An unmistakable presence with his large stature and long wavy hair, he achieved a mountain of success in his craft, as a pioneer in California, in general, and Santa Barbara in particular, where he proved to the world that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay could be made in a leaner more Burgundian style despite the constant Cali sunshine and warm weather.
By 1990, his winery Au Bon Climat was considered one of the best in the world and the awards flooded in. Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine, Winemaker of the World by Wein Gourmet, a James Beard Award in 2007. You name it.
Up until his passing, Jim Clendenen was making some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays anywhere. I was lucky enough to lock into a small quantity of two of his classic Santa Barbara County wines.
His Chardonnays out of Santa Barbara are particularly special, with Chuck Wagner of Caymus fame, once declaring, “Jim Clendenen is the reason I came down [South] to make Chardonnay.” Au Bon Climat has long represented some of the best Burgundian style Pinots in America, flush with clean, vibrant fruit that’s not over-extracted like much of Napa’s bottlings, instead it’s got great acidity and depth with unmatched balance and precision. It’s full bodied with a creamy, citrusy middle and a long, bright finish.