August 2010

Wente Vineyards

By: Zack Dickson
Photos By: Stacey Taxin

Wente Vineyards: Farming for the Future

How's this for a stake in the ground: Wente Vineyards is the oldest continuously-operated family owned winery in the United States.

Since 1883, five generations of the Wente family have planted, grown and harvested grapes and crafted wine from their estate vineyards. Being family-owned, vertically integrated and 100% estate grown has enabled the Wentes to be pioneers in winemaking as well as leaders in wine industry sustainability.

From the beginning, the Wente family has had a history of innovation. Recognizing the potential that the Livermore Valley had for winegrape growing, Carl H. Wente became a pioneer in that area when he purchased 48 acres of vineyard land in 1883. Carl recognized that the unusual east-west orientation of the valley (the majority of California AVAs are positioned north-south), its soil structure and its proximity to San Francisco Bay provided optimal growing conditions.

Today, fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente sees the Livermore Valley as "a great place to grow." His creative forces are closely tied to the land he grew up on and now works. "The Livermore Valley has an incredible diversity of soils and micro-climates," notes the winemaker, "which allow us to grow fruit of different flavor complexities."
Leading Wente Vineyards is 5th generation winemaker and winegrower Karl Wente, who takes both an artistic and a scientific approach to crafting wines.

Having worked the land for more than 126 years, the Wente family understands the importance of sustainability in farming and business practices. Karl Wente feels a particular responsibility since the Wente wines are 100% estate-grown: "'Estate-grown' has great meaning-so much so because you have a huge responsibility to sustain the land and your future, and at the same time you gain tremendous oversight and control over your farming methods."

Commitment to Environment and Community

Wente Vineyards utilizes sustainable farming methods throughout its vineyards, and Karl Wente is quick to point out that that is only one small part of Wente family's commitment to sustainability. Codified by Karl's father Eric, uncle Phil and aunt Carolyn in the early 1990s, the winery's "Farming for the Future" program took a strong triple bottom line approach to sustainability more than a decade before sustainability became an industry buzz word.
Wente's "Farming for the Future" program took a strong triple bottom line approach to sustainability more than a decade before sustainability became an industry buzz word.
Amy Hoopes, Wente's VP of Marketing, explains: "Sustainability is first and foremost about the environment-what you put in and what you get out-and your interaction with the land. The second piece is about the community. With more than 3,000 acres, we are surrounded by our local community and neighbors; we need to make sure we are engaged with and are enhancing the Livermore Valley and Arroyo Seco as great places to work and live. The third tenet is about our own financial responsibility; you can't be around to protect the environment and enhance the community if you don't first make sound financial decisions for yourself."
Through implementing their innovative "Farming for the Future" program across the estate and into the local community, the Wente family has established themselves as leaders in wine industry sustainability initiatives.

No Resting on Laurels

Fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente has never been the type to rest on his laurels. After gaining his undergraduate degree from Stanford in chemical engineering, Karl earned two master degrees in enology and viticulture from the University of California Davis. Karl's education has allowed him to carry on his family tradition of working as both a winegrower and winemaker. With ten vintages already under his belt, at the age of 32, Karl has achieved more than many people twice his age.

Karl is proud to build on the success of his family and recognizes the importance of surrounding himself with a strong team. "Some of the employees at Wente have been here for more than 40 years, and many have been here for many more than 30. This has allowed me to pull from the knowledge of people who worked with my grandfather and past generations."

As Karl Wente explains, "Winemaking has to be a collaborative effort, because you can't make great wines without a mutual understanding of your objectives. We all recognize that our first priority is growing grapes that have the potential to become excellent wines. We then tailor our techniques in the winery to preserve the delicate flavors of the fruit and to elevate the expression of the vineyard terroir."

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