Producer Article

Au Bon Climat

Last edited on 8/21/2015 by rjquillin
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Producer Website
(Producer Location - Los Olivios, CA)
Founded in 1982, Au Bon Climat (which means "a well-exposed vineyard") produces internationally-recognized Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc wine from grapes grown in California's Santa Barbara County. The Au Bon Climat winery is located on the world-famous Bien Nacido Vineyard, and is owned by winemaker Jim Clendenen. Au Bon Climat was listed on Robert Parker's Best Wineries of the World in both 1989 and 1990, while Jim Clendenen has been named Winemaker of the Year in 1992 by the Los Angeles Times, and Winemaker of the Year in 2001 by Food and Wine Magazine. The winery is not open to the public for either tours or tastings. Members of our wine club and mailing list are invited to our Spring and Fall Open Houses.

The winemaker, Jim Clenenden: Jim Clendenen graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with High Honors in Pre-Law in 1976. It was during his "junior year abroad" in 1974, while turning 21 in France, that he discovered life beyond tacos. After graduation, a one month stay in both Burgundy and Champagne convinced him to attempt a career in wine rather than continue on to law school. Beginning with the 1978 harvest, Jim Clendenen was assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa Winery for three vintages, a valued training experience. In 1981 his vision broadened with three harvests in one year as Jim worked crush and directed the harvest at wineries in Australia and France. Three harvests in one year confirmed his masochistic tendencies. In 1982, Clendenen decided, along with now ex-partner Adam Tolmach, to start his own winery in leased quarters. Au Bon Climat (which means "a well exposed vineyard") has grown over its history to over 30,000 cases through careful re-investment from its own production. The winery has cultivated an international reputation for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat, is recognized worldwide for his classically-styled wines (in addition to his Burgundian-focused ABC wines, Jim is also highly regarded for his Italian and other French varietals). In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker's short list of Best Wineries in the World, and in 1991 was selected by Oz Clark as one of fifty world-wide creators of Modern Classic Wines. Dan Berger of the Los Angeles Times named Clendenen the "Los Angeles Time Winemaker of the Year" in 1992; Food & Wine Magazine named him "Winemaker of the Year" in 2001. Germany's leading wine magazine, Wein Gourmet, in 2004 named Clendenen “Winemaker of the World;” and in 2007, Jim was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.”

The vineyards: Au Bon Climat sources fruit from several of the most highly regarded vineyards in the Central Coast. These include Clendenen’s own Le Bon Climat Vineyard and 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.

Bien Nacido Vineyard: The fabled Bien Nacido Vineyard is the primary vineyard source for Au Bon Climat wines. Located at the northern end of California's Santa Barbara County, the Bien Nacido vineyard produces internationally renowned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from more than 40 different producers. Bien Nacido is made up of over 900 acres of vines, nestled in a canyon twenty miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Though the ocean can be viewed only from the hills surrounding the vineyards, the influence of the sea is felt in the cool temperatures of the Santa Maria AVA. Warm days and cool nights combine with soils composed of gravel and calciferous clay to produce wines with a unique and much sought-after character.

Le Bon Climat: In 1998 Jim Clendenen purchased 100 acres in Sisquoc along the south side of the Sisquoc River and directly across the Santa Maria Valley from Bien Nacido (and the same distance from the Pacific Ocean). It was comprehensively planted, with drainage installed in the soil, Riparia Gloire rootstock to reduce vigor, drip irrigation, and 1600 vines per acre of carefully selected plant material. The vineyard is situated primarily on hill tops (an additional 11 acres were planted in 2006 & 2007 along the valley floor), with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Viognier as the original plantings. Le Bon Climat is farmed organically and has been certified organic since 2003.

Le Bon Climat is on southern border of the Santa Maria Valley AVA, overlooking the Santa Maria River. The cool Pacific Ocean air runs right up the Valley to Le Bon Climat. Most days the breeze from the ocean is evident before noon. The day time highs seldom get above 85⁰F and most days the highs are around the mid-seventies. Le Bon Climat was planted in 1997 with low vigor rootstock in poor soil. This combina­tion of factors destined this vineyard to be slow growing and low yielding. Growing and ripening top notch Pinot requires keeping the tons per acre within balance. The soil, clone and rootstock combination at Le Bon Climat produces two tons per acre average, which is small. The yields are poor, but the quality is sublime. Most of the vineyard is planted with clone 667 Pinot Noir, with some 777, 115, 2A and even a little Mt. Eden clone.