Recently I visited Jim Clendenen, the founder and owner of Au Bon Climat aka “Mind Behind,” and his crew at Au Bon Climat & Qupé winery which is also affectionately referred to as “The Shed.” Accompanying me was Craig Olson, the President and CEO of Hillside House. Founded in 1945, Hillside House is a non profit residential facility for people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy. The purpose of the visit was to catch up on newer wines from Au Bon Climat & Qupé and also to plan the details of the upcoming annual fund raising wine and food event for Hillside House.
The annual Hillside House fundraising event is a Sunset Soirée dinner held at the fabulous, historic El Mirador estate in Montecito, CA. This is a great wine & food celebration with proceeds going to Hillside House. Last year it was Ridge Vineyards wines with Eric Braugher, Monte Bello Winemaker and COO, (click here  to read about that event). A photo from last year’s event as well as the program cover and menu from last year’s event are shown below:
This year the event will be held on June 9 and will feature Jim Clendenen and the wines of Au Bon Climat (click here to read about Hillside House, this year’s event, and information on purchasing tickets). This will be a great event and the proceeds go to a very worthy cause. I hope that many of you will plan to attend.
It had been some time since I paid a visit to Au Bon Climat and Qupé (click here  to read an early article with background information). Visiting Au Bon Climat and Qupé is always a real treat as there are always many great wines in barrel to taste as well as many bottles of older wines. Without question, this is one of the great California wineries and it is now at the point of achieving historic status with over 35 years of operating history and a track record of producing some of California’s best wines (to read about some of their awards click here  and here ). Today the annual production is just under 100,000 cases with over 60% Au Bon Climat and the balance Qupé.
Below is a history of Au Bon Climat and Qupé taken from an earlier article. This is followed by tasting notes from my recent visit. There are many terrific wines from which to choose and many wines are made available at special pricing through their wine clubs (to read about the Au Bon Climat wine club click here  and to read about the Qupé wine club click here ).
AU BON CLIMAT & QUPÉ HISTORY
Since 1989 Au Bon Climat and Qupé have been housed in one facility in Santa Maria. This facility is affectionately referred to as “The Shed.” 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. Au Bon Climat and Qupé are pioneer wineries in the Santa Maria/Santa Ynez area. 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. In the early days, to learn more about wine, Jim and one of his co-workers at Zaca Mesa, Tony Chanin, started coming to some of the tastings we used to do for the old Underground. Tony is the nephew of my good friend Edward Lazarus who has been involved with the Underground from the very beginning. (Tony soon left to join his family’s business. And, in 2007 Tony’s son, Gavin, would join his father’s old buddies at Au Bon Climat & Qupé and then go on to start making his own wines under the Chanin label.) In those early days of The 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), Red Carpet Wine & Spirits Glendale (sold some years ago and now under new ownership in Arcadia), and Lawry’s California Center in Los Angeles (sadly closed some 20 years ago). These wine tasting and food events were widely attended by many different people and Tony and Jim were among the youngest participants.
Later, as mentioned before, Jim would go on to start Au Bon Climat with Adam Tolmach and at the same time Bob Lindquist founded Qupé. In 1991 Adam left Au Bob Climat to start Ojai Vineyards. 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 wines on steroids phenomenon is showing signs of fatigue (for more on this subject click here ) Today, after over 30 years of making wine, it can be said that Au Bon Climat and Qupé, under the direction of Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist have made, and are continuing to make, some of the best and most age worthy wines in California. If you are not familiar with these wines, it’s time that you made yourself acquainted. As the notes below attest, I think you will be glad you did. Also, to visit the websites and join the wine clubs and purchase the older library releases click here  for Au Bon Climat and click here  for Qupé.
AU BON CLIMAT & QUPÉ TASTING NOTES
Recent vintages include 2015 which was a small crop. Then 2016 started off warm like 2014 but cooled later in the year. 2017 marked the end of the drought and is like 2016 but with just a bit less intensity. While there are differences in the vintages, all the wines are harmonious, stylistic, and very consistent which is typical of Au Bon Climat wines.
Au Bon Climat
Gewurztraminer Le Bon Climat
Light yellow in color. Deep perfume with spice and exotic nuances accented with citrus tinges. Very pure fruit. Very refined with a subtle spiciness. Balanced with a nice underlying crispness. This will be a lovely Gewurztraminer.
Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict
Light yellow color. Lovely perfume with floral tinges. Bright and crisp with very nice fruit. Floral, citrus nuances. A lovely, stylistic Chardonnay in the making.
Chardonnay Le Bon Climat
Light yellow color. Nice floral tinged perfume. Lush and rounded with lots of fruit showing a faint vanilla tinge. Beautifully balanced this Chardonnay should have early appeal.
Aligoté Le Bon Climat
The original white grape variety in Burgundy before the phylloxera epidemic of the mid to late 19th century destroyed the vines, Aligoté was then replaced with Chardonnay which is the basis for White Burgundy today. In recent years small amounts of Aligoté are now being produced in California. Wines made from Aligoté grapes generally show more acidity than those made with Chardonnay. They are very good food wines that match beautifully with fish. This looks to be a lovely example.
Light yellow color. Lovely floral perfume with a hint of anise. Flavorful, full, and round with a bright underlying crispness. This should evolve beautifully.
Tokai Friulano Le Bon Climat
Up until recently this was the name of white wine made in the Northeastern part of Italy. A change in European law dictated that the wine made in Italy now be called Friulano. The grape had an intriguing fruitiness with good acidity and this wine is true to form.
Light yellow color. Gorgeous perfume with a faint spiciness. Bright and crisp on the palate with floral notes and a faint exotic fruit, citrus undertone. This should make a lovely, distinctive wine.
2016 Chardonnay Bien Nacido K Block
The vines here were planted in 1973. This wine was tasted just prior to bottling. It is one component of several different pickings. Light yellow color. Lovely perfume. Balanced with richness and depth. Gorgeous Chardonnay.
2016 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Block 11 Clone 667
This will be one component of the Bien Nacido blend. Very nice color. Deep berry perfume. Lots of fruit with balance and a lot of charm.
2016 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict
This is the primary component of 3 lots that will go into the Sanford & Benedict bottling.
Very nice color. Lovely perfume with berry fruit accented by faint spice and floral undertones. Lots of fruit. Very elegant, yet flavorful with lovely balance.
2016 Pinot Noir Rancho La Cuna Los Alamos
Made from 10 year old vines grown on Jim’s ranch. Very nice color. Lovely raspberry tinged perfume with intriguing hints of spice and mint. Very pure fruit. Balanced and flavorful with a nice underlying crispness. This should evolve beautifully.
2015 Viognier Clendenen Family Vintners Le Bon Climat Second Coming Santa Maria Valley
The notation “Second Coming” on the label is a biblical reference and this Viognier is certainly well received in my book. Light gold in color the wine has a lovely faintly exotic perfume with a faint floral undertone. Rounded, lush, and very fruity it is silky and tasty with a tinge of crispness on the finish – Outstanding. $40
2014 Viognier Clendenen Family Vintners Le Bon Climat Santa Maria
Light yellow gold in color, this Viognier has a deep floral perfume with a faint exotic nuance. It is rounded with lots of floral tinged fruit and a faint spiciness. A nice underlying citrus tinge gives the wine lift and the finish has a nicely balanced crispness – Outstanding. $18
2015 Clendenen Family Vineyards Hildegard Estate Bottled
This wine is made with 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Aligoté. These are believed to be the original varietals planted in Corton Charlemagne. It is very unusual and, at the same time, very interesting and attractive. Light yellow in color the wine has a citrus tinged floral perfume with just a kiss of spice. It is full with lots of floral tinged fruit, but at the same time is crisp and bright. Balanced with a nice crispness on the finish, it will be very interesting to follow the evolution of the flavors in this wine as it ages – Outstanding. $35
2015 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict 30th Vintage Celebration Santa Ynez Valley
This is a delicious very pure Chardonnay with great flavor and balance. It is light yellow in color with a lovely floral perfume with hints of peach and a faint tinge of citrus. On the palate the wine has great style with the fruit accented by subtle spice, floral, and citrus nuances and the finish is long with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding Plus. $60
2015 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 35th Anniversary Estate Santa Maria Valley
Light yellow in color this is another beautifully balanced and very pure Chardonnay. The floral perfume shows subtle hints of spice and citrus and the flavors have depth and intensity with a complex intermingling of fruit with faint exotic, floral, citrus, and spice tinges. Delicious now time will reveal additional complexities – Outstanding Plus. $60
2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County
This is a lovely elegant Pinot Noir. It has a very nice color and a lovely berry perfume with a kiss of spice. On the palate it has lovely very pure fruit and is balanced with a nice underlying crispness – Highly Recommended. $25
2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard Santa Barbara Historic Vineyard
Los Alamos is one of five iconic vineyards that have elevated the recognition of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo County region.
This is a really delicious Pinot Noir with great balance, flavor, and style. It has a very nice color and a gorgeous cherry tinged perfume with floral nuances. Supple and rounded with a nice underlying crispness it loaded with fruit and has lots of early appeal – Outstanding. $35 Not yet released
2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Julie’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
With a very nice color and a lovely floral perfume this is a very elegant Pinot Noir. It has very pure fruit that is supple and balanced and shows an underlying floral nuance with a nice crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $50 Not yet released
2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Runway Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
This Pinot Noir has a very nice perfume with berry fruit intermingled with a faint spiciness. On the palate there is very pure berry fruit again with a touch of spice and a nice crispness on the finish – Highly Recommended Plus. $50 Not yet released
2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Westall Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
Rounded and supple this is a luscious Pinot Noir. It has a very nice color and a lovely berry perfume with faint floral nuances. With lots of fruit the wine is balanced and very flavorful with a well-defined structure underneath. Attractive now to be sure, but should evolve beautifully over the next several years – Outstanding. $40 Not yet released
2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir XXXVAnniversary Estate Santa Maria Valley
This wine was made from the 3 best barrels of 2015 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir. It has a very nice color and a great perfume of rose petals and berry fruit with a kiss of spice. With great flavor the wine is layered and shows berry and cherry fruit intermingled with floral undertones. Harmonious and balanced the wine is delicious now, but should age effortlessly for many years – Outstanding Plus. $75
2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Isabelle
This wine was first made in 1994 and is named for Jim Clendenen’s daughter. It is always made from the best barrels of a single vineyard Pinot Noir. With a deep color the wine has a lovely floral perfume with hints of spice and berry fruit. Rounded with lovely fruit showing intensity and balance this lovely Pinot Noir is very harmonious and drinking beautifully now. But, there is no hurry. It should age gracefully for many years – Outstanding. $50
2016 Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Edna Valley
This is a very impressive Syrah in the making. It has a dark purple tinged color and a great blackberry perfume. Loaded with fruit, the wine has intensity and depth a very well integrated tannins.
2016 Qupé Tempranillo Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Edna Valley
Tempranillo is a grape variety that is widely grown in its native Spain. And, although not well known, in recent years it has been more widely planted in several areas of California where it produces a wine of great character and flavor. This Tempranillo from Edna Valley is dark in color with a lovely cherry tinged perfume with a touch of spice. Brimming with fruit is has intensity, flavor, and balance. This should be a beauty.
2016 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
This wine is one component of what will be the Hillside Syrah. It is dark in color and has a deep blackberry perfume. On the palate, the wine is packed with a myriad of black fruits with intensity and depth and it is balanced and long on the finish.
1998 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Santa Maria Valley
This 20 year old library wine is an impressive Syrah. It has a dark color and a deep perfume showing blackberry fruit with hints spice and cedar. The flavors follow through with the blackberry fruit and cedar accented by hints of mint and chocolate. Balanced, flavorful, and complex, the wine is a pleasure to drink now and should have a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus.