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2011 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Sandford & Benedict, Santa Ynez Valley, CA
Founded in 1982, Au Bon Climat (which means "a well-exposed vineyard") produces internationally-recognized Pinot Noir & Chardonnay from grapes grown in California's Santa Barbara County.
Located at the foot of one of California's most rated vineyards, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, one of the finest sites in California, ideal for the production of the refined, Burgundian style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to which Jim so aspires, ABC, as it is more commonly referred to, has won universal acclaim for its wines thanks to Jim 'Wild Boy' Clendenen, its winemaker & owner.
He regards Burgundy as the benchmark to which he should aspire and buys clones of Pinot Noir from Burgundy in a bid to replicate as closely as possible the restraint and finesse of the wines from that region.
Jim eschewed a career in law for the lure of the vine following a month's stay in Burgundy & Champagne when he was 21. He has never looked back, although he is frequently to be found darkening the doors along the stretch of the Cote d'Or. Unsurprisingly his wines combine the minerally precision & grace of Burgundy with the flair of the West Coast.
Au Bon Climat Chardonnay is fermented and aged for 11 months in French oak barrels from François Frères, with a small proportion of new oak. Most of the fruit is picked at optimum ripeness but a little is picked early for natural acidity while some is picked late to add an extra flavour dimension. The Wild Boy version is deliberately made in a more opulent style. Each of the reserve cuvées and single vineyard wines has its own distinct style consistent across the vintages. Knox Alexander, named for his son, is from a hillside site planted with the best Pinot clones now available.
Pinot Noir is probably the most frustrating, and at times infuriating, wine grape in the world. However when it is successful, it can produce some of the most sublime wines known to man. This thin-skinned grape which grows in small, tight bunches performs well on well-drained, deepish limestone based subsoils as are found on Burgundy's Côte d'Or.
Pinot Noir is more susceptible than other varieties to over cropping - concentration and varietal character disappear rapidly if yields are excessive and yields as little as 25hl/ha are the norm for some climats of the Côte d`Or.
Because of the thinness of the skins, Pinot Noir wines are lighter in colour, body and tannins. However the best wines have grip, complexity and an intensity of fruit seldom found in wine from other grapes. Young Pinot Noir can smell almost sweet, redolent with freshly crushed raspberries, cherries and redcurrants. When mature, the best wines develop a sensuous, silky mouth feel with the fruit flavours deepening and gamey "sous-bois" nuances emerging.
The best examples are still found in Burgundy, although Pinot Noir`s key role in Champagne should not be forgotten. It is grown throughout the world with notable success in the Carneros and Russian River Valley districts of California, and the Martinborough and Central Otago regions of New Zealand.