Au Bon Climat is a Burgundy-centric winery, meaning if the grapes aren’t grown in Burgundy, then Au Bon Climat doesn’t make that type of wine. Wineries in Burgundy are limited to Aligoté, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay for white wines. Starting in 1990 Au Bon Climat made Pinot Blanc from old vines planted at Bien Nacido. Pinot Gris was planted at Bien Nacido, after experimental planting showed favorable results, in 1994. Our first Pinot Gris, the 1995 vintage was made from these small experimental plantings.
Au Bon Climat began blending Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc in 1997. The percentages of each variety changes from year to year. The Pinot Gris crop at Bien Nacido was variable. Some years the yield would be three tons per acre and some years would be less than one ton per acre. We started buying Pinot Gris from Sierra Madre Vineyard in 2009, to get a consistent source of Pinot Gris.
Pinot Gris are the first grapes harvested each year, at the end of August. Our crisp Pinot Gris is picked with low sugar and high acidity. The Pinot Gris portion of the blend supplies the energy, while the Pinot Blanc delivers minerality and depth. The Pinot Blanc portion is from Bien Nacido Vineyard. All Bien Nacido grapes are well farmed. Au Bon Climat is located in the Bien Nacido vineyard allowing us to closely monitor the maturity of the grape and pick at optimum ripeness.
Most of the Pinot Gris in the 2020 Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc is from Sierra Madre Vineyard. Sierra Madre Vineyard is one of the oldest vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley. The long history of Sierra Madre started in the early 1970s and has changed hands 5 times since in the last 40 years. Mondavi owned the vineyard for five years in late 1990s. Mondavi had capital to invest, since they had just gone public, Sierra Madre vineyard benefitted greatly from the few years of Mondavi ownership and investment in the vineyard. Known for the varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there are only 12 acres of Pinot Gris at Sierra Madre.
All the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are harvested by hand, whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented. Upon completion of sugar and malo-lactic fermentations, the wine is sulfured and rests surlees until the late summer. After racking and processing, the wine was returned to barrel spending a total 6 months in the barrel before bottling. Early bottle whites usually require a light filtration.
The crop was bountiful and the weather warm, leading to balanced, delicious grapes. Both Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc had small grapes on small clusters. Smaller grapes are more intense due to having more skin in the skin to fruit ratio. The skin of the grape has the flavor. More skin, more flavor.
The piercing acid of the Pinot Gris was softened by malo-lactic fermentation in small barrels. This secondary fermentation gives the wine some richness. Richness is very different than flabbiness. This is a rich wine with structure. This combination makes for food-friendly wines.
The Au Bon Climat 2020 Pinot Gris 75%/Pinot Blanc 25% is a versatile wine. It is light and refreshing making a good choice for an aperitif. It has enough body and intensity to go with food as well. The minerality and acidity make this a great wine for shellfish of any kind but it is also delightful with roast chicken, turkey or pastas with a light béchamel sauce. The aromas are salty, mineral with a lemon-lime note. In the mouth the wine is rich and textural, from the time spent on lees in the barrel. Au Bon Climat makes a longer barrel aged version of this wine called Hildegard which is Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Aligoté, with more oak influence and more barrel and bottle age. If you like our Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc blends, on a special occasion, try our Hildegard.