Winemaker Jim Clendenen is remembered for helping raise others in the industry
A ‘life beyond tacos’ fermented into a remarkable career in the wine industry
By Raiza Giorgi
News of winemaker Jim Clendenen’s passing quickly spread throughout the Santa Ynez Valley as he is remembered for helping many notables in the wine and restaurant industry get started.
“Tonight I learned that we have lost a legend and a friend to benefit our small wine community,” said Artist’s Bion Rice. “He was so encouraging and supportive early in my career in the 90s. I always said ‘yes’ to all of my requests. So many laughs.
The Los Alamos resident was 68 when he died in his sleep on Saturday May 15, according to the Santa Barbara Vintners website (sbccountywines.com).
Clendenen was born in Akron, Ohio, and graduated from UCSB in 1976 in pre-law, according to his biography on the Au Bon Climat website. During a tour in France in 1974 for a year abroad, he discovered “life beyond tacos”.
He returned after graduating to stay in Burgundy and Champagne for a bit, which changed his trajectory in winemaking. He started in wine in 1978 as an assistant winemaker for Zaca Mesa Winery for three vintages before founding Au Bon Climat Winery, which started in 1982, with Adam Tolmach.
Clendenen called himself “the spirit behind”.
Au Bon Climat (which means “a well-exposed vineyard”) has grown to more than 50,000 cases per year and sources its fruit from several vineyards on the central coast. Au Bon Climat, is recognized worldwide for its classic style wines. In addition to its Burgundy-focused Au Bon Climat wines, Clendenen has also created another brand, Clendenen Family Vineyards.
Anthony Endy, chef at Alisal Guest Ranch, shared a few photos of himself with Clendenen with words he associated with the pioneer winemaker.
“Legend. Pioneer. Ambitious. Hospitable. Generous. Loving. Gregarious. Inspiring. So many words to describe the great Jim Clendenen,” Endy wrote.
Endy said he met Clendenen early in his career at Chef Rick’s and cherished every moment with him and knew how much his presence in the community will be missed.
Among Clendenen’s accolades is his inclusion on Robert Parker’s shortlist of the world’s best wineries in 1989 and 1990, and in 1991 he was selected by Oz Clark as one of the world’s 50 creators of modern classic wines. Dan Berger of the Los Angeles Times named Clendenen “Los Angeles Times Winemaker of the Year” in 1992; Food & Wine magazine named him “Winemaker of the Year” in 2001. Wein Gourmet, Germany’s largest wine magazine, named Clendenen in 2004 “Winemaker of the World”; and in 2007, Clendenen was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.
“Jim has made elegant, classic wines inspired by his travels in Burgundy, and he refused to deviate from that style,” officials of the Santa Barbara County Winegrowers Association said. “Jim helped put Santa Barbara Wine Country on the map and has been a tireless champion of the region. He has traveled the world to celebrate Santa Barbara County’s unique ability to cultivate almost any varietal and his particular penchant for growing fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We ask you to raise a glass to our iconic friend.