Famed Winemaker of Au Bon Climat Dies at Age 68
By edhat staff
Award-winning Santa Barbara County winemaker Jim Clendenen passed away in his sleep this past weekend. He was 68.
The news hit social media this weekend as numerous people in the wine industry paid their respects to Clendenen and his family.
Clendenen is described as "the mind behind" Au Bon Climat, a Santa Barbara County winery that he founded in 1982.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Clendenen found himself on the west coast attending UC Santa Barbara. In 1974 he studied abroad in France and "discovered life beyond tacos," according to Au Bon Climat's website.
Upon graduating in 1976 with high honors in pre-law, he spent time in France's Burgundy and Champagne regions that ultimately convinced him to abandon law school and focus on wine. He then worked harvest seasons in France, Australia, and at Santa Barbara County's own Zaca Mesa Winery.
In 1982, Clendenen decided, along with Adam Tolmach, to start a winery dedicated to Burgundian varietals in leased quarters. Tolmach left in 1990 and Clendenen continued on and built an international reputation for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. A second label named Clendenen Family Vineyards was created to allow for the pursuit of distinctive smaller-batch wines such as his Italian Nebbiolo.
Au Bon Climat was on the list of "Best Wineries in the World" by Robert Parker, the Los Angeles Times named Clendenen the "Los Angeles Time Winemaker of the Year" in 1992, and Food & Wine magazine named him "Winemaker of the Year" in 2001. Germany's leading wine magazine, Wein Gourmet, in 2004 name Clendenen “Winemaker of the World;” and in 2007, Jim was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.”
"Accolades abound but Jim does not rest on his laurels. He is continually looking to fine tune his craft and consequently leads the pack. Articulate, knowlegeable, well traveled, passionate, and uncensored with a biting humor, Jim Clendenen is an icon that wine cognoscenti gravitate to," according to his bio on Au Bon Climat.