Au Bon Climat sources fruit from several of the most highly regarded vineyards on the Central Coast, primarily in Santa Barbara County. These include Clendenen’s own Le Bon Climat Vineyard and estate plantings at the legendary Bien Nacido Vineyard – both in Santa Maria Valley. Other iconic locations such as Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), and San Luis Obispo County's Talley Vineyard, are also regularly employed.
Bien Nacido Vineyard
The fabled Bien Nacido Vineyard, first planted in 1973, is the primary vineyard source for Au Bon Climat wines. The site, planted to 900 acres of vines, is located at the northern end of California's Santa Barbara County, on elevated bench land about 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean; to the east lie the foothills leading up to the Sierra Madre Mountains. Though the ocean can be viewed only from the hills surrounding the vineyards, the influence of the sea is felt in the cool temperatures of the Santa Maria Valley AVA. It is on the receiving end of the only east-west transverse mountain range in California allowing maritime-influenced morning fog and cool afternoon breezes making this a Region I in climate. Here, grapes thrive in one of the longest growing seasons in the state and are allowed extended hang-time on the vines to encourage the full development of flavor, color, and other vital components.
Warm days and cool nights combine with soils composed of gravel and calciferous clay produce wines with a unique and much sought-after character. Effective, sustainable viticultural practices and vineyard management ensure the highest quality grapes year to year. The wines have distinctive aromatics, spice, minerality, complexity, and great balance. Bien Nacido Vineyard produces internationally renowned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from more than 40 different producers. Other varietals planted at the vineyard that enjoy these growing conditions that we use are Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Tocai Friulano, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, and Refosco.
Le Bon Climat
In 1998 Jim Clendenen purchased 100 acres in Sisquoc along the south side of the Sisquoc River and directly across the Santa Maria Valley from Bien Nacido (and the same distance from the Pacific Ocean). The sustainably farmed vineyard was comprehensively planted to ensure the best possible growing conditions including using Riparia Gloire rootstock to reduce vigor, installing drip irrigation and drainage in the soil, and limiting the vines to 1,600 per acre of carefully selected plant material. The vineyard is situated primarily on hill tops (an additional 11 acres were planted in 2006 & 2007 along the valley floor), with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Viognier as the original plantings joined by Gewürztraminer and Aligoté later. An exceptional vineyard producing wines of firm structure, restrained fruit, and a regal viscous texture.
Rancho La Cuna
Rancho La Cuna, located in the Los Alamos Valley, is another vineyard owned by Jim Clendenen. Originally planted in the late 1990s, the 6 acre vineyard is organically farmed and planted to Syrah, Viognier and Pinot Noir. Los Alamos Valley lies between two acclaimed appellations: Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. Here, the grapes seem to have the best of both worlds; the long, cool growing season of Santa Maria for structure, and the warmth of the Santa Ynez Valley to ensure complete ripeness and depth. With warm days and very cold nights, the fruit from this region achieves incredible concentration and balance. Its slight, well drained soils and a wide range of microclimates allows for a diversity of varietals. Because Los Alamos Valley is not an official appellation, and cannot be listed as such a wine label - "Santa Barbara County" is used instead.
California’s former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado Jr. and his daughter Erika Maldonado founded Runway Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley in 2008 with 16 acres planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris vines on a 1,000 acre parcel. It is located about a mile from our winery, essentially next door to Bien Nacido Vineyards. We have watched their development from the beginning. After all, we are very “nosy” neighbors. The vineyard has improved every year as farming methods were fine tuned. Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir characteristically has a very fragrant, cranberry, rose petal aroma, and firm structure. The fruit from Runway provides that, yet is richer and more intense. We are now making Runway Vineyard Pinot Noir a large part of our single vineyard Pinot program. The soil there is sandy so once the weather warms in the summer, the grapes ripen quickly. Due to our proximity, we can pick the grapes “just right”.
Sierra Madre Vineyard
From Sierra Madre Vineyard, you can smell the ocean from the vine-covered bluffs that rise up on sandy soils just 15 miles from the salty Pacific Ocean in the Santa Maria Valley. The Santa Maria Valley is an exceptionally cool growing region that encourages slow ripening over a long period of time, allowing for the development of structure and flavor intensity. At Sierra Madre Vineyard, this situation is balanced by just enough heat units to fully ripen the clusters each vintage. Average temperatures throughout the growing season range from 65 to 75 degrees, making it similar to areas of Burgundy where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were initially conceived. As its proximity to the ocean dictates, the soils of Sierra Madre Vineyard are marine by nature, and made up of sandy to sandy-loam textures. Soil vigor is considered low, which contributes to extensive root development, lower yields and concentrated fruit. Originally planted in 1971, Sierra Madre Vineyard is now home to 91.4 acres of Chardonnay, 64.22 acres of Pinot Noir, 11.97 acres of Pinot Gris and 5.8 acres of Pinot Blanc.
The wines are distinctive with minerality, tight structure, body and the signature Talley spice character. The Talley family owns six unique vineyards comprising 177 acres in southern San Luis Obispo County. We utilize the Rincon Vineyard and Rosemary's Vineyard both located in the cool climate of the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA. High quality and long-term sustainability are the two principles that guide Talley Vineyards' farming decisions. Biologically based farming techniques and integrated pest management practices are employed throughout the vineyards.
The Rincon Vineyard is located eight miles northeast of the Pacific Ocean and is the oldest of the vineyards with the first plantings dating to 1982. Rincon means “corner” in Spanish and refers to the corner of the historic Rancho Santa Manuela land grant that underlay much of Arroyo Grande Valley. The vineyard is planted with 49 acres of Chardonnay, 33 acres of Pinot noir, and 2 acres of Syrah on two steep southerly facing hillsides that rise from the floor of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Many of the vines in the Rincon Vineyard grow on their own roots and are low in vigor and yield small quantities of fruit with great concentration and complexity. The soil in the Rincon Vineyard is shallow, and is composed of loam and calcareous clay. This soil type is reminiscent of the vineyards of Burgundy, particularly those located in the Côte de Nuits. The shallow soil, coupled with the steepness of the hills, facilitates drainage and results in chardonnay and pinot noir yields averaging less than three tons per acre.
Rosemary's Vineyard is located on a hillside surrounding Rosemary Talley's home about one mile west of the Rincon Vineyard and is characterized by white, rocky fractured sandstone and loam, with some clay in the subsoil. Like the Rincon Vineyard, Rosemary's Vineyard is steep and very well drained. Because it is closer to the ocean, it is slightly cooler. Yields average less than three tons per acre. Planting at Rosemary's Vineyard began in 1987. The 29-acre vineyard is planted to 12 acres of Chardonnay and 17 acres of Pinot Noir.
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard
The first “great“ vineyard in Santa Barbara County was planted by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict in 1971, first with Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, then later with Pinot Noir vines from Karl Wente. The Burgundian varieties had found a home in Santa Barbara County. But it was not until 2001 that the Santa Rita Hills region, where the vineyard resides, was acknowledged for its distinctiveness and became a bonafide American Viticultural Area. Located at the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, its maritime winds create a very cool growing climate where the classic Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, thrive. With a mantle of hard, siliceous chert-gravel covering deep, well-drained soils, it is a perfect medium for Pinot and Chardonnay. Sanford & Benedict is primarily planted with Pinot Noir (68 acres) and Chardonnay (52 acres).
Au Bon Climat was lucky enough to buy a few tons grapes from Michael Benedict in the mid 1980s, and since then, Au Bon Climat has received grapes from this vineyard every year except 1990 when the vineyard was in transition. As the “new” winemaking crowd discovered and consequently worshiped this vineyard, demand for Sanford and Benedict grapes has skyrocketed. Au Bon Climat still buys some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the original plantings of this vineyard as we have for the last 23 years. Only Sanford Winery has that kind of “history “with this vineyard.
Los Alamos Vineyard
Los Alamos lies between the cool Santa Maria Valley appellation to the north and the warmer Santa Ynez Valley appellation to the south. The region seems to have the best characteristics of both appellations. To date the Los Alamos Valley does not have a federally approved appellation and wines are labeled under the more generic Santa Barbara County designation.
Au Bon Climat and Los Alamos Vineyard share a lot of history. The first Au Bon Climat winery was a small barn on the Los Alamos Vineyard property. That was in 1982. Since then Los Alamos Vineyard has changed hands a few times and Au Bon Climat moved from that property in 1989. Most of the owners of Los Alamos were interested in farming cheaply and setting and ripening a lot of grapes. This sort of viticulture was of no interest to Au Bon Climat. In 2004 the farming of this vineyard was “handed over” to Tavo Acosta. Tavo is one of the new generation of viticulturists in the Santa Maria area. This group is motivated to grow the best grapes to make the best wine and they drink wine, too. This newer farming is more hands on and expensive than the earlier methods, but the quality difference is huge. The improvements at Los Alamos Vineyard are ongoing and this vineyard will be a large part of the Au Bon Climat portfolio going forward.
Chardonnay grapes are grown at the top wind-swept slopes of the rolling Solomon Hills. On this hilltop the wind and shallower soils keep the yields low and the grapes struggle to ripen. These hardy vines produce grapes with concentration and richness. Los Alamos Vineyard is roughly 500 planted acres, most of which is on flat bottomland of the Los Alamos Valley. The best grapes from this vineyard are found to the north on the gentle slopes of the hills. We also get Pinot Noir from down the slope of the same hills.