Au Bon Climat has made Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County for 30 years. Our winemaking philosophy and winemaking practices have changed little over that time. Older equipment has been replaced by newer technologies, but better equipment improved the wines and allowed for gentler processing. We still hand pick and sort heavily in the vineyard. We still use open top fermenters allowing us to “punch down” by hand. Our top Pinot Noirs are never pumped, only moved by gravity. These high end Pinots are aged in new French Oak. Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir is basically the same since 1982, only better.
Isabelle is unlike any other Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir. Our top Pinot Noirs prior to making Isabelle in 1994 were all single vineyard wines. Isabelle was the first top end Pinot Noir that was a blend from different locations. After the birth of his daughter in 1995, Jim Clendenen wanted to make a special wine in her honor. Isabelle has developed into a unique young woman and her wine is unique for Au Bon Climat, a blended, high end Pinot Noir. We blend the best barrels from at least six different vineyards. These vineyards range from two vineyards in northern California, one in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and another in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, along with five or six of the top vineyards from the Central Coast. Making the best wine from our best barrels is the goal, so the blend has varied over the years. After tasting the best lots, we go through the barrel selection process. This tasting process takes a few days, after the initial selection, the barrels are reevaluated a few months later just prior to putting Isabelle together.
Antonio Galloni's Vinous
Score: 96 points "The 2016 Pinot Noir Isabelle is essentially a barrel selection from Au Bon Climat. Racy, perfumed and beautifully layered, the 2016 caresses the palate with stunning depth. Orange peel, tobacco, blood orange, spice, star anise and new oak add shades of exoticism throughout. A wine of exquisite beauty, the Isabelle is flat-out stunning in 2016. It got only a modest amount of stems (15%) and was aged in 100% new oak."
Prince of Pinot
Score: 96 points "Very heavy bottle, long cork. This bottling was inaugurated in 1994 to honor Jim Clendenen’s daughter Isabelle. This unique wine is a blend of barrels from the best vineyards not only from the Santa Maria Valley, but the Russian River Valley and even Monterey County in some years. The selection is done by Jim in the Au Bon Climat winery cellar and each year the blend for Isabelle is different. Isabelle is the richest Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir with loads of intensity and power, yet it remains balanced and food friendly. Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, sous-bois, ash and gentle oak come to the fore over time in the glass. The wellspiced red cherry fruit enters with a purpose, saturates the mid palate and exits with a ridiculously long finish. Nicely balanced and very approachable now, with bold but friendly tannins and energizing natural acidity. This beauty bowls you over.You will want to drink this one all by yourself. "
Score: 94+ "The 2016 Pinot Noir Isabelle comes mostly from the Bien Nacido Vineyard yet is from six different sites spread throughout California. Cherry pits, spicy oak, white flowers, and hints of earth and forest floor all emerge from the glass. It's still tight and reserved on the palate, yet has good tension, vibrancy, and purity as well as fine tannins. This beautiful, elegant wine will benefit from 4-5 years of bottle age and should drink brilliantly over the following 15 years or more."
Score: 93 points "Offers a crystalline structure, with powerful flavors of dried cherry and raspberry tart, backed by crunchy acidity. Intense minerality emerges midpalate, leading to a finish filled with baking spice notes and hints of cream. Drink now through 2024. From California. —K.M."
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate
Score: 92 points "The pale to medium ruby colored 2016 Pinot Noir Isabelle gives up very spicy aromas of dried cranberry, dried red cherries, amaro and citrus peel with old leather, dusty earth, woodsmoke, cola and wild blackberries. It's light to medium-bodied with intense, earthy fruits, a firm frame of grainy tannins and integrated freshness, finishing long. 1,600 cases produced."