Au Bon Climat
Santa Barbara, California, USA
Purity, Balance and a great ‘Mind Behind’
Jim Clendenen graduated with High Honours in Pre-Law but his great mind was destined to other things. One month in Champagne in Burgundy changed his life forever and marked the beginning of what would become one of California’s most highly regarded wineries.
Location: Santa Barbara, California, USA
Interesting fact: If Au Bon Climat is Cleneden’s ongoing tribute to the wines and grapes of Burgundy, he has also developed a love for other varieties through a separate project, Clendenen Family Vineyards. This allows him to make hand-crafted limited releases distinctive wines from a wider spectrum of varieties. Clenenden has received particularly high acclaim for his work with Italian varietals, namely his barrel-aged Nebbiolo.
Au Bon Climat Wines
Jim Clenenden had not been formally presented to wine before a trip to France opened his eyes and changed his life for ever. After graduating in Pre-Law with High Honours he decided to dedicate his life to wine instead of legal matters.
In 1978 his path was diverted from Law school to Zaca Mesa Winery, where he worked three years as assistant winemaker – a foundational training period. In 1981 he embarked on a dramatic experience to broaden his horizons: three harvests in the same season, in Australia and France!
The following year he started Au Bon Climat along with Adam Tolmach, a winery dedicated to Burgundian varietals operating in leased quarters. Tolmach left in 1990 leaving Clenenden fully in change of the budding project. Au Bon Climat has since developed into a world-renowned name, synonym with Burgundian precision topped by Californian energy.
This is much due to Clenenden’s charisma – as a winemaker as well as a communicator – and his ability to capture the best of each variety, vineyard and vintage in each bottle. His Chardonnay and Pinot Noir expressions are benchmarks many of his Californian counterparts now aspire to. His knowledge of terroir and clone specificity can only be matched by his equally sharp sense of humour – his official totle in the company being the ‘Mind Behind’.
Au Bon Climat sources grapes from iconic plots across the Central Coast, primarily in Santa Barbara County. Among them are Clendenen’s own Le Bon Climat Vineyard, estate plantings at the legendary Bien Nacido Vineyard (both in Santa Maria Valley), Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), and San Luis Obispo County’s Talley Vineyard.
The main qualifiers of all their wines are character and balance. This is also what makes them age so beautifully, letting their elegant restraint blossom over the years.