Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-owned winery in California, with more than 132 years of history behind the brand. I recently spoke to Carolyn Wente, a fourth-generation winemaker who joined the family business in the 1980s and currently serves as the company’s CEO.
SW: What does the vineyard’s heritage in California mean to the brand and the Wente family? CW: My great-grandfather, first generation member Carl Wente, wanted a family legacy where everyone could share equally and be treated fairly. My family is committed to passing on what we inherited to the next generation and with every decade that passes, the next generation of Wente leaders continues to move the business forward through innovation. It’s an incredible privilege to be part of this family winery and reputable brand.
SW: How has Wente adjusted to changes in the wine market during its long history, helping it survive for so many generations?
CW: I believe the family’s core values were passed down from generation to generation and were also embodied into the company culture. Our core values are respect, integrity, sustainability and excellence, along with a strong work ethic. Staying true to these core values creates a foundation for each successive generation to build upon and grow the business.
There were certainly challenges for each generation through the decades in the wine market, both domestically and internationally. Each generation met challenges by working to find solutions within our means to execute and remain viable. Change and evolution were embraced, along with creativity and cutting-edge technology. Ultimately, we would rather be a family than a business – so perhaps, this point of view keeps us reasonable in all discussions and decisions. We want to be practical and well-grounded and teach that from generation to generation.
SW: What makes Wente stand out from other California wineries?
CW: With hard work and dedication, my family has had our share of accomplishments over its 132-year history related to growing grapes, making exceptional quality wine and innovative marketing. One of our most notable achievements was to produce the first varietal-labeled California Chardonnay with our 1936 vintage. This happened as a result of my grandfather, second-generation winegrower Ernest Wente, convincing his father Carl to import cuttings from southern France and plant them in Livermore.
The greatest vineyards in the world soon began replanting their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vines with the new Wente clones, which is the most widely-planted throughout California. Today we have the honor of being recognized as California’s First Family of Chardonnay.
SW: What recent innovations has Wente brought to the market?
CW: In addition to the Winekamers Studio that was launched in the spring of 2014 to educate consumers on all things related to winemaking, Wente Vineyards announced earlier this year the launch of its single vineyard 2012 Riva Ranch Pinot Noir. It joins the Riva Ranch Chardonnay in the single vineyard wine series. Located in the mouth of the Arroyo Seco River Canyon, the Riva Vineyard was Arroyo Seco’s first vineyard planting in 1963 and is a special place to the Wente family.
SW: What plans does the company have for staying in business and remaining successful for the next 132 years?
CW: The family’s shared goal is to be one of the most well-respected, family-owned wineries in the world. With five generations of Wente family owning and operating the winery and vineyards successfully, the family continues to strive to be the best and hopes to continue to earn respect from peers and consumers for many generations to come.