Who: Au Bon Climat
What: Living Winemaking Legend that Expedited Santa Barbara onto the Wine Country Map
Where: Santa Maria Valley, California
Why: Because Jim Clendenen looks like your quintessential SoCal surfer… but go beyond the mischievous, adventure-seeking smile and the long, bleach-blonde hair over Hawaiian shirts, and you’ll find a living winemaking legend. Clendenen graduated from UC Santa Barbara, then launched Au Bon Climat after a short local winemaking internship followed by a pilgrimage to Burgundy where he interrogated top winemakers about their practices.
Because he took that wisdom gleaned from Burgundy’s best and applied it to his own winemaking, maneuvering Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with lower alcohol and higher acidity in addition to a signature Californian pop of fruit. From there, Clendenen and Au Bon Climat expedited Santa Barbara onto the wine country map.
Because at first, ABC was a critics’ darling and a collectors’ dream, winning big praise for wines of elegance and age-worthiness. And because, as an affinity for buxom, blowsy wines came in vogue in the 90s, Au Bon Climat wines stayed their own course, persevering with balance and restraint. Because, as they say, “what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right” — and in this case, what was “right” for Au Bon Climat wasn’t exactly popular. But Clendenen is stubborn, and his wines remained true…
And because today, over 30 years later, the scene has come full circle: the pursuit of balance is back, and Au Bon Climat remains confidently, outstandingly, the same as it ever was.
When: No need to wait for the Santa Barbara County bottlings; jump right in with potato chips or a piece of cheese after a day of outdoor adventures. As for the vineyard-designates (those wines with named vineyard sites on them), hold out as long as you can — at least five years — then score some wild salmon to serve alongside.