking alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach. Despite a dose-dependent association between alcohol and breast cancer risk, there is some uncertainty on the point of a possible threshold of alcohol consumption above which the increased risk of breast cancer becomes clinically significant.”

Third Edition of The Science of Wine Jamie Goode has published the third edition of The Science of Wine, an excellent treatise on the basics of viticulture and wine production. I had read the first two editions (the first came out in 2005) and was eager to learn from the newest edition. Some older material was discarded to make room for new material. There are all-new photographs and new chapters on climate, vine immunity, phenolics, extraction and maceration, wine faults, the evolution of elévage, flotation and stabulation, the science of sweet wine, and the future. College-educated readers will find the text easily understandable as Jamie is very good at detailed explanations in relatively plain talk. This is not a boring textbook and I can recommend it to those hoping to broaden their wine science knowledge. One bit of information that I found valuable: "Some terroirs don't seem to do so well with whole cluster. The whole cluster character rapidly becomes dominant and can appear 'gimmicky'. It doesn't mesh well with the wine, and can give the illusion of complexity but it feels superficial. I have experienced this on a number of occasions.

Wine and Fire Celebrates 20 Years of the Sta. Rita Hills The Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance is marking the 20th anniversary of the Sta. Rita Hills receiving AVA status with its annual Wine and Fire event. The four days of festivities are August 12-15, 2021. All events will be smaller, outdoor gatherings. Tasting rooms, hotels, and restaurants are open. The event lineup: Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Tasting August 12, The History of Sparkling Wines in the Sta. Rita Hills August 13, Dinner Honoring the Pioneers of the Sta. Rita Hills La Paulee August 13 evening, Time in a Bottle (Tasting older vintages) August 14. The Anniversary Passport will run from August 12 through 15 with 2 for 1 tasting benefits at participating tasting rooms. For more information and to purchase tickets when available, visit

Remember the Good Old Days It seems only yesterday when we could visit a winery and taste wine for free or for a nominal $10-$15. The average price for a standard tasting fee is now $58 in Napa County and $30 in Sonoma County. The price for reserve tasting is much higher (averaging $90 in Napa County and $50 in Sonoma County. Many wineries have abandoned the walk-in tasting experience and gone to appointment only. Of course in my line of work, I don’t pay any tasting fees at all and that is one of the perks about critiquing wine for free.

Margi Williams Wierenga Dies Margi, the daughter of Burt and Jan Williams, and the owner and winemaker at Brogan Cellars, passed away on June 17. She is survived by a younger sister, Katie, and two sons, Bobby and James. Margi was a teenager in the late 1970s when her father, of Williams Selyem fame, began to make his first wines in a bathtub in a basement below the family's garage. As she grew older, Margi developed her own winemaking skills, becoming a full-fledged part of the winemaking team when the Williams Selyem Winery was relocated to the Allen Vineyard property in Healdsburg. When Williams Selyem was sold in 1997, she started her own label, Brogan Cellars, named after her paternal grandmother. It was a bootstrap business run on a lean $75,000 startup budget. Burt was prohibited from advising her under the non-compete clause included in the sale of Williams Selyem, so she made her stamp alone on Brogan Cellar wines. She initially crafted her first Pinot Noirs in a cramped converted garage and used much of the same rudimentary winemaking equipment that Burt used out of necessity. In 2006, winemaking was moved to a property the Wierengas owned in Hopland and the leased garage in Dry Creek Valley was used as a storage facility, office and intimate tasting room. Margi's distinctive tagline was, "Good, Better, Brogan." During her years at Williams Selyem, she developed valued contacts with premium winegrowers and produced many superb vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley. Many of Margi's Pinot Noirs are reviewed in the PinotFile. She retired in 2018 and released her last wines from the 2016 and 2017 vintages. Margi was beloved by many in the wine business including me. Her distinctive laugh will always ring in my conscience.

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