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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.
2016 Au Bon Climat Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $40. This bottling is part of the winery’s Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection. Much of the fruit that Au Bon Climat sources is fruit that has been planted “exclusively” for the winery. 50% Block 2 and 50% Block 11. Main clones are 667 and 115. 50% whole clusters. Aged 18 months in Francois Frères French oak barrels, 80% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of black cherry and tender oak. A very giving wine on the palate, with a gorgeous core of black cherry fruit in a mid weight style. Silky, with polished tannins, a slight savory, dried leaf character, and a seductive grip of cherry on the finish. An impeccably balanced wine that is drinking perfectly now. Score: 94. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
2016 Au Bon Climat Runway Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 250 cases, $40. A 16- acre vineyard planted in 2008, located next door to Bien Nacido Vineyards. Aged in Francois Frères French oak barrels for almost 24 months, 30% new. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of cherry, raspberry, pine sap, floral spirit and toasty oak. The mid weight flavors of black cherry and spice are nicely backed by tender oak. Beautifully balanced, with silky tannins and some finishing length. Score: 92. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
2016 Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Historic Vineyards Collection Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $50. Extended cold soak, aged 20 months in Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Light garnet in color in the glass. Reserved initially, but pleasant aromas of oak-kissed red cherry and berry. Admirable in every way, with impressive harmony and class. Red fruits enhanced with baking spices are featured in a middleweight styled wine that offers elegance, hidden tannins and a persistent finish. This is one of the best examples of a wine from this vineyard that I have tasted in recent memory. Score: 94. Reviewed August 29, 2020 ARTICLE »
2016 Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $50. This bottling is part of the winery’s Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection. Extended cold soak, aged 20 months in Francois Frères French oak barrels. · Light garnet color in the glass. Reserved, but pleasant aromas of oak-kissed red cherry and berry. Admirable in every way, with impressive harmony and class. Red fruits enhanced with baking spices are featured in this middleweight styled wine that offers great elegance, hidden tannins, and a persistent finish. This is the best example from this vineyard that I have tasted in recent memory. Score: 94. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
2015 Au Bon Climat La Bauge-Au-dessus Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $35. The name of this wine translates to “wild party up stairs.” Grapes are sourced from Bien Nacido and Le Bon Climat vineyards. Aged 24 months in Francois Frères French oak barrels, 50% new. Lightly fined with egg whites and bottled unfiltered. · Light ruby red color in the glass. Aromas of red cherry, burnt tobacco, sandalwood and ash. Relatively light in weight but flavorful, with a core of red cherry fruit embraced by oak. Elegantly styled, with gossamer tannins and some finishing generosity. Fine, but leans a little bit too much on oak. Score: 89. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
2015 Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 750 cases, $50. A unique wine that is a blend of barrels from the best vineyards from Santa Maria Valley with Russian River Valley and Monterey County sources included in some years. The blend, assembled by Jim Clendenen, is different each year. · Everything you could ask for in a California Pinot Noir. Elegant, sexy and balanced. This one bowled me over like it did when I reviewed it July 20, 2019. Still giving when sampled the following day after opening. I scored it 96 6 months ago and I still stick with that rating. The 2016 vintage version of this wine is currently available on the winery’s website and at $50 is one of the greatest bargains available in California ultrapremium Pinot Noir. Note: the 2016 vintage of this wine is available on the winery’s website store. Score: 96. Reviewed February 17, 2020 ARTICLE »
2015 Au Bon Climat Isabelle California Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 750 cases, $50. Very heavy bottle, long cork. This bottling was inaugurated in 1994 to honor Jim Clendenen’s daughter Isabelle. This unique wine is a blend of barrels from the best vineyards not only from the Santa Maria Valley, but the Russian River Valley and even Monterey County in some years. The selection is done by Jim in the Au Bon Climat winery cellar and each year the blend for Isabelle is different. Isabelle is the richest Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir with loads of intensity and power, yet it remains balanced and food friendly. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, sous-bois, ash and gentle oak come to the fore over time in the glass. The wellspiced red cherry fruit enters with a purpose, saturates the mid palate and exits with a ridiculously long finish. Nicely balanced and very approachable now, with bold but friendly tannins and energizing natural acidity. This beauty bowls you over.You will want to drink this one all by yourself. Score: 96. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
2015 Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 800 cases, $50. Estate bottled. Very heavy bottle, long cork. Sourced from the finest lots at Bien Nacido and Au Bon Climat vineyards. Block 2 from Le Bon Climat Vineyard was planted in 1994 with a wide mix of clones including 103, 113, 114, 115, 2A, Mt. Eden and some Pinot Meunier. Block 11 at Bien Nacido Vineyard is planted with clones 667, 777, 115, 2A, Swan and Jackson in 1997. 50% Dijon and 50% traditional California selections. Jim’s son Knox arrived in 1998 and this is a distinct bottling to honor him. Aged 22 months in French oak barrels. Fined with egg whites. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose offers primarily non-fruit aromas of fertile earth, burnt tobacco and toast. Much more enticing on the palate, with mid weight flavors of Bing cherry and noticeable toasty oak. There is a healthy, but not intrusive backbone of tannins. Considerably more appealing when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the oak had become more subservient to the fruit. Decant if you plan to drink now, but further cellaring is a better option. Score: 94. Reviewed July 20, 2019 ARTICLE »
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 »