These three wineries are housed in one facility in Santa Maria. Au Bon Climat Winery (which means “a well exposed vineyard”) was founded in 1982 by Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach. Qupé Winery was also started in 1982 by Bob Lindquist. Chanin Wine Company was started in 2007 by Gavin Chanin.
Au Bon Climat and Qupé are pioneer wineries in the Santa Maria/Santa Ynez area. Chanin is the new kid on the block. Here’s the connection. Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, and Tony Chanin started at Zaca Mesa Winery. Zaca Mesa was built in 1978 and was one of the earliest wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. Tony Chanin is the nephew of my great long time friend Ed Lazarus who was one of the original editors of the old Underground Wineletter and is a contributing editor today to the new Underground. To learn more about wine, Tony and Jim started coming to some of the tastings we used to do for the old Underground. We would gather up the wines we wanted to taste, get some food, set a time and a place and then invite people to attend and share the cost. We did the tastings at different homes, but mostly at places like The Wine House in West Los Angeles still there and going strong today ( www.winehouse.com), Red Carpet in Glendale (www.redcarpet.wine.com ), and Lawry’s California Center in Los Angeles (sadly closed about 10 years ago). These wine tasting and food events were widely attended by many different people and Tony and Jim were amongst the youngest participants.
Later, as mentioned earlier, Jim would go on to start Au Bon Climat with Adam Tolmach and at the same time Bob Lindquist founded Qupé. Tony left and went back to join his family’s business. In 1991 Adam left Au Bob Climat to start Ojai vineyards. Then, in 2004 after graduating from high school, Gavin Chanin, Tony’s son, started working summers at Au Bon Climat. He worked there during his college years (except for 2007 when he worked at wineries on South Africa and New Zealand). In 2007 he started Chanin Wine Company using a portion of the winery shared by Au Bon Climat and Qupe. In 2009 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA with a major in art, he started working full time at Au Bon Climat and Qupe. What Jim, Bob, and Gavin all have in common is a dedication to making wine with minimal intervention. This winemaking trio (as well as Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards – watch for my upcoming article) makes wines that are balanced and develop and evolve over a long period of time. This is a trend that follows the philosophy of Paul Draper and Ridge Vineyards. (To see my article on Ridge Vineyards click here.) It is a trend that is gaining momentum as the “industrial winemaking” or wines on steroids phenomenon is showing signs of fatigue (For more on this subject click here.)
With Edward Lazarus, I recently paid a visit to the facility in Santa Maria that is home to the three wineries. We visited with Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, and Gavin Chanin and tasted Au Bon Climat, Qupe, and Chanin wines from barrel and bottle. (Later, I went to Oak View to taste with Adam Tolmach at Ojai vineyards and will have an article on Adam and Ojai vineyards soon.) After the tasting we had a most enjoyable lunch (prepared by Jim and his staff) with Jim, Bob, Gavin and the rest of the staff. Accompanying the lunch were some wonderful wines – young and old – which we drank with the food. It was a real treat. My notes on the wines follow:
Jim Clendenen is a very gregarious, inventive, and innovative guy. His wines carry a lot of different labels. The Santa Barbara Historic Collection designates wines made from the oldest vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Other wines are named for his children. Clendenen Family Vineyards is a name used for wines made from family owned vineyards. And, there are other names for some Italian varieties. All share one thing in common – a dedication to make balanced wines that respect their origin.
2010 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Historic Vineyard Collection (Barrel Sample). Light yellow gold in color this Chardonnay is already showing a stunning perfume of citrus and mineral with faint floral honeyed nuances. The complexity follows through on the palate and the wine has intensity and balance with a long crisp finish – Outstanding Potential.
2010 Au Bob Climat Chardonnay Le Bon Climat Vineyard Santa Maria Valley (Barrel Sample). Light yellow gold in color this Chardonnay shows a floral tinged perfume with hints of peach and citrus. It has gorgeous fruit and is balanced and harmonious with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Potential.
2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Collection. Light yellow gold in color this Chardonnay has a lovely floral tinged perfume with hints of peach and citrus. The fruit is lovely and balanced by a nice underlying crispness with a citrus and mineral complexity and a long crisp finish – Outstanding. $25 Best Buy
2008 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Collection. This Chardonnay has a light yellow color and a lovely spice tinged floral perfume. It has a lot of fruit with citrus and mineral tinges. The finish is long and crisp. This wine should have a long life ahead – Outstanding. $30 Best Buy
2008 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Santa Barbara County Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Collection. This wine is light yellow in color and has a lovely floral perfume with hints of peach and citrus. Finnesseful and balanced it has very nice fruit and a long crisp finish – Outstanding. $30 Best Buy
1997 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Le Bouge d’a Cote Santa Maria Valley. Light golden yellow in color this Chardonnay has a deep perfume that is honeyed and faintly spicy and waxy. It is rich and round with lots of honeyed flavors and hints of citrus and spice. At a peak now this wine is a real treat to drink – Outstanding.
1988 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Benedict Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley. Made with only 12.5% alcohol, and at over 20 years old, this is a gorgeous Chardonnay. Golden in color the wine shows a lovely honey tinged perfume with faint hints of caramel. It is rich, full and rounded with lovely fruit and hints of honey, caramel, citrus and a faint touch of spice – Outstanding.
2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Selection (Barrel Sample). This wine has a nice color and a lovely perfume showing floral and spice nuances. It is supple and balanced with lovely fruit – Very Good Potential.
2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard Santa Maria Valley (Barrel Sample). This Pinot Noir has a very nice color and a lovely perfume showing berry fruit with a faintly floral undertone. It is rounded and supple with a lovely flavor and a very nice finish – Very Good Potential Plus.
2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Collection. This Pinot Noir has a very nice color with an amber edge and a lovely perfume with floral and berry nuances. The wine has very good structure and depth with spice tinged berry fruit and is flavorful with a very nice finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $35
2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Estate Grown Knox Alexander Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. This Pinot Noir comes from a parcel at the very top of Bien Nacido. It is named for Jim Clendenen’s son. It has a deep color with an amber edge and a gorgeous floral perfume with tinges of berry fruit and spice. The wine has lots of spice tinged fruit and has depth and structure and is very flavorful – Outstanding. $45
2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Isabelle Morgan California. This unique wine is always a blend of the best 40 barrels from single vineyard Pinot Noir. It is named for Jim Clendenen’s daughter. It is always very flavorful and balanced and this 2008 is no exception. The wine has a deep color and a gorgeous floral spice tinged berry perfume. It has lots of fruit with just a tinge of spice and a faint floral note. Very harmonious with depth and a long finish this is a very impressive Pinot Noir – Outstanding. $50
2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Barbara County Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard Selection. This is a gorgeous Pinot Noir. It has a deep color with an amber edge and a great floral perfume with underlying spice tinged berry and cherry fruit. The wine has great intensity and lots of fruit which is rich and rounded. The finish is long and crisp. It is delicious now but should have a very long life ahead – Outstanding $35 Best Buy
2008 Au Bon Climat Pinot NoirTalley Rincon Eastside Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley. With a deep color this wine has a lovely berry perfume with a tinge of spice. It is loaded with fruit and has hints of spice and a faint floral nuance. The wine is balanced with a nice underlying crispness and has a long crisp finish – Outstanding. $40
2001 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Estate Grown Knox Alexander Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. Dark in color with an amber tone and a amber edge this wine has an intense perfume of plums and spice with a faint floral note. It is rich and rounded with lots of flavor showing plummy spice tinged fruit. Balanced and long on the palate this is a lovely Pinot Noir that has aged beautifully – Outstanding.
1999 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Isabelle Morgan California. Dark in color with and amber tone and an amber edge this Pinot Noir has a gorgeous perfume of plums, spice, and a faint tinge of smokiness. The wine had lots of fruit accented by floral spice nuances. It is balanced with impressive length on the finish and is a pleasure to drink – Outstanding.
2004 Au Bon Climat Nebbiolo Clendenen Family Vineyards Reserva. The Nebbiolo vines which produced the grapes for this wine were planted in 1994 on land leased from Bien Nacido Vineyard. The wine spent 6 years in barrel. The color is deep with some amber and the perfume is woodsy and floral with some spice. The wine has great texture with woodsy cedary spice tinged flavors accented by a citrus tinged crispness on the finish. Only 300 cases were made and the wine is unusual to be sure but it is a very nice drink and would go very well with a spicy tomato meat based pasta – Highly Recommended. $35
2002 Au Bon Climat Nebbiolo Clendenen Family Vineyards. With a deep color showing an amber tone and an amber edge this wine has a woodsy cedary spicy perfume. It is soft with woodsy cedary flavors showing a tinge of citrus on the finish – Highly Recommended.
1990 Au Bon Climat Nebbiolo Il Podere Dell Olivos Santa Barbara County. This wine was bottled after spending four years in barrel. It is dark in color with a amber tone and an amber edge and has a perfume of dried fig, cedar and spice. It is soft but with a good underlying acidity and is woodsy, cedary and spicy. Again, this is an unusual wine but one that has held together well and would match very well robust or spicy foods – Highly Recommended .
1995 Au Bon Climat Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah Santa Maria Valley. This wine was aged in barrel for 3 years and bottled with 10% Viognier. It is a really gorgeous Syrah with complex flavors and great depth and balance. Dark in color the wine has a gorgeous perfume of blackberry fruit with spicy floral notes and hints of dried herbs and roasted nuts. It is lush and rounded with lots of fruit tinged with spice, smoke, dried herbs, and roasted nuts. This wine has a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus.
Bob Lindquist makes some of the best and most age worthy wines in California. The older wines reviewed below are prime examples. And the Viognier is not to be missed.
1998 Qupé Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley. This wine is composed of 78% Marsanne and 22% Roussane. It is flat out delicious. Light yellow gold in color the wine has a ripe apple perfume with a buttery, honeyed nuance. The apple like fruit flavors are gorgeous and are complemented by tinges of caramel, honey, and citrus. With great balance and a long finish this wine, as good as it is now, still has a long life ahead. Bob says that he has the wine back to the 1988 vintage and all vintages are robust and none are in decline. This is truly remarkable stuff – Exceptional.
1998 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Reserve Santa Maria Valley. Wow! This is a stunning older Syrah. It is made from the oldest cool climate Syrah vines in California which were grafted to Syrah in 1986. It bears an uncanny resemblance to really good older Cote Rotie. The color is dark and the wine has a perfume of plums and roasted nuts with a faint smokiness. It is rich and balanced with layers of flavor. The fruit is accented by a faint smokiness and faint cedar nuance. This is Syrah as it should be. It is the polar opposite of the new wave high alcohol Steroid Syrahs that assault your palate. This wine is harmonious and very flavorful. It will continue to gain complexity with age and drink beautifully for many, many years. Bravo – Outstanding Plus.
2010 Qupé Viognier Ibarra-Young Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley. This is a delicious Viognier. It is light yellow in color and has a gorgeous floral perfume with hints of peach, apricot, and a tinge of citrus. It is lush, supple and elegant with lovely fruit flavors of apricot, peach and citrus and a floral undertone with just a faint hint of spice. The finish is long and crisp – Outstanding Plus. $30
1991 Qupé Viognier Los Olivos Vineyard Santa Barbara County. Who says Viognier doesn’t age? At 20 years of age this Viognier is simply great! Light gold in color the perfume is complex and intense. A myriad of herbs are married with floral undertones and a hint of honey. The wine is lush and silky with subtle hints of flowers, herbs, and spice. Yet underneath is a balancing crispness that follows through on the long finish which also has an intriguing tinge of grapefruit – Extraordinary.
Gavin Chanin is a talented, serious and hard working young lad. He is also very fortunate to have been able to start his career under the tutelage of two of California’s best vintners. His bottles are literally works of art as each bears a painting done by Gavin Chanin the artist. The wines are lovely to look at and lovely to drink.
2010 Chanin Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Block W (Barrel Sample). This part of the Bien Nacido Vineyard was grafted from Riesling to Chardonnay in 1984. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay with a light yellow gold color and a lovely perfume of peach and citrus with faint hints of tropical fruit and spice. It is flavorful and balanced with good underlying acidity and a long finish – Outstanding Potential.
2010 Chanin Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard (Barrel Sample). This Chardonnay is distinguished by more crispness that the Bien Nacido. It is light yellow gold in color and has a lovely perfume with faint hints of citrus and spice and a floral nuance. On the palate there is lots of citrus tinged fruit and the wine is vibrant and crisp with a long finish – Outstanding Potential.
2008 Chanin Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley. 150 cases produced, Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue this Chardonnay has a lovely floral perfume with hints of citrus and spice. It is elegant and finesseful yet has a nicely balanced crispness and a long finish – Outstanding. $30
2008 Chanin Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. 350 cases produced. This wine has a light yellow gold color and a gorgeous perfume showing hints of citrus, peach and spice and a faint tropical nuance. It has great fruit and balance with a citrus tinge. This Chardonnay is drinking beautifully now but should keep for many years – Outstanding. $30
2010 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard T Block Santa Maria Valley (Barrel Sample). Only 4 barrels (100 cases) of this Pinot Noir were produced. With a deep color the wine has a gorgeous perfume of spice tinged blackberry fruit with a floral undertone. It is loaded with fruit and is rich and rounded with great underlying structure. The flavors are harmonious with lots of intensity – Outstanding Potential.
2010 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block Santa Maria Valley (Barrel Sample). Only 2 barrels (50 cases) of this wine was produced. It has a deep color and a great perfume with hints of berry, cherry, and spice. The fruit is rich and layered with cherries and berries and a faint floral spice undertone. This is a really delicious Pinot Noir with great balance and a long finish – Outstanding Potential Plus.
2009 Chanin Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley. 75 cases produced. With a deep color just amber at the edge this Pinot Noir has a lovely berry fruit perfume with a floral spice tinge. It is elegant and rounded with lovely fruit and flavor. The wine is quite rich yet is structured and balanced with a lovely finish – Outstanding. $45
2009 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Santa Maria Valley. 200 cases produced. This is a really gorgeous Pinot Noir. With a deep color the wine has a stunning floral perfume with hints of spice and a faint green olive nuance. It is supple, lush and seductive with layers of fruit and complex floral nuances tinged with spice and a faint hint of green olive. Long on the finish this wine is delicious and should drink beautifully for many years – Outstanding Plus. $45 This wine will be released in 2012.
2008 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley. This wine has a deep color and a faint amber edge and a lovely floral perfume with hints of berries and spice. It has lovely fruit with a tinge of spice and is elegant and finesseful – Highly Recommended Plus. $45
This is a remarkable line up of old and young wines. The old wines are marvelous and clearly demonstrate the ability of the wines to age and develop into something very special. Au Bon Climat and Qupe now have a track record developed over nearly 30 years. Chanin is just starting, but the outlook is bright ahead. In short, these three wineries are making seriously terrific wine. If you are not already familiar with them you need to find out what you are missing. Both Au Bon Climat and Qupe have wine clubs that you really should check out. The wines are attractively priced and wine club members get discounts making it an even better deal. Chanin is new and the amount of wine currently being made is very small. That is a good reason to get on the mailing list and buy direct. Listed below is the contact information:
Au Bon Climat www.aubonclimat.com