Jim Clendenen taught the world about the local wine country
Jim Clendenen, a Santa Barbara County legend, will be remembered for his pinot noirs, his Chardonnays, his love for Burgundys and his seemingly endless knowledge of what makes a great wine.
A wine enthusiast, a great cook and a beloved mentor, Mr. Clendenen traveled to France and learned first-hand about winemaking. He brought that knowledge back to Santa Barbara County. Conversely, he educated the world about the local wine country.
Mr. Clendenen, owner of the Santa Barbara winery Au Bon Climat, died Saturday night in his sleep at his Buellton home. He was 68.
“He was larger than life,” Bob Lindquist, Mr. Clendenen’s partner at Clendenen Lindquist Vintners in Santa Maria, told the News-Press on Monday. “He was a champion of Santa Barbara County wines. He traveled all over the world, promoting them.
“He was a great winemaker,” Mr. Lindquist continued. “He knew everybody in the business, whether they were chefs or winemakers or wine journalists. He was one of those guys who got around.
“He had a passion for wines — Burgundy in particular,” Mr. Lindquist said.
“He studied vigorously the wines of the world, especially the wines of Burgundy,” Mr. Lindquist said. “He was able to bring that kind of passion to his own wines at Au Bon Climat.
“He taught me pretty much everything I know about wineries,” Mr. Lindquist said. “He was my mentor and my boss at Zaca Mesa Vineyard (in Los Olivos). We worked together to perfect our craft.”
Mr. Clendenen was born Jan. 11, 1953, in Akron, Ohio.
He became a wine enthusiast after a 1974 trip to France and a visit to Bordeaux. At the time, Mr. Clendenen was a UCSB student.
It took just a second trip to France in 1978, including a stay in Burgundy, to convince Mr. Clendenen to dedicate his life to winemaking. He returned that year to Santa Barbara and was hired as winemaker Ken Brown’s assistant at Zaca Mesa Winery.
Mr. Clendenen learned more about winemaking when he left Zaca Mesa in 1980 and participated in the 1981 harvest in Burgundy.
In 1982, he was back again in Santa Barbara, where he started Au Bon Climat with Adam Tolmach. (Today Mr. Tolmach owns Ojai Vineyard.)
In 1989, Mr. Clendenen became Au Bon Climat’s sole owner.
Besides his talent for wines, Mr. Clendenen was a talented cook.
“He could cook anything from Indian to French to Italian, always with fresh ingredients,” Mr. Lindquist said.
Mr. Clendenen is survived by his daughter, Isabelle Clendenen, 26, and son Knox Clendenen, 21.