Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Great Grand Daddy Of California's Wine Industry

One Hundred And Twenty-Five Years Of Continuous Production!
It never ceases to amaze me, the great impact that German immigrants have had on the North American (and World) wine industry. In Canada, for example, there are the likes of Herbert Konzelmann and Klaus Reif who came from German winery backgrounds to start Canadian wineries. In fact, the fellow who started it all in Ontario (and possibly Canada) in the early 1800's was a retired German soldier/winemaker by the name of Johann Schiller!! Though not German, Austrian Karl Kaiser co-founder of Inniskillin Winery (along with Donald Ziraldo) has left his indelible mark on Canadian wine. It is not then surprising to find a German immigrant behind the success of the oldest continuous winery in the United States.
1883 And All That!
"He came up from Germany and had nothing in his pocket. He, like many other immigrants, came through Ellis Island and ended up in California", stated Carolyn Wente, great granddaughter (Fourth Generation Wente) of Carl H. Wente! Carl Wente was hired by Charles Krug under whose tutelage he blossomed and eventually purchased 48 acres in the Livermore Valley just East of San Francisco. He weathered the Prohibition Years by producing Sacramental Wines and by 1933 was well on his way to producing the first Sauvignon Blanc, Semilion and Chardonnay wines in the United States. His Son Herman founded the California Wine Institute!
By 1949, the winery expanded its distribution and assisted new wineries to get established.
The Wente family continued through the years experimenting, expanding and creating new projects such as becoming proactive in land use issues which balanced urban growth with that of agriculture, creation "agri-tourist" attractions and a special innovative real estate project which combined the planting of vineyards with home sites as sort of working landscapes with homes among vineyards, working wineries and "B&B" Inns.
The years between 1991 and 2008 saw much growth through partnerships (Murrieta's Well and Tamas Estate Winery) and joint ventures to expand exports and further expansion in the agri- tourism role through Golf Courses and the establishment of new vineyards.
Throughout the years the Wente business was truly a family oriented business with Five Generations of Wente's taking up the task to solidify Wente as the oldest and farsighted winery in the United States if not North America!
Wine Styles
Wente comprises of some 3000 acres in two appellations (San Francisco Bay (Livermore Valley) and Monterey (Arroyo Seco). Wente also has 7 acres of vineyards in Napa. They have several programs---the first two are extremely limited in production and not for genteral distribution.
Small Lot: These wines specific Estate Vineyard Blocks where the vines are carefully farmed, sustained and hand harvested.
Nth Degree: These wines are the best of the best and not available to the public but to wine club members and some lucky groups such as the Opimian Society in Canada. Todd McDonald is trying to get some in Vintages!
Estate Grown: These wines are made in a distinctive style to reflect the vineyard and region where they are grown. They are named to reflect the Wente area and history of where they come from.
Tasting Wente Estate Grown Wines!
Led by Carolyn Wente, the following wines were tasted:
Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay (LCBO 175430 $16.25)
Named after the morning fog pushed by Pacific on shore winds spreads inland into the San Francisco Bay and to the Livermore Valley where it cools the air and creates a great micro climate for excellent, well balanced grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: apple, citrus, floral notes with some smoke.
On the palate: apple with some mandarin and vanilla toast. Full in mouth with pleasant mouth feel and a lingering sweet almost Lychee finish.
**Incidentally, the Wente family introduced Chardonnay to California.
Wente Beyer Ranch Zinfandel (LCBO 66118 $18.05)
Named after the premier location for Zinfandel, this wine has an interesting blend of Zinfandel (80%), Petit Verdot (15%) and Sangiovese (5%). It seems to explode with flavour in the mouth and is thoroughly enjoyable!
My Notes: On the nose: Ripe red fruit such as Raspberry, Strawberry and Dark Cherry along with some pepper spice.
On the palate: Ripe red and dark fruit with a long lasting finish that had some clove nuances. I enjoyed this wine and would certainly recommend it to someone who wishes to pick out flavours and enjoy the moment!
Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon (LCBO 301507 $17.25)
The Southern Hills are planted with the two Cabernet Sauvignon clones that were introduced to Livermore in the 19th Century by Charles Wetmore. The Wente family farms some 400 acres using these clones (7 and 8) in these Southern Hills which are ideal for Cabernet grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: Cherry, smoke, vanilla wood with a touch of cassis
On the palate: Nice mouth feel with Cherry, raspberry and sweet spice. Lingering finish with touch of anise.
**This is another interesting blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (78%), Petit Verdot (9%), Merlot (5%),
Here's where it gets interesting: Tempranillo (3%), Sangiovese (2%), Barbara (2%) and Syrah (1%).
Crane Ridge Merlot (Not available at LCBO $29.95)
Crane Ridge is one of those special developments that I spoke about in the general introduction of the Wente Winery. This project combined the planting of vineyards with home sites to create working landscapes. It is also ideal for fully ripe Merlot grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: Plum, cassis, black fruit, vanilla smoke
On the palate: Blackberry, plum, black cherry with a wood smoke finish that lasts.
Another interesting blend of Merlot (98%) and the Portuguese Port grape: Touriga Nacional
Any business, agricultural or otherwise, that lasts 125 years is doing something right! In the case of the Wentes it's called "Passion"! This passion has been related and passed on from one generation to another resulting in not only a successful enterprise but also truly great and innovative wines. Parents! Do you want your kids to be successful and respected-----take a lesson from the Wentes---pass on your passion!
My thanks to Carolyn Wente for taking the time to pass on her wine passion on to this writer.
For more information concerning obtaining Wente producrts contact Todd McDonald at