On the Trail

A K&L Exclusive from a Historic Vineyard

David Driscoll
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Along California's Central Coast, midway up the Santa Maria Valley, sits one of the state's most historic vineyards: Bien Nacido. Known as a cool climate site due to the fog that rolls in off the coast, cooling down the grapes and helping them to retain their acidity, the vineyard is a natural fit for delicate Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. White wines from Bien Nacido tend to be crisp and fresh, unlike those from warmer parts of California that can be ripe and creamy. Red wines from Bien Nacido have vibrancy and tangy fruit, unlike soft and supple reds from Napa or the Central Valley. With a slower ripening time, the grapes have time to develop concentration and complexity rather than simply sweetness from the sugar. It's the perfect habitat for a winemaker looking to replicate the wines of Burgundy, those coveted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir expressions that showcase not only delicacy, but the individual conditions in which the grapes were grown. It's here that winemaker Jim Clendenen, a man who called his first winery Au Bon Climat as an homage to Burgundy, made us a new batch of Pinot Noir. 

Jim Clendenen, the man behind Au Bon Climat winery in California's Santa Barbara region since 1982, is internationally known for his critically-acclaimed Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Sourcing fruit from several of the most highly regarded vineyards in the Central Coast, we asked Jim a few years ago if he'd be willing to make us a private label single site wine from the legendary Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, He willingly agreed and we're now on the third and final vintage of the K&L/Au Bon Climat partnership. The 800 acre site can trace its roots back to 1837 and Jim has been working with the 250 acres of Bien Nacido dedicated to Pinot Noir for decades. Our 2016 K&L edition exemplifies both delicate fruit and tangy acidity, fleshed out by accents of violets and spice. It's our most Burgundian ABC edition yet, true to Jim's original vision. Fans of both domestic and French Pinot Noir will want to take note of this once again limited single vineyard edition.

Au Bon Climat has always been one of my favorite California wineries, so I was excited when we started working on our own private label expressions. While I've enjoyed the previous two Pinot Noirs we bottled under the K&L label, the 2016 edition of the single vineyard "Bien Nacido" is by far the best of the bunch. We just need to give it 20 -30 minutes in the decanter before trying. I can tell you from two empty bottles of experience that the difference a bit of air makes with this wine is night and day. After twenty minutes or so, you get everything you expect from a Burgundian-inspired Pinot Noir: crunchy red fruits, raspberry and hints of earth with lots of spice. I could easily be fooled into thinking this was a bottle of Bourgogne Rouge if poured blind. The best part is that previous editions of this wine sold for $25 - $30, but this time around you're getting the single vineyard edition for the same price as the standard release. How can you pass that up?

-David Driscoll