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AU BON CLIMAT 2019 Santa Barbara
County "LOS ALAMOS VINEYARD" CHARDONNAY $28.99
- This winery has been making wine since the 1982 harvest when it was
founded by two cellar rats, Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach. Adam
started his own winery, the Ojai Vineyard and left the partnership at Au
Bon Climat in 1990.
Clendenen, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 68, billed himself as
"The Mind Behind" and he had spent a lot of time in the late
1970s and early 1980s getting his foundational wine education. Jim
had been in law school at the University of California at Santa Barbara
and he took some time during his college education to visit France where
he was bitten by the wine bug. He was hired as a cellar crew member
at the Zaca Mesa winery when Ken Brown was the head guy. He took a
leave of absence in 1980 and was in Burgundy during the harvest of 1981,
taking the plunge the following year in Santa Barbara with a
French-sounding brand name.
Jim was a relentless promoter and the ABC wines were made at a facility on
the grounds of the Los Alamos Vineyard until he and another noteworthy
fellow, Bob Lindquist (who owned the Qupe wine brand) were able to swing
constructing a joint winemaking facility at the Bien Nacido vineyard from
whom both purchased fruit.
We fondly recall Clendenen and Lindquist hosting a lunch gathering every
year at a favorite (and now defunct) restaurant in Berkeley. This
would coincide with the start of the baseball season as Lindquist was, and
still is, an ardent LA Dodger fan. Jim reveled in opening older
vintages of his wines as the Au Bon Climat wines did often more
than simply "hold up." They often improved and blossomed
into impressive wines.
The winemaking has been done for decades by a fellow names Jim Adelman and
he remains in the cellar, producing good bottles as always. In fact,
at one point, we teased some of the ABC crew that the wines had improved
with Jim being out on the road promoting his wines instead of being in the
cellar so much and, apparently, hindering Adelman's work.
Clendenen, though, was really helpful to the entire wine industry in Santa
Barbara as he, Tolmach and in the early days, Sanford & Benedict put
the region on the wine map.
With their changes in distribution over the years, we don't follow the
wines as much as we had back in the day. The brand is currently
distributed by a big company that focuses on liquor items and Jack Daniels
is far more important to that company than some small producer of
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara.
We purchased a couple of bottles of Chardonnay to include in a
blind-tasting to see how the wines are showing and we were delighted when
we unveiled the bottles to see we had ranked an Au Bon Climat Chardonnay
as our top pick.
The wine is from the 2019 vintage and it's from that old Los Alamos
vineyard. This is maybe 10 miles east of the Vandenberg Air Force
Now we might mention back in the very early days of Santa Barbara
winemaking, we visited Zaca Mesa and the old Firestone winery
periodically. And we stopped a the Los Alamos winery in those days,
meeting an old gal named Mary Vigoroso. She had to be in her late
60s or early 70s and her wines were full of character even if they were
not technically exceptional. You could taste there was something
special about that vineyard even if her winemaking was not quite
perfect. Both her Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines were noteworthy.
We seem to recall the vineyard was owned by Mary's son and he had other
interests, so this was just a toy. The vineyard has changed hands
several times over the past decades and some owners were more interested
in tonnage more than quality. Clendenen credits the arrival of a
another viticulteur with farming in a more quality-oriented
Au Bon Climat offers a basic, entry-level bottling of Santa Barbara
Chardonnay but we also were curious to see how their Los Alamos Vineyard
bottling was tasting and it was our favorite. Mildly
toasty...dry...tipping its chapeau towards Burgundy, this was a
Currently in stock: 2019 AU BON CLIMAT Santa
Barbara County CHARDONNAY Los Alamos Vineyard $28.99
The Dehlinger family prefers to remain low key and under-the-radar.
2018 Russian River Valley CHARDONNAY $41.99
Dehlinger is now in his fifth decade of production.
We knew him when he was a young feller...today he's a gray beard and
his daughters are now working in the business!
The Dehlinger family has about 50 acres of vineyards in Sebastopol and make some exceptional wines.
Now much sought-after, we're happy to say we discovered Tom back in the mid-1970s
when he first started. Back then Tom grew but a small portion of the fruit for his
Today all the wine is estate grown. Dehlinger's vineyards were
planted between 1975 and 1988. Wente clone. This produces rather
small clusters, but big flavors.
Chardonnays are fermented in oak
and undergo full malolactic. Unfiltered, too.
- They are beautiful wines.
The 2018 is a really marvelous example of California Chardonnay in general
and "Dehlinger Chardonnay" in particular. It's the sort of
wine which is a "winemaker's wine," not something concocted for
the marketing department. This has nice appley fruit and a bit of
toasty oak, but it's not a blob of caramel...there's nice acidity to this
and it's dry.
Though he's a
"star" winemaker, Tom Dehlinger is a bit of a hermit and homebody. The wines remain
fairly priced. And hard to find.
A couple of his daughters are interested in the wine business. Carmen
& Eva, the former taking care of sales, the latter working in the wine
Carmen and her Pop, Tom Dehlinger
- ERIC KENT
- Kent Humphrey
and his wife Colleen are the dynamic duo behind this new enterprise, a brand
worthy of the "rising star" designation, in our view.
Kent's middle name is Eric, hence the E-K branding for the
was in some phase of the advertising business and when his firm was
swallowed up by a larger fish, he grew weary of the politics of a more
He signed up for grunt work at one winemaking facility, embarking on his
wine-production education. After a second gig as a cellar rat, he came
upon the opportunity to buy some grapes and try his hand at making wine
under his own banner. The grape market was in a down phase (vintners
and many marketing people have short memories and have forgotten things were
a struggle in 2002 and 2003!) and Kent struck up a wonderful relationship
with a grower or two.
We tasted the range of wines from this gentleman and were mighty impressed!
He's got a good, artisan mentality about making wine, preferring to showcase
the grape rather than put his thumbprint squarely and firmly on the
Kent's stated philosophy is:
"Every vintage we prefer to follow the grapes' lead and offer gentle
care as the wine emerges from the juice. If a wine asks for help, we
provide it. If a wine is happy on its own, we simply let it be and
celebrate its unique evolution."
We especially liked Kent's Russian River Valley-designated Chardonnay.
The juice is settled for a day and then racked into French oak for its
fermentation. Ambient yeasts are used and the wine undergoes some
measure of a malolactic fermentation. The idea is to retain an edge of
acidity, so if he has to stop the malolactic to achieve the crispness, Kent
will do so.
Currently in stock is the 2016 "1 KM WEST" Chardonnay. It
comes from two Sonoma County vineyards and it's a mix of two classic
clones of California Chardonnay: Wente and Hyde.
It's an elegant Chardonnay and one that has blossomed handsomely with a
bit of bottle aging. He made all of 238 cases this vintage.
We should also mention the perpetual "art show" provided by Kent
and Colleen (she's an artist, by the way). Their bottles have a normal
wine label, but they also have really interesting art adorning the
bottles. Each vintage each wine will have a different bit of art on
'display.' While we appreciate this and have an eye for art, it's the
liquid artistry that really captivates our interest.
His sister Renee handles sales for this little enterprise...
- Currently in stock:
2016 ERIC KENT "1KM West" CHARDONNAY SOLD OUT
Forman was once one of the young Turks in Napa Valley winemaking, a bit of a
pioneer, having been the winemaker at a new start-up called Sterling
Sterling was a lovely cellar atop a hill in Calistoga and customers would
have to take a Disneyland-styled tram ride from the parking lot up to the
At Sterling Ric made some stellar wines and many were lavishly-oaked.
Some years into the venture, the owners sold the place to a soft drink
company and Forman left, hooking up with the his old pal Peter Newton to
start what was supposed to be the Forman winery.
I recall visiting this lovely cellar near Spring Mountain and they'd decided
they admired the wines of the Domaine des Comtes Lafon. They'd tried
to replicate the very cold cellar at Lafon's Meursault estate by having a
"cold room" for the Chardonnay wines to slowly mature.
As the first wines were going to be bottled, Newton's wife, a
self-proclaimed expert in wine marketing, pushed to change the name of the
brand from Forman to something more flashy, like, you know,
Ric got the message and left, doing some consulting work before finally
starting his own winery (with help from a guy who was making Gamay wines in
the style of Beaujolais, a feller named Charles Shaw).
I think Ric's first wines under his own label were made in 1983.
Chardonnay has really evolved and today's wine is not going to be one which
appeals to those who find Rombauer's or Z-D's to be the height of
sophistication. From a mildly wooded style a couple of decades ago,
today's Forman Chardonnay is the sort of wine which might make a vintner in
France's Chablis region raise an eyebrow.
The 2010 vintage is currently in stock. It's a really young, tight
wine having had no malolactic fermentation so its acidity is zesty and gives
the wine a taut quality. We find some stony, minerally notes and the
wine is light and stone, bone dry. It pairs well with mild seafood at
this stage and if you cellar this for five year, or so, you'll find it
unfolds into a wine of satisfying complexity.
Currently in stock: 2010 FORMAN Napa Valley CHARDONNAY Sold
- FRANK FAMILY
- The Frank Family winery is modest-sized enterprise located at our old
friend, Hanns Kornell's "champagne cellar" on Larkmead Lane in
Hanns was a dear old fellow and made good sparkling wines for many years,
but he was using Riesling or Sylvaner as the base wine and the world was
more interested in the more classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based
- The Frank Family story is of a Disney executive, Richard Frank, who took a
liking to Napa in the late 1980s and in 1990 he and Mrs. Frank bought a
little "weekend getaway" residence. A couple of years later,
a friend of theirs who owns Rombauer winery called to say the old Kornell
place was for sale and Mr. Rombaby suggested Frank pony up a few bucks and
buy the place. They actually partnered and bought the
property...Rombauer was bought out some years ago, though.
The brand is surprisingly well-known to our customers as a source of good
Cabernet and Chardonnay...at least, I'm surprised so many people recognize
the Frank Family name and the wine sells better than I would expect.
- In 2021 it was announced that the Franks sold the brand and winery, along
with some of their vineyards, to the Treasury Wine Estates Americas.
This large company owns brands such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Rosemount in
Australia, with California brands such as Beaulieu Vineyard, Stags' Leap and
Acacia. Some $315 million later, Frank Family Vineyards joins
The Frank Family Chardonnays are routinely fairly big, robust white wines. They
employ about one-third brand new oak barrels and the rest is once and
twice-used cooperage. If you're looking for a wine of finesse and
elegance, I can't say this is your wine. But if you want a woodsy
Chardonnay with notes of ripe pear and baked apple, this is for you.
The winery offers some tasting notes on its Chardonnay...see if any of these
sound like what you're looking for in characteristics or qualities of a
Chardonnay: Key Lime zest, Anjou pear, white Nectarine and ripe
pineapple...toasted marshmallow, candied pecans and jasmine...citrus,
tropical fruit, lemon grass...cashew butter, cinnamon bread pudding and
Currently in stock: 2020 FRANK FAMILY Napa CHARDONNAY Sale $36.99
2018 FRANK FAMILY Napa CHARDONNAY $19.99 (375ml)
FROG'S LEAP WINERY
Frog's Leap has been around since the early 1980s and it was started as a
bit of a joke between John & Julie Williams and their pal, Dr. Larry
John was a winemaker, having come to California from New York's Finger Lakes
to make wine at Mike Robbins' famous Spring Mountain Winery. He was
friendly with a local emergency room doctor, Larry Turley, and they decided
to start a goofy label, poking fun at the "Stag's Leap" wineries,
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags Leap Winery.
This stemmed from their purchase of an old site which had been once used to
raise frog's for gastronomic purposes.
Larry wanted to make big, humongous red wines and ended up being bought out
and so he now runs the Turley winery...
John Williams is a big proponent of organic farming practices and he's been
employing this regimen for decades, long before "organic" and
"sustainable farming" became buzzwords and sales
Another facet of Frog's Leap wines is that John believes in sensible farming
in order to be able to produce good quality, drinkable wines. This
sounds like it ought to be every winemaker's philosophy, but John doesn't
over-crop his vines, then pick at insanely high levels of sugar. Many,
these days, over-crop and then think they can compensate for their greed by
picking later. And many of these folks also, then, add water to the
juice to be able to ferment the wine to dryness and then they jimmy-jack the
wine with technologies such as the spinning cone or reverse osmosis
Frog's Leap, then, is a bit old-fashioned. They pick good grapes are
modest levels of sugar and ferment the wines to dryness, typically making
wines around 13.5% alcohol, sometimes less. The 2018 is 13.2% alcohol,
quite modest by California standards.
The 2018 Frog's Leap Chardonnay is a delight on several counts.
The wine comes from Carneros area vineyards and there are several
"components" to this wine. The recipe has changed over the
years...it used to feature a percentage of wine vinified solely in stainless
steel...now virtually all the juice is fermented in oak!
However, once the fermentation was completed, 100% (according to John) was
then put into concrete tanks...a neutral environment.
We like the fresh, green apple sort of aromatics and flavors and there's a
light touch of wood whispering in the background. The wine is
medium-bodied and one we like to described as being "made for
adults." That means it's not sweet and not candy-like.
It's a terrific wine
with seafood, but can work nicely with white meat dishes, too.
Currently in stock: 2018 FROG'S LEAP Carneros CHARDONNAY $34.99
Mayacamas winery is famous for its Cabernets and their Chardonnay is a bit
under the radar.
The grapes come from relatively high elevation sites on Mount Veeder, the
vineyard parcels ranging from 1800 to 2000 feet above sea level.
Being dry-farmed, the vines don't produce a bountiful crop and this is one
of the "secrets" of this wine. They try to pick based on
acidity rather than simply by sugar levels in the grapes.
Whole clusters of grapes go into the press and the juice is then fermented
in small oak, large wood and stainless steel...a happy mix of
batches. They do not encourage a malolactic fermentation, preferring
to keep the wine with a crisp edge to it.
There's a stony, lemony quality to this wine...quite dry and snappy.
You may find a whiff of wood, but it's well in the background on the nose and
Currently in stock: 2019 MAYACAMAS "Mount Veeder-Napa
Valley" CHARDONNAY $52.99 (a few bottles)
2017 MAYACAMAS "Mount Veeder-Napa
Valley" CHARDONNAY $52.99 (a few bottles)
PAUL LATO WINES
Lato was born in Poland and dreamed of living in America. When he
was in college, he had an excursion to Spain and he ended up staying there
for about a year before moving to Canada.
He took a job in a wine-centric dining establishment in Toronto and
learned quite a bit about wines from around the world. He viewed
Robert Mondavi as an iconic vintner and eventually he came west to
California to seek his fortune.
Paul worked a harvest at the Au Bon Climat cellar in Los Olivos before
returning to Canada. Winemaker Jim Clendenen had invited Lato to
come and see how wine is made, as he'd learn a lot. Lato did and
returned later and launched his own brand at a custom crush facility in
He had been working in that "incubator" cellar and was able to
see how various winemakers produced their wines. This gave him a
good idea of what to do and what not to do.
From there his own label began to find a measure of success. The
noted wine critic, Robert Parker, had tasted Lato's wine and wanted to be
the first to heap accolades on this discovery.
Gary Burk, whose family owned Gold Coast vineyards, had
launched his own winery called Costa de Oro and he told us several times
about Paul Lato's wines and introduced us to Mr. Lato.
The wines these days, with nearly two decades of vintages under his belt,
are really expressive and stylish.
Paul gets grapes from a number of famous vineyards in the Central Coast
and he pays the growers "by the acre," rather than "by the
ton." This allows him to implement stricter growing protocols
and means the yields in the vineyards are reduced in order to maximize
We have a Chardonnay he called "Matinee." This sees a bit
less oak than his fancier, more costly Chardonnays yet it still has a nice
presence of wood. There's a toasty element to the wine which tips
its cap to French white Burgundies, but retains its Santa Barbara
fruit. We find some pear-like fruit and maybe a touch of
Ellen thought it may have a touch of sweetness, but we did not sense
residual sugar in this wine. The 2017 is in stock presently.
Current in stock: PAUL LATO 2017 Santa Barbara CHARDONNAY