Isabelle - Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara
A great Pinot Noir made by a true genius!
Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat is, along with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, one of the most charismatic figures in the California wine industry. He has a "Didier Dagueneau" physique and an equally consuming passion for the quest for perfection. Jim does not own any vineyards and sources his grapes primarily from the Santa Maria Valley region of Southern California where the Bien Nacido and Sandford and Benedict vineyards are located, a 245 hectare vineyard close to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling influence and morning fog. For many years he used an old farmhouse and the abandoned CBS studios as his winery. Since 1988 he has had his own winery, which looks more like a storage facility than a conventional winery. No matter, Jim Clendenen's wines are recognized by the wine industry as being among the elite, no exuberant, heavy Chardonnays that are sometimes found in Napa and Sonoma Valley, although Jim concedes that some Napa wineries are now making Chardonnays his way. For him, Chardonnay must be planted in cooler regions than Napa, which allows for harvesting with lower alcohol potential and higher acidity. No sulphur is used here and oxidation is considered beneficial. Fermentation temperatures are high (26°C). The French barrels used are all exclusively from François Frères.
No racking, no sulphur, total malolactic fermentation in barrels, ageing on the lees for at least a year and often 18 months for the reserved cuvées, no filtration, these are the main characteristics of the vinification of the Au Bon Climat whites.
The entry-level Chardonnays are generally superb right from the start, while the Reserves require a little more time to soften and acquire the richness that perfectly balances the acidity. When it comes to vinifying his Pinots, Jim shows the same irreverence for technology and convention. Maceration for as long as possible with pumping over, punching down and malolactic fermentation in barrel, fining and racking to a minimum and no filtration. Au Bon Climat's Pinot Noirs are a subtle blend of sweet red fruits well centred around a firm but fine structure not unlike Volnay. Jim Clendenen also produces some outstanding Pinot Blancs, Aligoté and Italian varietal wines.
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