The SOMM Journal

February / March 2016

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Page 93 of 132

{ }  93 here are many variations on Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous quote, "Life is a journey, not a destination," and one of those is at the heart of the Wente Vineyards' story, "For the Love of the Journey." But it's not just a convenient borrowing of phrase. For the Wentes, revisiting the stories passed down from one generation to the next helps ground each generation in the history of California winemaking, and what it took to get to where they are today. "If you think about all the great wine families in California—they're the longest-run family-owned winery," says Rick Kushman, wine commentator for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. "They should brag about it more than they do. But that's one of the things about them —they don't brag about it much." Tim Gaiser, MS, Adjunct Professor for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, agrees. "As a family, they've always been focused on farming and good grapes and making really great wines; they seem almost reluctant to promote themselves," he says. "If the Wentes had been in Napa valley, it would have been a totally different story—the whole world would know about them . . . but because they're in Livermore Valley, they're not as well known." But now, CEO Carolyn Wente notes the time might be right for that. Just a little bit. Hence the "Journey" plotline. "I think the marketplace and consumers are really looking for an authentic story," she says. "We have a couple of generations here and we all have our stories, so we thought it was a great opportunity to tell them." Spanning five generations over 130 years of winemaking, the Wentes' contributions to the wine industry are many—from first putting a stake down into the Livermore Valley soil and later advocating for its AVA status, to helping establish California's Wine Institute and the state's first certified nursery. The Wentes also helped put Arroyo Seco, further south in Monterey County, on the map and lent a face to the wine country lifestyle with on-site hospitality and recreation. But it's that Chardonnay clone that comes up most frequently in conversations about California winemaking. Pioneering Chardonnay "Wente was really at the forefront, making sure Chardonnay didn't disappear and [mak- ing] sure there was good material for wineries to use," says Fred Swan, a wine educator at the San Francisco Wine School and founder of, a site dedicated to Nor thern California wines. He notes that the family not only impor ted the cultivar, but shepherded it through Prohibition and World War II, "when that was difficult or not THE COUNTRY'S OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATED FAMILY-OWNED WINERY HAS A LOT TO BE PROUD OF by Lana Bortolot / photos courtesy of Wente Vineyards The first varietally labeled Chardonnay, produced by Wente from the 1936 vintage. Wente Vineyards has been a leader in California's Livermore Valley for over 130 years. The celebrated Wente clone of Chardonnay, which second-generation Ernest Wente imported from Montpellier, France, in 1912.

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