Antonio Galloni, vinous.com (September 2019)
About this WINE
Au Bon Climat
The late Jim Clendenen founded Au Bon Climat (ABC) in 1982. He became famous for making pioneering wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on California’s Central Coast. He passed away in 2021 and is remembered as one of the most charismatic and influential people of his vinous generation.
Jim’s passion for wine was born of a trip to Burgundy in the mid-1970s when he was a student studying Law at UC Santa Barbara. During subsequent visits his enthusiasm for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grew and he became convinced that the Californian hills were capable of something special with these two noble varieties.
Au Bon Climat translates as “a well-exposed vineyard” a name suiting the coastal position of the vineyards, with its benevolent Pacific fog and cooling breeze. Making the most of these conditions ABC buy clones from Burgundy. This contributes to creating wines which emulate the restraint and finesse of Europe but with a magic touch of New World flair.
The vineyards ABC source their grapes from reads as a ‘who’s who’ of Central Coast vineyards. Bien Nacido and Jim’s own “Le Bon Climat” are the biggest contributors. The influence of the Pacific can be felt standing in the canyon of Bien Nacido where the warm days and cool nights characterise this superb terroir. Le Bon Climat in contrast consists of mainly hilltop vineyards. Jim acquired 40ha here in 1998 and has applied his typically rigorous approach to get the best from the plot.
Like most of best early pioneers on USA’s West Coast Jim needed no encouragement to recognise the importance of the soil. He farms all is own vineyards organically to maximise the personality of each site coming through in the wines. Le Bon Climat was certified organic in 2003.
A wide array of wines are produced from ABCs own vineyards and from the close relationships the estate enjoys with other growers.
They are classified into four categories. “Santa Barbara County Classics” are the most accessible in the range, both in terms of price and their sheer drinkability; “Single Vineyard” wines are an ever-changing selection of expressions from remarkable single sites; “Historic Vineyards” represent the five icons of the Central Coast, and the “Blue Series” which show off the very best cuveés, have a high proportion of new oak and reward a long bottle ageing.
It would be difficult to overstate Jim’s impact on Californian wine-making. Just as it is difficult to overstate the quality of the wines.
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.