Jim Clendenen 1953 - 2021
Jim Clendenen was born in Akron, Ohio to gastronomically impoverished parents during the culinary Dark Ages of the American 1950s. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with High Honors in Pre-Law in 1976. It was during his "junior year abroad" in 1974, while turning 21 in France, that he discovered life beyond tacos. After graduation, a one month stay in both Burgundy and Champagne convinced him to attempt a career in wine rather than continue on to law school.
Beginning with the 1978 harvest, Jim Clendenen was assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa Winery for three vintages, a valued training experience. In 1981 his vision broadened with three harvests in one year as Jim worked crush and directed the harvest at wineries in Australia and France. Three harvests in one year confirmed his masochistic tendencies.
In 1982, Clendenen decided, along with Adam Tolmach, to start a winery dedicated to Burgundian varietals in leased quarters. Adam left in 1990 to pursue his own efforts leaving Jim solo at the helm. Through careful re-investment from its own production, Au Bon Climat (which means "a well exposed vineyard") has grown to over 50,000 cases annually.
Au Bon Climat sources fruit from several of the most highly regarded vineyards in the Central Coast. These include Clendenen’s own vineyards, Le Bon Climat and Rancho La Cuna, in addition to estate plantings at the legendary Bien Nacido Vineyard. Other key resouces are Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), and Runway Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.
The winery has cultivated an international reputation for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that are classically styled wines of balance, restraint and longevity. In addition to Jim's Burgundian-focused Au Bon Climat wines, he also established another brand, Clendenen Family Vineyards. This project of passion allowed him to make artisan, small lots of distinctive wines from a wider spectrum of varieties in styles conducive to small lots. He has received high acclaim for Italian varietals particularly his Nebbiolo that has a five year aging regimen in barrel.
Jim is recognized as one of the lions of the wine industry, as both an enthusiastic ambassador and as a guiding light for the Santa Barbara County wine region. He was essential in elevating Burgundian varietals on the Central Coast early on and continued to be a driving force throughout his life. Accolades abound including being on Robert Parker's short list of Best Wineries in the World and Jim being an inductee of the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. Yet, Jim did not rest on his laurels. He continually looked to fine tune his craft and consequently led the pack. Articulate, knowledgeable, well traveled, passionate, and uncensored with a biting humor, Jim Clendenen was an icon that wine cognoscenti gravitate to. On May 16, 2021 Jim passed away in his sleep.
The void Jim left is huge, but his legacy continues. Jim had in place for many years a top notch winemaking team headed by Jim Adelman, who has been overseeing the winemaking at Au Bon Climat for over 30 years. The rest of the winemaking team have also been their for decades. In addition Jim's children, Isabelle and Knox Clendenen, are gearing up to take the reins and move forward.