A cut-out of Jim Clendenen toasts to the crowd at his Celebration of Life in Santa Maria. | Credit: Isaac Hernández Herrero

Around 500 people gathered at the Au Bon Climat winery in the Santa Maria Valley over this past weekend to toast the life of legendary vintner Jim Clendenen, who died suddenly in his sleep on May 15 at age 68. 

There were celebrations on both Saturday — when about 200 wine industry veterans were fed by some of Clendenen’s favorite chefs from Los Angeles, Santa Maria, and elsewhere — and Sunday, when renowned South Carolina barbecue master Rodney Scott cooked for nearly 300 folks who hailed mostly from the Santa Barbara County wine and food community. 

Speakers during Saturday’s program included Clendenen’s longtime friend Bob Lindquist, who’s made his wine in the same facility for more than 30 years; his ex-wife Morgan Clendenen, who brought levity with a humorous tale; his friend and barrel importer Mel Knox, who read a letter from the family behind the François Frères Cooperage; his niece Marisa Clendenen Matela, who sang a Tori Amos song and read a prayer; importer Patrick Will, who recalled Clendenen’s early support when he arrived to town decades ago; and restaurateur and winemaker Frank Ostini of Hitching Post fame. “He brought a culture here that had never been here before,” said Ostini of Clendenen’s role in elevating the wine style and sentiments of this region. 

Also speaking was Jim Adelman, who’s been Au Bon Climat’s primary winemaker since 1991 as Clendenen preached the message of Santa Barbara around the globe. Responding to speculation about what will happen to Au Bon Climat without Clendenen — who left the winery to his son and daughter, also in attendance that day — Adelman triggered loud applause when he said in no uncertain terms, “We’re going to continue to do exactly what we’re doing.”

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