Expert Eye: Epiphanies
Much has been made in the media about the “new” generation of California winemakers practicing a more classical style in the cellar. Jim Clendenen, founder of Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara County, has been preaching (and practicing) the benefits of restraint and balance for decades. His elegant and ageworthy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown on the sunny Central Coast, but they become wines with a distinctly Burgundian point of view, showing the influence of his mentor, the late Henri Jayer.
Clendenen is endlessly curious, and in some vintages he makes 75 different wines, including bottlings for chefs such as Joachim Splichal and Emeril Lagasse. For his secondary label, Clendenen Family, “I make bizarre things like Gewürztraminer and Aligoté,” he says, “plus we have Teroldego, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Viognier, and other stuff.”
Recently he pulled five bottles—all Burgundies—from his 4,000-bottle cellar to illustrate the five wines that have influenced him most. His selections are as much about the winemaker as they are about the wine—“My life is too short to act like a product can be separated from the person who produces it”—and lend credence to the depth of his knowledge and friendships. It is also clear that some of his friends are among the most legendary winemakers in world.
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