Au Bon Climat

Au Bon Climat is a Californian winery in Santa Barbara County. The winery was founded by Jim “Wild Boy” Clendenen in 1982 and is regarded as one of the best estates in the world.

Au Bon Climat is famous for a very distinctive, Burgundian style, quite different from the usual Californian wines, owing to the vision and passion of the founder of the estate.

A Taste of Au Bon Climat

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Au Bon Climat literally means ‘a well-exposed vineyard’. The winery was founded in 1982 by Jim “Wild Boy” Clendenen at the age of 29.

Jim was born in Akron, a 200,000 people town that spawned, amongst others, basketball legends LeBron James and Stephen Curry, as well as indie rock band The Black Keys. In 1974 Jim spent a junior year abroad and visited both Champagne and Burgundy. It was indeed the latter to have a remarkable impact on him and eventually inspired him to pursue a career in the wine sector instead of law school.

In 1982, alongside Adam Tolmach, he decided to found Au Bon Climat winery and dedicate himself to Burgundian varietals. Tolmach left in 1990, leaving Jim at the helm of the company.

Jim is acknowledged as one of the few able to recognise the potential of the cooler climate of the Santa Maria Valley. He purchased two vineyards in the area: Le Bon Climat, in 1998, as well as some plantings in Bien Nacido. Besides, Au Bon Climat purchases grapes from some of the most respected vineyards on the Central Coast.

Since its foundation, the winery has produced distinctive wines in a cooler climate, way before this became a fashionable trend, drifting from the quintessentially Californian style and therefore originally frowned upon for its rather lighter and fresher wines.

However, in the late 1980s the famous wine critic Robert Parker included Au Bon Climat on his shortlist of Best Wineries in the World. Jim Clendenen himself received the award of Winemaker of the Year from different publications in 1992, 2001 and 2004.

In keeping with Au Bon Climat tradition, lunch is cooked and served at the winery every day. When he’s around, Jim takes over the kitchen. When not, cellar master Enrique Rodriguez is the one taking on chef’s duties. As Jim’s first employee, Enrique was hired upon arrival from Mexico at the age of 16 and he’s now been with Au Bon Climat for almost 30 years.

Au Bon Climat wine production has grown over the years reaching the current rate of 50,000 cases per year. The grape varieties grown at the estate are Pinot Noir (50%) and Chardonnay (35%) for the most part: the remaining are among rare white blends, as well as very little amount of Nebbiolo, Viognier and Friulano.

The winery has adopted a mixed business model: some of the grapes are sourced from plots directly owned by Jim Clendenen, while others are purchased from other vineyards and vinified in-house.

Since the very beginning, Au Bon Climat reflected the vision of its founder and winemaker Jim Clendenen and the influences Burgundy exerted on him. In particular, Chardonnay is fermented and then aged for 11 months in French oak barrels manufactured by François Frères, whereas only a small percentage of new oak is used.

Usually, grapes are picked at their optimum ripeness. However some of them are harvested a little earlier in order to preserve some natural acidity, while others are allowed to ripen a bit longer to impart more flavour to the wines.

A small percentage of the grapes used for Au Bon Climat’s wines are sourced from vineyards not directly owned by the winery. The vast majority, however, are sourced by Bien Nacido and Au Bon Climat vineyards.

Jim Clendenen owns several plantings in Bien Nacido, a 360-hectare plot at the northern end of Santa Barbara County,. The ocean can be seen from the hills and influences the climate, providing a cool contrast in air temperature at night. The difference in the temperature range between day and night imparts complexity to the wines, while the gravelly, calciferous clay soils are responsible for its unique character adding up to wines of great balance, complexity and minerality.

Au Bon Climate was purchased by Jim in 1998. It stretches over about 40 hectares and is located in the Santa Maria Valley. The vines are limited to no more than 700 per hectare and carefully selected to ensure high quality standards are maintained. Moreover, the vineyards are primarily planted at the top of the hills.

All grapes are grown under sustainable practices.

Au Bon Climate winery’s signature style draws from Burgundy-inspired winemaking, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being lighter and fresher compared to the sweeter, more alcoholic and more powerful Californian traditional wines.

The wines made by Jim “Wild Boy” Clendenen combine the mineral precision and grace of the Burgundy region with the stylishness and originality of California.

The Beauty & The Taste selected for you a 2014 ABC Wild Boy Chardonnay.