2018 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Grabbing a pizza and enjoying it outside on a warm Fall evening, it was impromptu, and the pizza shop had a very dad list of choices, so I had to make do with my local Safeway’s wine selections, which includes mostly a sickened array of cloyingly sweet and formula made wines, like 19 Crimes, The Prisoner and Apothic, so some effort is needed to find a pleasing and real wine, my choice made easy when I spotted this Au Bon Climat Pinot, and it saved a beautiful night! Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat gave me some of my first great Pinot Noir experiences, bringing this magically grape into my life to my ever lasting gratitude and it was really fun to see what the currant release tasted like now, after 25 years as a wine professional, and I can tell you I got the same buzz and excitement with this gorgeous 2018 vintage, solidifying my admiration for Clendenen, who’s been making awesome Pinot and Chard since 1982. Jim’s wines came up in casual conversation recently, when a winemaker was discussing great values in California Chardonnay, well the same can be said about his Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, as it delivers exceptional purity and varietal character, and its just damn good stuff, at a more than fair price. The 2018 vintage continues to perform outstanding in the bottle and in the glass with ABC’s basic Santa Barbara cuvee revealing a heady perfume of rose and lily floral notes and red berry fruit on the nose, gaining mineral and delicate earthiness on the nose before opening up to black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits on the detailed and medium bodied palate, accented by snappy spices, subtle wood and bright acidity that helps balance and lift this Pinot. The 2018 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir only gets better with food, even with zesty marinara, pesto and Italian sausage which did not dull the clarity or quality in the slightest, in fact it brought out its personality and many smiles on my part, it was like being transported back to the early 1990s, remembering the stunning 1991 and 1992 versions of this wine!
Clendenen notes, Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 23 years before the movie “Sideways” brought a spotlight to Pinot Noir and to the region. In the 1980s and 90s, Jim adds, the product mix at Au Bon Climat was 75% to 80% Chardonnay to 20% to 25% Pinot Noir. This era was almost all about Chardonnay and must people, except for some enthusiasts who drank the likes of Joseph Swan, Chalone and Mount Eden, had not yet discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change, as Clendenen admits, in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes almost an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Au Bon Climat was a pioneering winery, and Clendenen is really part of California history and his wines inspired a region to focus on world class Pinot Noir. Clendenen’s passion and bigger than life personality brought serious attention to the quality of the vineyards in Santa Barbara County and especially Santa Maria Valley’s Bien Nacido Vineyard. Clendenen was an early admirer of this famed site and has crafted some of this historic sites best ever examples, he still makes one of the best, under his Historic Vineyards Collection series, and if this 2018 Santa Barbara is anything to go by, the 2018 single vineyard wines at ABC should be some of the best yet! Clendenen uses traditional Burgundian methods in the cellar with restrained use of new French oak and a more gentle/minimalist approach, he and his winemaking team focus on transparency and drinking pleasure, which is apparent in this latest effort. This wine brought out some child like joy and memories, it certainly shows Au Bon Climat still has it and I am thrilled. I also remember in the early 2000s, Clendenen doing one of first known Mondeuse in California, which I believe was originally mistaken for Pinot Noir. Sometimes moments in life, that happen by chance, make for the happiest of experiences, this bottle turned a normal day into a very special one. Clendenen has had a hall of fame career and has inspired and mentored many top winemakers, it great see he has not lost his groove.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive