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Remembering James Alexander Clendenen

Posted on May 19, 2021


SANTA MARIA, Calif., May 19, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The wine world has lost an icon. James Alexander Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery in Santa Maria, CA passed away Sunday, May 16th in his sleep. He was 68. A visionary, Jim was instrumental in putting the Santa Barbara region on the map by cultivating an international reputation for fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since 1982. His absence is keenly felt, but his legacy will continue. 

Jim Clendenen, the "Mind Behind" as was his official title, was one of the lions of the wine industry, recognized worldwide for his classically styled wines of balance, restraint, and longevity. This was countered by his larger than life personality. He was outspoken, articulate, humorous and unfiltered in his beliefs. Jim was both enthusiastic ambassador and guiding light for the Santa Barbara County wine region. He was essential in elevating Burgundian varietals on the Central Coast and continued to be a driving force throughout his life. Among his accolades, Jim has been named Winemaker of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and Food & Wine Magazine; one of the Fifty Most Influential Winemakers by Wine & Spirits Magazine; one of the Fifty World Wide Creators of Modern Classic Wine by Oz Clark, Winemaker of the World by leading German Magazine Wein Gourmet; deemed One of the Best Wineries in the World by Robert Parker; and inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America." 

A man of great generosity, Jim was a key figure at many wine auctions, from Emeril Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin and the Atlanta High Museum Wine Auction to Direct Relief's biennial auction, with his sizeable donations always one of the top grossing items. He was also generous with his time mentoring budding winemakers, sharing the spotlight and acknowledging fellow colleagues, and when in need, always there with a helping hand. An avid cook, Jim's lunches at the winery that he prepared every day for the crew were legendary with celebrated guests from around the globe often in attendance. Amazing wine, food and discussion was a daily event, and that is how Jim lived his life – to the fullest. 

Jim's other passion was his children. He treasured his time with Isabelle (26) and Knox (21), and enjoyed taking them on great adventures all over the world.  Isabelle states, "My father was a very generous, bright, and candid man. Beyond wine, his contributions to the culinary world were tremendous.  He was an icon to many, but most importantly, he was a very caring father. He made sure my brother and I wanted for nothing. His loss effects so many, but his impact will never be lost to any of us. It means a lot to me that he was celebrated and loved by so many."  

Jim is also survived sister Pat Matela and her husband Frank Matela, niece Marisa Matela who is assistant winemaker at Au Bon Climat, sister Marsha Clendenen, and nephew Patrick Clendenen. 

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Direct Relief:

Region: Central Coast
Job Function: Winemaking

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