Jim Clendenen graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with High Honors in Pre-Law in 1976. It was during his "junior year abroad" in 1974, while turning 21 in France, that he discovered life beyond tacos. After graduation, a one month stay in both Burgundy and Champagne convinced him to attempt a career in wine rather than continue on to law school.
Beginning with the 1978 harvest, Jim Clendenen was assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa Winery for three vintages, a valued training experience. In 1981 his vision broadened with three harvests in one year as Jim worked crush and directed the harvest at wineries in Australia and France. Three harvests in one year confirmed his masochistic tendencies.
In 1982, Clendenen decided, along with now ex-partner Adam Tolmach, to start his own winery in leased quarters. Au Bon Climat (which means "a well exposed vineyard") has grown over its history to over 30,000 cases through careful re-investment from its own production.
The winery has cultivated an international reputation for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat, is recognized worldwide for his classically-styled wines (in addition to his Burgundian-focused ABC wines, Jim is also highly regarded for his Italian and other French varietals). In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker's short list of Best Wineries in the World, and in 1991 was selected by Oz Clark as one of fifty world-wide creators of Modern Classic Wines. Dan Berger of the Los Angeles Times named Clendenen the "Los Angeles Time Winemaker of the Year" in 1992; Food & Wine Magazine named him "Winemaker of the Year" in 2001. Germany's leading wine magazine, Wein Gourmet, in 2004 named Clendenen “Winemaker of the World;” and in 2007, Jim was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.”