Jim Clendenen is well known in the wine world. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Pre-Law in 1976 and the world should be very grateful that he found another path. A “junior year abroad” trip to France had him falling in love with wine. He was the Assistant Winemaker at Zaca Mesa for 3 seasons beginning in 1978. (We will get back to Zaca Mesa later!) Mr. Clendenen has been at the forefront of putting Santa Barbara County on the map as a wine region. His restrained manner of making wines has given him plenty of ups and downs with reviews as tastes changed, but he has persisted and continues to make beautiful balanced wines that age well. He looks like a bit of a hippy with his shoulder length hair, beard and typically a Hawaiian style shirt. He founded ABC in 1982.
To get there from “The Funk Zone” I figured we would walk State Street. I was a little nervous about having to get to the other side of the freeway, but there is a gorgeous underpass with bougainvillea to get you there past the Reagan Ranch Center. State Street is a lovely walk with great shops, restaurants, Café’s with sidewalk seating and beautiful older buildings. It was a great walk but we were not prepared for it to be as long as it was! We found the 2nd Starbucks (the one on your right, not your left as the pourer at Municipal directed) and turned left on De la Guerra St. A right on Anacapa put us in front of Au Bon Climate and Margerum. With only time for one tasting room, we went into Au Bon Climat and stepped up to the tasting bar. The tasting room is lovely with two tasting bars and a table with chairs, which when we walked it was strewn with AVA and vineyard maps (got to love that!). We tasted through the regular menu that is far more than Au Bon Climat wines. On this day it included 3 other labels: ICI/ La-Bas, Clendenen Family Vineyards and Il Podere Dell’ Olivos.
- 2011 Clendenen Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. This Sauvignon Blanc was grown at Mesa Verde in the Santa Ynez valley. After whole cluster fermentation it settled in 500 liter Hungarian oak with racked lees to add a bright clean finish. A really lovely Sav Blanc.
- 2009 Au Bon Climat Hildegard white table wine. This wine is 50% Pinot Beurot (a burgundian clone of Pinot Gris), 30% Pinot Blanc grown at Bien Nacido and 20% Aligote. It was predominantly fermented in new Francois Frères barrels with malolactic fermentation.
- 2010 Au Bon Climat XXX anniversary Chardonnay. They believe that the structured winemaking style behind this wine should make this age until their 50th anniversary. The blend is 44% Chardonnay from Le Bon Climat & 56% from the Bien Nacido K block. It is aged 18 months in new Francois Frères barrels and then is bottled with no filtration.
- 2008 Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Pinot Noir. These vines were planted in 1972 and with warmer days and cooler nights the grapes are able to reach incredible concentration and balance.
- 2009 ICI La-Bas Pinot Noir is grown in the Anderson Valley in the Elke Vineyard in northern California near Mendocino. This is aged in 75% Francois Frères new oak barrels.
- 2005 Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah/Viognier. Grown in the Clendenen organic ranch near Los Alamos. This low alcohol wine is co-fermented.
- 2005 Il Podere Dell’ Olivos Teroldego. This is an extremely rare world-class wine grape that makes a wine that is rich and darkly colored. The grape originated in the grape-growing region of Rotaliano located in northeastern Italy. 2005 vintage is blue black in color dense and well extracted with blackberry and plum notes. It has a full inky texture complimented by silky finesse.
All of the wines were wonderful. Each balanced and with it’s own character. Our pourer was happy to give us details on the wines as we tasted. He also gave us his card for a 2 for 1 tasting at Qupe where we were dashing off to next. Jim Clendenen and Qupe’s Bob Lindquist are old friends both coming out of Zaca Mesa (we had a great Zaca Mesa Chardonnay when we ate at The Poppy Den) and both celebrating 30 years in winemaking this year. Realizing we were running short on time, we made the trek back in cut time! I look forward to coming back to Santa Barbara and spending a few days so we have time to stroll from tasting room to tasting room enjoying the sites.