Ode to Jim Clendenen & his wines

Has there been a more profound winemaker out of California?  Is there a Californian winemaker today, whose wines are continuously moving more towards Old World sensibility of elegance, finesse, nuance, balance & texture?  AND, where many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside over the years, Clendenen seems to be making better & better wines each vintage.  The bottom line, he really is one of a kind…….& so are his wines.

On Jim Clendenen’s last visit to the Islands back in September, he & Warren hooked up & we were able to get a whole stash of Clendenen wines to the Islands—both NEW projects, as well as some “library” wines.

Clendenen Family—“The Pip” wines

Pip was the best dog in the world. There might be many other dogs in contention but if you met Pip you would agree. She chased the ball and the Frisbee for hours, all while hiding between throws. In her imagination she was herdin’ something, a classic border collie. Pip was at the winery most days. It was hard to get visitors to pay attention to wine tasting when Pip was chasing everyone that wanted  to throw the ball for her. Big Miguel” would kick the soccer ball a mile and Pip would find it, Bob Lindquist and his Dodger “rubber arm” would throw the tennis ball a few feet, seldom in the strike zone, and Pip would shrug. We could not name just one wine after this dog. e memorialize her with an entire line-up of wines. The “Pip” wines are early releases from either our estate Le Bon Climat or Bien Nacido vineyards. Important attributes of “Pip” wines are a shorter barrel program with less new wood, and using fruit from younger vines. These wines are delicious upon release, so drink up.

2012 Pinot Noir “The Pip”

Hails from Le Bon Climat vineyard in 2012 (mainly 667 with small amounts of 2A, Mt Eden, 115, 777 & 23), aged in old oak.    VERY pretty Pinot, very finesse oriented with fabulous texture.

2012 Chardonnay “The Pip”

The 2012 comes from young vines of Le Bon Climat vineyard—Dijon clones 76 & 96, hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented in old oak & sur lie aged for 1 year in the neutral wood. Pure, minerally with Clendenen’s signature masterful texture & balance.

Clendenen Family  0b5

2012 Sauvignon Blanc “Mesa Verde Vineyard”

It has been a while since we have had a Sauvignon from Clendenen. This vineyard is an old Brander site, planted sometime in the 1970’s on mainly alluvial soils in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The wine is barrel fermented (in OLD oak) & sees 100% ML . Jim’s ode to Sancerre—fresh, minerally refined, pure. You will certainly win a lot of friends with this wine.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc “Stallion Vineyard”

This version, on the other hand, would be more like an homage to Clendenen’s dear old Loire Valley friend & winemaking standout Didier Dagueneau of Pouilly Fume.  For me, this is an updated, contemporary rendition of the last Sauvignon I had had from JC—a 1991 Vita Nova Sauvignon “Le Chien Mechant”—a homage JC made for Dagueneau & his wines.  100% Sauvignon Blanc from the organically farmed Stallion Vineyard (shale, gravel, alluvial soils) in a cool spot right outside the Happy Canyon appellation.   Barrel fermented in new puncheons & then aged for 12 months in OLD 225L barrels. Yes, this is something special & unique.

2012 Viognier “Le Bon Climat Vineyard”

The grapes come from Alban clone planted at Le Bon Climat estate vineyard. The wine is barrel fermented in neutral oak barrels with 6 months lees contact & 100% malolactic. Yet, another stellar, hard to find example ofa contemporary aromatic white wine ideal for fusion foods.

0b12008 Pinot Noir “Le Bon Climat Vineyard”

Here is a “Library” Pinot well worth checking out. Dijon clone 667 from Le Bon Climat….NO stems….essentially a barrel selection….12 barrels out of 410 aged in 50% new oak.

2008 Grenache “Rancho La Cuna Vineyard”

Everyone I spoke to at the winery were surprised we actually were able to get some of this wine here in the Islands, as there were only roughly 40 cases produced.  The grapes come from Clendenen’s ranch out in the hills of Los Alamos, barrel fermented with NO stems & aged in 100% new oak. Rich, lush, well textured & well suited for the dinner table.

2008 Petite Verdot “Bien Nacido Vineyard” 2008

100% Petite Verdot from his home turf–Bien Nacido Vineyard—2 parcels, 1 planted in 1994 & the other in 2000. Done with a long, cool extraction & 3 years spent in—100% new Taransaud barrels.  If you want to better understand what this grape variety is capable of, then you should try this wine.

Au Bon Climat

I am always amazed at how the ABC wines just seem to be getting better & better, rather then sitting there & resting on its laurels. In fact, I am also surprised how so many regional winemakers are producing wines more along the lines Clendenen’s style & profile.

2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris

Yes, there is still some Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc from Bien Nacido vineyard, but in addition there is some Pinot Gris from the iconic Sierra Madre vineyard nearby as well. Barrel fermented in neutral barrel.  0b6

2011 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Los Alamos Vineyard”

Clone 4 from the best parcel of this essentially sand dune looking vineyard. Up on top is block 18—heavier soils, less sand, which the resulting wine is really something special. Barrel fermented (100% NEW oak—who could tell?????), 100% ML.

2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Talley Vineyard”

Clone 4 or 5 planted in the mid 90’s, barrel fermented, 100% ML, 25% new oak. This bottling has always been a standout classic!

2010 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

JC’s home block–K Block—planted in 1973, own rooted…amazing extract/minerality…so much so…. I am always surprised this wine is aged in 100% NEW oak.  One can’t tell it has that much new oak. Remarkable!!! It is really because of the low PH & lower alcohol levels.

2012 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”

Another of the true iconic, single vineyards!!!!!! This is clone 4 planted in 1971 on its own roots, barrel fermented, 100% ML, 100% NEW oak.  For me, this is perennially one of the VERY best out of California.  0b7

2011 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Nuits Blanche “Pioneering”

2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Nuits Blanche “Compelling”

Some will say, this is ABC’s Grand Cru! It is still K Block, but harvested roughly 2 weeks later than his Bien Nacido bottling.

2011 Au Bon Climat Hildegard

We normally pour this wine last in an ABC line-up! Why? Because this REALLY is a hard act to follow. It has mesmerizing minerality,  which is way beyond what the Chardonnays offer. AND, there really is some kind of magic synergy created with the 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc, 10% Aligote blend, & 2 years aging in 100% new oak.

2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Los Alamos Vineyard”  0b2

One of Santa Barbara’s historic vineyards, which, in fact, Clendenen & his then partner Adam Tolmach actually started Au Bon Climat out of.  The soils is predominately sandy. The 2009 is 667, 777 & 115, NO stems & sees 80% new oak, which one would surprised to read after actually tasting the wine. This is fine, refined, ethereal Pinot….classy & well textured.

2010 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge au Dessus”

The 2010 is mainly from Block 2 of Bien Nacido, a parcel originally planted for Clendenen ( a whole bevy of clones & selections—Pommard, Mt Eden, 2A, 113, 114, 115 & a tiny bit of Pinot Meunier). The 2010 saw 10% whole cluster & roughly 1/3 new oak.

0b32008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Nielson Vineyard”

Another historic vineyard, originally planted in 1964. This 2008 “library” wine, however, is 777, saw NO stems & roughly 50% new oak.  I am always re-amazed at how much better the ABC wines get with bottle age.

2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

The 2012 is mostly from Block 2 of Bien Nacido, a parcel originally planted for Clendenen ( a whole bevy of clones & selections—Pommard, Mt Eden, 2A, 113, 114, 115 & a tiny bit of Pinot Meunier). The 2012 saw 50% whole cluster & roughly 75% new oak.

2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Talley Rincon Vineyard”

100% 2A Pinot selection, 50% whole cluster, 50% new oak. I have yet to have a Talley vineyard designated wine  That is better than what Clendenen produces. He truly is a master at balance & texture.

2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Rosemary’s Vineyard”

100% 2A, 100% whole cluster, 100% new oak. More forward, vinous & grandiose.

2011 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Knox Alexander”  0b4

Mainly from Block 11 of Bien Nacido (777, 667, 115, Swan & Jackson) with some 2A from Le Bon Climat 1/3 whole cluster & 100% new oak. Certainly the more Burgundian of his two top tier Pinots.

2011 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Isabelle”

A surreal barrel selection, in this case, the 40 best barrels of the vintage… from 10 different vineyards (from Anderson Valley down to Sanford & Benedict vineyard). This would be Clendenen’s Grand Cru bottling.

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