Monday, May 24, 2021

Dan Berger: Remembering Clendenen & Bruce

Check out this week's wine recommendation. 

Within the last 10 days, the world lost two of the most important figures in California's wine history when Jim Clendenen and Dr. David Bruce passed away.

    Clendenen was 68. Bruce was 90.

    These men were iconic figures in California's world of fine wine, but not in the way many people think of domestic wine history: They were producers of great cabernet sauvignons that can win head-to-head contests with mighty Bordeaux.

    Cabernet put California on the international wine stage. Today's cabs command outrageous prices and are considered highly collectible the world over.

    What Clendenen and Bruce did, with far less public recognition, was shine a spotlight on two grape varieties that decades ago had checkered histories and were always poorly understood. Their efforts helped fixed that.

    Not to demean cabernet's success, but it's a grape that's awfully forgiving. It allows winemakers much latitude in making excellent wines. It grows in many locations, withstands some of Mother Nature's harshest conditions year to year and takes well to being blended for improvement.

      Chardonnay and pinot noir, by contrast, are difficult-to-handle Burgundian grapes that are far more recalcitrant and don't like being blended; they are solipsists. Also, they're closely connected to their soils and climes, and therefore, they often make mediocre wines when planted in the wrong spots.

    Finding great examples of chardonnay or pinot isn't easy, so the best, from France's Burgundy district, can be outrageously expensive and nearly impossible to obtain.

    It was that challenge, as well as several others, that led Clendenen and Bruce to accept the challenge so many avoided: to make exemplary wines from those grapes. And they did so in spite of the fact that at the times they founded their respective wineries, the general public had virtually no interest in either grape.

    Jim Clendenen, who founded Au Bon Climat in 1982, was a gregarious, loquacious fellow who made friends easily and, when not making wine, spent much of his working life visiting France and getting to know virtually every great winemaker there who had fingers in both varieties. He learned tricks and strategies, came home to apply them and shared his knowledge freely with follow winemakers.

    David Bruce, a dermatologist and dedicated Burgundy lover, was a quiet, thoughtful man who spent many of his working years traipsing through vineyards of California's Central Coast, where he believed a Burgundian style of wine (both white and red) could successfully be produced.

    As such, he pioneered purchasing fruit from virtually every vineyard from which he thought he could produce an exemplary wine, and he frequently did so for an audience that (in the early 1960s) simply had to accept his word that those wines were authentic.

    Back then in California, burgundy was a lower-case red wine blend of no account and hadn't yet ascended to the capital B Burgundy later wine lovers would revere. Bruce's clientele learned the ropes from him.

    When he planted his vineyard in 1961 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and when Clendenen planted his 21 years later in Santa Barbara County, the world was still unaware of what they were doing. I got to know both men well in the late 1970s and found them to be overwhelmingly dedicated to a craft that could be called thankless, especially since audiences were so limited.

    In today's world, great California chardonnays and pinot noirs command prices topping $100 a bottle, and wine collectors invest not only in wine bottles but also in the lands they see as producing exceptional wines to rival those of Burgundy.

    Both men led the way to creating this Burgundian explosion.

    The world has lost two of its most visionary U.S. practitioners from this once-obscure sector of the wine-art industry -- losses I feel most personally.

    Wine of the Week: 2020 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Blanc) ($13) -- White wines don't often display such beautiful, aromatic complexities as this one, a blend of various Southern Rhone varieties. There's a delicate floral note, a bit of peach and a succulence normally found in more expensive wines. (Available at Briarwood & Kats.)

    To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



Anonymous said...

Not a wine connoisseur at all but the wife enjoys it. So several years ago we made a trip to PGA West in La Quinta California. While there several people we met mentioned South California Wine Country. So we took a 2 day side trip to the Temecula area. Saw some very fine large vineyards and some small ones too. Estates that were just out of site. Tasted some very fine wine and met some lovely folks. Had to drag the wife out of one!

Several years later we took our 2 adult, single children for a visit, they to enjoyed it too. The point is for a lot less money than making the trip to the more famous Northern California Wine Country we discovered an alternative. A very tasty one too. The wine however was priced just a high as in the north.

As a side note Temecula is also known as the olive capital of California and you can find olive oil to olive soap and all in between there as well.

I sure hope these two men contributed to the wines we tasted.

Anonymous said...

Great article.

The Perrin Rogue (intro reserve) is always a steal as well. Their Villages is massive wine for the money.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS