Two Iconic Santa Barbara Pinot Noirs from Au Bon Climat
One of Each:
ABC La Bauge Au Dessous 2016
ABC Bien Nacido 2017
Since 1982, Jim Clendenen, the ‘mind behind’ Au Bon Climat, has been producing restrained, elegant Pinot Noir wines from Central California. An homage to the wines of Burgundy, Au Bon Climat features many renditions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc, with balance and character critical elements in every wine. These wines age beautifully because of their balance and restraint. The winery is located within the Bien Nacido Vineyard, the source of much of their fruit.
Jim Clendenen was born in Akron, Ohio to gastronomically impoverished parents during the culinary Dark Ages of the American 1950s. He graduated from UCSB 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.
Au Bon Climat (which means “a well-exposed vineyard”) has grown to over 50,000 cases annually. 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, along with Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), and San Luis Obispo County’s Talley Vineyard.
In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker’s shortlist of Best Wineries in the World, and in 1991 was selected by Oz Clark as one of fifty worldwide 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 name 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.”
La Bauge Au-Dessous A classic Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, it is a wine of great aromatics and character showing cherry/cranberry fruit, rose petal, earth, and spice. The keyword is balance.
Fermented in five-ton open-top fermenters, which are punched down once or twice daily. These punch downs break up the cap of skins that rises to the surface into the juice so the fermentation process extracts the best part of the Pinot grapes. The wine is pressed to complete dryness and goes to barrel with moderate lees. “La Bauge” Pinot Noir is aged in 50% new French oak barrels made by Francois Frères in the heart of Burgundy in the small village of St. Romain. The wine was carefully racked in the spring and then aged another 20 months (24 months total). It was lightly fined with 4 egg whites per barrel, and then bottled unfiltered.
A wine of great aromatics and character showing cherry/cranberry fruit, rose petal, earth, and spice. The keyword is balance. A balance of oak and fruit, a balance of tannin and acid, and a balanced elegance and intensity.
90 points, Galloni: The 2016 Pinot Noir La Bauge Au-Dessus is fresh, floral, and fruity, all of which make it an excellent choice for drinking over the next few years. Crushed flowers, sweet red berries, mint, and sweet spice are all nicely lifted in this very pretty, inviting Pinot Noir. The 2016 is a blend of equal parts Bien Nacido and Bon Climat vineyards.
Bien Nacido The owners of Bien Nacido vineyards had been selling off fruit for years in the 70’s. It was not until the early 80’s when producers such as Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist (Qupé Wine Cellars), and others convinced Bien Nacido vineyard’s management to sell them fruit in smaller quantities.
The early 90’s saw the planting of “custom blocks,” with long-term acreage contracts for quality hillside vines. Today, much of what Au Bon Climat sources is fruit that has been planted “exclusively” for them. Varietal Composition: 100% Pinot Noir
Traditional vinification. Fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. The wine was made with 50% whole clusters, a technique used in Au Bon Climat Pinots of the past. Part of the production spends time in new Francois Freres oak barrels.
Aromas of strawberry, cranberry, and rose petals with earthy notes that carry through to the palate. Baking spice notes, and layers upon layers of complexity.
92 points Jeb Dunnuck: The 2017 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard spent 18 months in 75% new French oak prior to bottling. Its medium translucent ruby color is followed by a spicy wine with plenty of tart cherry and mulberry fruits, notes of spicy oak, iodine, and flowers, bright acidity, and a lengthy finish. It’s still youthful and a little rough around the edges, so give bottles 2-3 years of bottle age. Another impressive release from this estate.” clusters and saw 40% new oak.