University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
THE WENTE FAMILY AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY
With an Introduction by
Maynard A. Amerine
Interviews Conducted by
Copyright 1992 by The Regents of the University of California
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well -placed witnesses to major events in the development of
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous
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and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed
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placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and
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response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
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Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
"The Wente Family and the California Wine
Industry," interviews with Jean, Carolyn,
Philip and Eric Wente, an oral history
conducted in 1991 by Ruth Teiser, Regional
Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley, 1992.
Copy no .
Eric, Jean, Philip, and Carolyn Wente, 1983
Photograph by Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun
THE WENTE FAMILY AND THE CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY, 1992, xiii, 159 pp.
Jean Wente (b. 1926) on the Wente family in the Central Valley since 1926,
Wente Bros, winery, 1950s to present, improvements, expansion to Monterey
County. Carolyn Wente (b. 1955) discusses marketing at Wente Bros, since
1980, creating a restaurant, champagne. Philip Wente (b. 1952) recalls
employees, working for Wente Bros, since 1974, becoming executive vice
president in 1977, phylloxera and other vineyard problems. Eric Wente (b.
1951) on work at Wente Bros, since 1974, president since 1977, exports,
Introduction by Maynard Amerine, Professor Emeritus, Department of
Viticulture and Enology, University of California, Davis.
Interviewed in 1991 by Ruth Teiser for the Wine Spectator California
Winemen Oral History Series, The Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft
Library, University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS-- Went e Bros.
INTRODUCTION --by Maynard Amerine vi
INTERVIEW HISTORY viit
INTERVIEW WITH JEAN R. VENTE
FAMILY AND EARLY YEARS, 1926-1949 1
HERMAN WENTE 5
ERNEST WENTE 8
KARL L. WENTE 9
Youth and Education, 1927-1949 9
HERMAN WENTE, CONTINUED 13
WENTE BROS. SINCE 1949 16
The Winery in the Early 1950s 16
Advances in the Vineyards 18
Advances in the Winery 21
Expansion in Monterey County 21
Ownership, Decision Making, and Responsibilities 27
KARL L. WENTE' S INDUSTRY AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES 29
JEAN WENTE 'S WORK WITH CULTURAL AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS 33
KARL L. WENTE 'S CONCERNS 36
INTERVIEW VITH CAROLYN WENTE
CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL YEARS, 1955-1980 41
Working in the Winery 42
Stanford, Washington, and Crocker Bank 43
WENTE BROS. SINCE 1980 46
Winery Goals in Transition, 1980-1990 47
Marketing and Promotion 48
Creating a Restaurant 52
Appellations and Label Terms 57
Owners, Managers, and Employees 61
Public Events 64
Wente Land and Cattle Company 65
Work with the Wine Institute and Other Organizations 66
INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP VENTE
GROWING UP IN THE LIVERMORE AREA, 1952-1970 71
Wente Bros. Employees 74
THE WINE INDUSTRY IN THE 1970s 77
Monterey County 78
University and Career Interests 80
WENTE BROS. SINCE 1974 84
Construction, Equipment, and Systems 84
Assuming Leadership, 1977 88
Marketing and Distribution 89
Expanding Wente Properties Since 1977 93
The Sparkling Wine Business 96
Focusing on the Classical Varieties 97
Changes in Vineyard Practices 99
Phylloxera and Other Vineyard Problems 100
Monterey County Varieties 103
Cresta Blanca Vineyards 104
Land Use Planning 105
Earthquake Damage, 1980 111
Grape Sources and Nurseries 112
The Wine Institute and Marketing Orders 115
Visions for the Future 119
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC VENTE
SCHOOL AND COLLEGE YEARS, 1951-1974 122
Stanford University, 1969-1973 124
UC Davis, 1973-1974 126
WENTE BROS., 1974-1991 128
Final Years Under Karl L. Wente, 1974-1977 128
Changes, 1977 136
Sparkling Wine 138
Changes Since 1980 143
Arel Wente 148
Wine Industry and Public Activities 148
Aims for the Future 150
TAPE GUIDE 152
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated in 1969 through the action
and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a state marketing
order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In 1983 it was
reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation. The
selection of those to be interviewed is made by a committee consisting of
the director of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley;
John A. De Luca, president of the Wine Institute, the statewide winery
organization; Maynard A. Amerine, Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and
Enology, University of California, Davis; the current chairman of the
board of directors of the Wine Institute; Ruth Teiser, series project
director; and Marvin R. Shanken, trustee of The Wine Spectator
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years (as yet treated analytically in few writings) will be
of aid to historians. Of particular value is the fact that frequently
several individuals have discussed the same subjects and events or
expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from his own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of in many cases unique materials readily available for the
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
486 The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed July 1992
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs: Recollections and Opinions.
Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies.
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries. Inc. . 1972
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente , and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a
California Champagne House. 1990
William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985
Making California Port Wine: Ficklin Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. interviews
with David, Jean, Peter, and Steven Ficklin, 1992
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian- American Winemaker in the Napa Vallev. 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry.
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988
Morris Katz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management. 1944-1988. 1990
Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership.
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises. 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future: Simi Winery in its
Second Century. 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Vallev.
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stonv Hill Vineyards: The Creation of a Napa Vallev Estate
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy . 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Vallev Winery. 1986
Peter Mondavi , Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery.
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985
Michael Moone , Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World.
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California. Davis.
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California.
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A Life in Wine Making. 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Lav and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989: Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaquin Vallev Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988
Andre Tchelistcheff , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992
The Wente Family and the California Wine Industry, interviews with Jean
Carolyn, Philip, and Eric Wente, 1992.
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971). 1973
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French -owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTRODUCTION --by Maynard A. Amerine
These four interviews with Jean Wente and her three children,
Carolyn, Eric, and Philip, carry forward the earlier interview with
Ernest Wente, their father-in-law and grandfather.
The Wente family settled in the Livermore Valley in 1883. They were
farmers and ranchers with an interest in vineyards and wines, and they
remain so to this day. Their ties to the Livermore Valley and to the
city of Livermore have been strong throughout this period.
These interviews start with Jean, who includes her account of the
direction of the company by her husband, Karl, from 1961 until his
untimely death in 1977 . This was a period when grape varieties and
clones were receiving great attention from the California wine industry,
and the Wentes were very prominent in selecting new and better clones,
even setting up a special certified nursery to secure the best clones for
planting. At the same time, the winery facilities were being upgraded
and expanded. This was a continuous process in which all of the Wentes
participated. The result was that by the 1980s the Wente white table
wines were recognized as representing one of the more consistent of the
white table wines of California, and not only consistent but of high
As these interviews amply show, the Wente tradition of management
continues. As owners, managers, and employers, they represent high
standards thoughtfully applied to the needs of their winery. I remember
Herman and Ernest Wente and their close relationship with their employees
before and after World War II. It appears that the present generation
continues the Wente tradition. It is obvious that the family is involved
in the major management decisions.
One recent development was the decision to produce sparkling wines.
They have been consistent producers of these wines in their initial
period. Another new area has been in the export market. Here they have
been and are participating extensively. They have also done some import
business in wines. The restaurant, too, has been a major project of all
four of the Wentes. Recently they have also been active in land
development in the Livermore Valley.
Finally, they have been great supporters of the Livermore Valley as
a quality wine -producing region. This continues. Altogether, it is a
record of which the Vente family can be proud. And the California wine
industry can be thankful to have a family who are so generous with their
cooperation in being good members of that industry.
Maynard A. Amerine
Professor Emeritus, Department of
Viticulture and Enology, University of
St. Helena, California
INTERVIEW HI STORY-- Wen te Bros.
These interviews with the four members of the Wente family who head
the family winery and vineyards were conducted in 1991. They continue
Ernest A. Wente 's 1969 account, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley
(Regional Oral History Office, University of California, Berkeley, 1971).
The recollections of Ernest Wente, a son of the 1883 founder of the
winery, reached back to before the beginning of the century and came up
to its operations under his son, Karl L. Wente, who headed it from 1961
until his untimely death in 1977. Since we had not interviewed Karl, we
asked his widow, Jean R. Wente, to recall his career in this account.
Following his death, she had become chairman of the board of Wente Bros.,
and her sons, Eric and Philip, had become president and vice president
respectively. In 1980 her daughter, Carolyn, joined the organization as
vice president in charge of marketing and public relations. Thus the
interviews reflect the activities and viewpoints of four active leaders,
three of whom are devoting their careers energetically to the family
Many multiple -account interviews reflect differing points of view.
These instead reflect a cohesiveness that is undoubtedly one key to a
smoothly functioning family business. It is a business that, under the
leadership of the great grandchildren of the first of the Liverraore
Valley Wentes, is in a period of thoughtfully conceived growth,
strengthened internally and, in 1991, expanded through joint enterprises
The interviewer, who had long been acquainted with the family and
its activities, wishes to thank all four members for their
characteristically gracious cooperation in this group of accounts.
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
JEAN R. VENTE
Jean Robinson Wente became a member of the winemaking family in
1949 when she married Karl L. Wente, who in 1961 succeeded his father,
Ernest Wente, as head of the Livermore Valley and Monterey County
winegrowing enterprise. Between the time of her marriage and 1977, when
Karl Wente died, she discussed with him informally the affairs of Wente
Bros. Thus she was in a position to transmit to their children
knowledge of the family business practices and traditions. As chairman
of the board, she advises them while encouraging their independent
On the basis of an outline of suggested subjects for discussion
that was sent to her in advance, she made notes to which she referred as
she spoke. The interview was held in her office at the sparkling wine
cellars and restaurant complex.
Regional Oral History Office University of California
Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
Your full name Eugenia (Jean) Robinson Wente
Date of birth February 1. 1926 Birthplace Hanford , CA
Father's full name Louis Turner Robinson
Occupation Farm management Birthplace Greensboro, Georgia
Mother's full name Sara Nevsom Robinson
Occupation housewife Birthplace Union Point/ Georgia
Your spouse Karl Laird Wente
Your children Eric Peter Wente, Philip Robinson Wente , Carolyn Went
Where did you grow up? Corcoran, CA
Present community Li vermore , CA
Education Corcoran school system, Stanford University
Occupation(s) Corporate officer of Wente Bros. Inc.
Areas of expertise knowledge of family business
Other interests or activities golf/ tennis/ travel (see attached
list for community activities)
Organizations in which you are active see list
Jean Wente , circa 1985
INTERVIEW WITH JEAN R. WENTE
FAMILY AND EARLY YEARS, 1926-1949
[Date of Interview: April 11, 1991]//// 1
Teiser: Let me begin by asking whep and where you were born.
I was born in the San Joaquin Valley in 1926. Actually, the
hospital was in Hanford, but my parents lived in Corcoran.
Were they agriculturalists?
Yes, my father, Louis T. Robinson, was a cotton farmer. He came
from Georgia and was very instrumental in putting together the
J. G. Boswell Company, which are large corporate farmers. J. G.
Boswell was also from Georgia, from the same area my father was,
and when he was getting into his farming operation in the San
Joaquin [Valley] , down around the Tulare Lake basin, he asked my
father if he'd come out from Georgia. My father said he'd be
very interested. Of course, times were tough in Georgia. This
was 1926, I guess; I'm a native Calif ornian, so they came out in
Their whole idea was that they'd stay a few years and see
how it went, and so forth and so on, and of course they never
went back- -and they never lost their little, soft southern
accents, either. [laughter]
Teiser: So you grew up--
1 This symbol (#//) indicates that a tape or portion of a tape has begun
or ended. For a guide to the tapes, see page 152.
J. Wente: I grew up in a small farming community in the San Joaquin
Teiser: And you came to Stanford?
J. Wente: I came to Stanford. Actually, I think there were like thirty-
two or thirty- four in my graduating senior class, and when I was
at Stanford there were five kids at Stanford from that local
high school. I think it speaks well for the quality of the
education that little school was carrying out.
Teiser: What was the name of the school?
J. Wente: Corcoran Unified School District.
Teiser: Yes, it must have given you a good background. Do I remember
that you were a history major at Stanford?
J. Wente: Yes, I was. That's marvelous; how did you remember that?
Teiser: I've asked you about yourself before, you know, in connection
with articles I've written.
You met Karl at Stanford? At Dinah's, as I remember.
J. Wente: That's right. Actually, he picked me up in a bar. This is the
story we always tell the kids: "Your father picked me up in a
Teiser: You married him, then, in '49?
J. Wente: Yes, in November of '49.
Teiser: Did you come here to live?
J. Wente: Yes. You've been over to the [Louis] Mel winery the Mel
house --haven't you?
J. Wente: Well, the Mel house was my honeymoon cottage. Karl and I worked
on the Mel house, painting and papering, putting in a bathroom
or two, and all kinds of things, from maybe mid-August through
November 5, when we were married. We had it together enough
that we could move in, and then we went right on working on it.
That was our first home.
Teiser: Went on working on it in the vintage season, then?
J. Wente: No. Things come to a screeching halt during vintage season. We
laughed about that, because the reason for November 5 as the
wedding date was when the harvest was going to be finished that
year --whether it would be early, late, or so forth. November 5
seemed like a safe date for the harvest being over.
Teiser: I was about to ask you about your first activities after your
marriage, but maybe I should go back to your recollections of
Herman Wente and Ernest Vente. 1 never met Herman. What was he
J. Wente: Herman was absolutely a charmer; everybody liked Herman. He was
gregarious, outgoing, extremely bright. He was just that type
of personality. He was the original p.r. man, but I'd say a
subtle p.r. man, in that he was so genuinely wrapped up in the
wine businesswinemaking, wine and food, and so forth- -that it
never came across as p.r. He was just an ambassador at large
for Vente wine, and California wine as far as that goes.
Teiser: Old-timers speak of him with very great regard.
J. Wente: I think one of the things that Carolyn [Wente] pointed out was
that all this business now of wine and food- -balancing wine with
food and so on- -Herman would be laughing at us, because he did
that constantly. He was very aware of flavors with flavors and
so forth. I can remember people calling Herman and saying,
"We're having a big affair, and if I sent you the menu, Herman,
could you possibly match wines for me?" Or, "Would you send me
wines?" or "Tell me what I should be doing." He was good at it,
he liked it; he had a marvelous palate.
I think there are people in this world who have what I call
a computer palate in their head for remembering flavors and
tastes. Herman was one of these people who could describe a
wine he'd had fifteen years previously and talk to you about it.
I think that's a real talent, and I think there are people in
the wine industry who can do that, who have that kind of memory
Herman and Edith [Mrs. Herman Wente] entertained quite a
bit- -not quite a bit; they entertained almost constantly.
Herman really enjoyed that. I always looked forward to being
included, because the guests were always fascinating, good
conversation, good food.
Were they other wine people or just people in general?
A wide variety,
Usually some other wine people and then wine
When I said Herman was sort of our first p.r. person, he
was on a first-name basis with the original editor of Gourmet.
for example. Bobbie [Robert] Balzer always said that Herman
straightened him out and set him on the right road for having a
wine palate and learning about wine . I can think of some
others. Herman just knew people who were interested in wine and
food and so forth. Andre Simon, the person who was head of
London Wine and Food Society [The Wine and Food Society, London]
for so long (which is now the International Wine and Food
Society), and Herman corresponded. He was just on that level in
the wine and food industry at that time.
Herman had a marvelous collection of menus from restaurants
around the country and wine lists. He not only had a memory
bank for but a file for maitre d's and waiters. He just did all
that very automatically. I must say, that was at a time when a
waiter and a maitre d' stayed a few years at a restaurant. 1
don't think that's true today.
On top of all that, I think his basic thrust was that he
was fantastically interested in wine quality; that was his shove
all the way --improving the quality of wine, improving the
techniques. When I first became a Wente, we sent all of our lab
work down to a lab in Berkeley. Herman could see that this was
becoming more and more difficult and that he needed more instant
results; the time involved in sending the samples and receiving
the information took too long as the winery became more
technology conscious. He was instrumental in realizing that we
needed to have an in-house lab. That was just getting underway.
He had a young man coming down from [University of California
at] Davis on the weekends who was working on his Ph.D. He came
on the weekends and worked in the lab with Herman and started
this. I guess this was after Karl was back.
I think Herman could see that the wine world was changing
and needed to change. I think about Herman being the original
boutique man. He had a vision for California wine that there
needed to be more premium wineries in order to make California
wine a viable industry. He really encouraged people getting
into the vine business, such as the McCraes [Eleanor and Fred]
with Stony Hill [Vineyard] and the Stewarts [J. Leland and
Glenzella] at [Chateau] Souverain and Mary and Jack Taylor at
Mayacamas [Vineyards], I know he was very friendly and did a
lot of wine conversation with the Bartholomews [Frank H. and
Antonia] at Buena Vista. Of course, one of our favorites was
Jim Howe, who was with United Press. He was a real wine buff.
He had been on the China beat back in the thirties, so to speak,
and that sort of thing. He and Herman were good friends then.
Jim had a little home winery that he called Gopher Gulch,
because he said the gophers got as many grapes as he did.
Herman really had a plan for the California wine industry,
I think you might say. Well, evidenced by the fact that he was
very instrumental in the Wine Institute as we know it today. I
know one of his really driving forces was to get some kind of
industry group together that could work together.
Leon Adams gives him great credit for strengthening the wine
industry early on.
He was very interested in what was going on at Davis and was
encouraging the viticulture department, first at UC [University
of California at Berkeley], of course. Herman went to Berkeley.
They had a very small enology and viticulture department there,
and I gather he dabbled in that while he was there. Then it
moved to UC Davis .
Did he work with Dr. [William V.] Cruess?
I don't know if he worked with Dr. Cruess or someone with a very
Italian name like Bonicelli or Bolinelli.
Probably Frederic T. Bioletti.
This is where you need Ernest. [laughs]
Teiser: As you remember, we did do a very fine interview with Herman's
brother, Ernest. How would you compare them?
J. Wente : Sort of night and day. It's amazing- -well, it's not amazing,
because I look at Eric and Phil. Ernest was very much into the
farming part of it, really adored being the outdoor, manual,
hard- labor farmer, and Herman was just the other way around.
Cecil [Aguirre] said that one way to distinguish them is that
Ernest came to work in work boots and khakis and a Pendleton
shirt, and Herman came to work in a suit and tie. [laughter]
That was non- grape season, however.
Teiser: I remember that I had an appointment with Ernest for an
interview, and I got here and he wasn't here. It turned out he
was out fixing a pump. It was first things first.
J. Wente: That's typical. Herman certainly was the winemaker. Herman
worked in the winery and worked hard. Of course, when Herman
and Ernest were doing this, we're talking pre- current
technology- -automatic refrigeration, for example --and lot of
hands-on physical labor. When I think about California wine
now, it's hard to find a bad California wine. I think you'd
really have to look. The technology is such now that if you're
making a bad wine, it's up here [indicates the mind], not
because the knowledge isn't there; it's something you're doing.
As opposed to when they were doing it right after Prohibition.
None of the ease of technology was with them; it was the
experience that was with them.
I think it's something that they both passed along to Karl,
because Herman and Ernest both were very innovative and creative
about the things they were doing and starting, Herman about his
winery and Ernest about his farming, when Karl came along.
KARL L. WENTE
Youth and Education 1927-1949
Teiser: Karl really knew both enology and viticulture, then, didn't he?
J. Wente: Actually, there was a bit of rivalry going on there, whether
Karl would be wine (enology) oriented or viticulture oriented.
Of course, he wound up doing both, and doing both very easily, I
Teiser: What do you know about Karl as a young person before you met
J. Wente: I would gather just from listening, really, that Karl was
absolutely the apple of everybody's eye. He was the first
grandson. Hilma [Mrs. Edwin E. Hagemann] is so much younger
than Ernest that her two childrenKarl was maybe five or six
before there were any more grandchildren. Here were all these
older Wentes and Karl, so you can sort of envision the family
light shining on him. It's amazing to me that he wasn't a
completely spoiled brat. Or maybe he was for a while, and one
eventually either outgrows that or not. But he really was the
center of that family, there's no doubt about it, from his
grandparents through all the aunts and uncles and so forth.
Karl had a very marvelous childhood in that father was home
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; work was immediately there.
Karl grew up on the ranch and in the winery. It was a very
loving but in a way very strict upbringing. He went to work at
all the little chores and so forth, and by the time he was old
enough he was working summers on the ranch or in the winery. I
don't know how much discussion there was about it, but I think
they all just assumed he wouldn't think of doing anything else
but running the family business.
Teiser: Did he?
J. Wente: I think for a moment or two he did. I really do. I think when
he left home and was out on his own, so to speak, and was in
college, it did pass through his mind more than once that there
were some other pretty exciting things out there. Yet I think
there's a very strong family feeling in the Wentes, and I think
I see this in our children. They feel the responsibility for
what's been left to them and for hanging onto it and making it
better for the next generation. It's almost like they're
overseers or caretakers for the next person coming along. I
think Karl felt that very strongly, that this was an opportunity
a lot of people would kill for, probably, and here it was just
being more or less handed to him.
Yet I think the exceptions are Karl's, because in Karl's
generation boys weren't going back to family businesses. I
think perhaps even in our children' s- -Karl and I used to hope we
would get one out of the three. We'd just laugh and say, "Isn't
it fun that we have three, because surely one of them will want
to do this." We tried very hard never to suggest or even
indicate that we expected them to come back. I think you at
least owe that much to your children to know there's no big
chain there. It is their life, and if this isn't what they want
to do, fine. I never ever thought I'd have all three of them.
[ laughs ]
Teiser: What were Karl's college studies?
J. Wente: Karl majored in biochemistry. I think he seriously thought
about med school for a little while there. Basically it was a
Teiser: I'm surprised he didn't go to Davis, but I guess it wasn't so
well developed then.
J. Wente: No, the viticulture department wasn't so well developed, but I
think his whole family was surprised that he didn't go to Davis,
especially his father, who, as you know, was one of Davis 's
first students. I think his being out and away during the war,
it was one of the first things Karl decided on his own- -that he
wasn't going to go to Davis just because his father had gone to
Davis, that he'd rather try something else.
Karl L. Wente in the winery, early 1970s.
Photograph courtesy Wines & Vines
Karl's war career was probably not exciting to him. He
went to boot camp in Chicago --Navy- -and said that he quickly
learned that if you read the bulletin board every morning, there
was some kind of a test you could take for something.
Therefore, if you were off to take this test you weren't doing
yard duty or drilling or something. [laughter] So he wound up
in one of the college programs, whether it's V-12 or V-6, at
Oregon State. That's where he was during the war; he was at
Oregon State at one of the Navy programs.
Teiser: That was before he went to Stanford?
J. Vente: Yes, and he came into Stanford as more than a freshman.
Teiser: I suppose there was some advantage to getting whatever the
learning experience is in the service.
J. Wente: I think that basically this is your officer's candidate program.
They were all, I suppose, about to be ensigns or something.
Teiser: By the time he finished Stanford was he pretty sure he was going
to come into the winery?
J. Wente: Yes. I don't think there was any doubt about it.
Teiser: He took a trip to Europe then?
J. Wente: Oh, the famous grand tour. It was sort of like a coming out
party or something when your children went to the continent.
The whole family had been planning this for Karl's graduation, I
think ever since he started college or probably even before
that. Everyone went: Edith [Mrs. Herman Wente] and Herman,
Karl's mother and father, and another uncle, Carl, and Jess
Wente, and then Karl. The only difficult part about the grand
tour, 1 guess, was me. Karl and 1 met the spring of his senior
year and had decided we were going to get married. We announced
our engagement at the end of the school term before graduation.
This whole trip had been planned- -
J. Wente: I more or less got to know the family because Karl and I would
drive up from Stanford to San Francisco when they went in to get
their passport pictures, and then we went in on one of the
shopping expeditions and stayed for dinner with the family.
Then 1 came to Livermore a couple of times before school was
out. I came for rodeo weekend, which was always the big thing,
and we had the rodeo party at Karl's aunt Frieda's, Ernest and
Herman's sister- -Frieda and George Tubbs . So I knew the family
pretty well, or was getting to know the family, shall we say.
I think they were truly concerned whether Karl was actually
going to go. Karl and I talked it over, because Karl definitely
was leaning toward the fact that he really wasn't too excited
about going to Europe with these six older people. At least we
both had sense enough to say, "They've been planning this for so
long, and you'd do nothing but disappoint them forever," and so
forth and so on. So he took off for Europe. Herman had worked
very hard organizing this grand wine tour. They called on
people that Herman knew, they called on people that I'm sure
were contacts set up by Davis for probably Maynard [A. Amerine]
or [Albert J.] Winkler at that point.
They really just had a perfectly marvelous wine tour of
France. I know Karl said it was just like being royalty when
they arrived. Here was Herman with the Wine Institute fame and
so well recommended by Davis and all these people. And, of
course, there's been a lot of travel ing --maybe not as much now,
but there used to be quite a lot of traveling between wine
families that you don't see so much anymore. Or maybe I'm just
out of it now; who knows? I do know that European wine families
were always coming through Livermore and being here for a couple
of days. I can't tell you how many European wine children we
had live with us when our children were young.
Anyway, they had lots of contacts, and I guess it was just
a 100 percent marvelous trip. Then they got back to Paris and
met up with Carl and Jess and Bess, who had not gone on the wine
tour; just Herman and Ernest and Carl did the wine tour. The
rest of them had gone to Italy, Switzerland, and maybe called on
relatives in Germany; I don't know what they were doing. Then
they were all to meet and take this continued tour, which was
going up into Scandinavia and around.
When they got back to Paris, Karl announced he was going
home. They were all really put out with him, but he said, "No,
I've done all the wine tour, which was the whole point of the
trip." He said he absolutely thought it was marvelous, but he
was going home to see Jean, which I think was very nice,
[laughter] So he cut the trip in half. They were spending the
whole summer in Europe, which was the plan, and then Karl came
home. That's when we really started working on the house and so
HERMAN WENTE, CONTINUED
J. Wente: I think there are even letters in Herman's files, correspondence
with these people getting this marvelous trip set up. I should
have gone through some of Herman's files, because we have a
tremendous amount of material on Herman in our archives. I
should look into that for you.
He was active in the Wine and Food Society of San Francisco, and
he had several groups, I guess--! don't know if I'd call them
clubs --that he kept up with that were really wine and food
oriented. They had their spring wine tastings. His class at
Berkeley came out every year.
Teiser: What class was it?
J. Wente: Class of '15. I'm not sure Herman actually graduated, because
he was in the army during World War I. That's something
interesting, when you think about the Japanese during World
War II: apparently there was a tremendous amount of anti-German
[sentiment] during World War I, and even in a small town like
Livermore the Wagners, the Wentes, and so forth--. The Wentes
I think one of the really big things Herman did for
California wine wasyou know, Herman was responsible for
varietal labeling. He and Frank Schoonmaker were batting
themselves around about what to do, and Herman came up with the
idea of grape names. Herman was desperate to get California
"premium varietal" wines recognized as being that. He was still
fighting all the generic things on the market- -burgundy ,
chablis, etc. He thought of calling Semillon "S6millon" on the
bottle, and putting Sauvignon Blanc on the bottle and so forth.
He actually came up with that concept and put the vintage dates
on them. Nobody was putting vintages on bottles. So he had
that kind of approach: "If we're going to make this work, we
J . Wente
have to be upscale. We really have to show we're serious and
that we're not jug wine people," and that sort of thing. So he
was into that.
Of course, at that time he was into the sauterne type of
wines, because Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc were I'm sure
Ernest told you that our Semillon and Sauvignon blanc cuttings
are direct descendants from Chateau d'Yquem. So sauternes were
Herman's big interest. I think they really started out with the
sweeter, residual sugar sauterne, and then Herman was working
into the dry ones really big, dry Sauvignon Blancs and so
The vintage dating is fascinating to me, because there was
a period not too long ago where people weren't dating bottles
anymore; I'd say that in the late fifties or early sixties,
vintage -dating bottles wasn't all that much of a go. This is
the fad thing. Now it's back to dating bottles, and now with
this Heritage and things like that, where you're combining, I
suppose dating won't be as important again.
I think Herman firmly planted the idea that we were an
estate vineyard, an estate winery, that you should be in charge
of your own grapes and your own winemaking.
I can see why your family got along so well with the Louis M.
Martini winery, because I guess they developed these ideas a
little after yours.
Yes, because Louis wasn't- -when did Louis go up here?
He moved to the Napa Valley from Kingsburg in 1940, but he had
bought vineyard land there earlier. I think he, too, was
influenced by Frank Schoonmaker.
Yes, I think so. I think Schoonmaker was marketing, and Herman
recognized that marketing was the name of the game even then,
not to the extent it is this day and age, but certainly that you
had to get your product in front of the buying public.
Schoonmaker was really good at that.
Now that you've mentioned Louis M. Martini, there are some
marvelous stories that I hope Ernest told you about Herman,
Louis Martini, and Tony Korbel traveling together and being the
ambassadors for California wine on the East Coast, New Orleans,
Chicago, and other places.
That's interesting. I didn't know about that. I knew Herman
Wente had gone on such trips, but I didn't know the others did.
J. Wente: He, Louis, and Tony Korbel traveled together quite frequently.
Teiser: That must have been quite a crew.
J. Wente: Can't you see them? [laughter] I'm sure there was nothing but
twelve-course lunches and sixteen-course dinners.
I think before he died, Herman was really into the fact
that there were going to be better type wine presses, so there
had to be better type cooperage and so forth. I think he
certainly had Karl indoctrinated in that, that there were better
ways to do things. As I said, I think both Ernest and Herman
grounded Karl very well in what it was he was supposed to do,
and I think they made it exciting. It's kind of fun to get up
in the morning and go to work liking what you're going to do,
and I don't think there was ever a day when Karl didn't feel
like that about it. I think that's really from Herman and
Ernest that he had that drive.
VENTE BROS. SINCE 1949
The Vinerv in the Early 1950s
Teiser: When you came into the family, you could hardly have missed
knowing a lot about the winery. What was it like then?
J. Wente : I probably had only about three years or so with the status quo
of the buildings and so forth. When 1 came, the office was a
minute, two little rooms in the corner of the old wooden winery,
and the [Carl Wente, Sr.] family house was still there, which
was kind of a fun house. It had sort of grown like Topsy.
There were seven children, and it was sort of like they added
for each child. [laughter] It had high ceilings and was cool.
They still had dirt floors in the winery and the old screw
presses. Refrigeration was nonexistent except during harvest,
when the ice truck never stopped coming, just to keep things
cool. They'd run cold water through one line and wine through
the other, side by side, to keep the wine cool. I remember that
sort of thing. Of course, now we have all this refrigeration
Bottling, if it wasn't completely by hand it wasn't far
off, because I can remember going down in one of the trucks with
Karl into a foundry type place in Berkeley or Emeryville. We
brought home this corking machine that everybody was terribly
excited about. We went down in a truckwe didn't have big
trucks; it had to be something just maybe the next size up from
a standard pickup. The man who had hand-made it was so thrilled
with it that, as he carefully pointed out to Karl and me, he had
on his own put this little metal wine glass on top with a bunch
of grapes --just decoration on the top of this corking machine.
We came home, and it was after dark when we got back, so
Karl said, "We'll just go home and unload this in the morning."
He pulled into our little garage and didn't think about it, and
the thing was just too tall to go in with the fancy little
ornament, which just snapped right off. I've never seen anyone
so upset over something that really--! mean, thank goodness it
had nothing to do with the machinery. [laughter] Then the big
thing was to get somebody to come who could solder that on again
so that the man would never know.
So we were upgrading, but when you think that the corker we
were so proud of you could put on a small truck and bring back--
when I think about what's over there now. We were just
beginning to do that sort of thing. Also, there was just
beginning to be enough wineries and call for the technology so
that developing or adapting the technology from other bottling
type of things was worthwhile to companies who were making the
equipment. I know that when we first started in on changing our
pressing system from wooden cage, vertical basket presses to
horizontal stainless steel, Pete Peters from Valley Foundry
practically lived up here. Herman was still in on that. It was
probably just before Herman died, maybe 1959 or somewhere along
in there, when they started designing presses with Pete Peters.
At the same time, the insurance and maintenance on the
wooden buildings just became absolutely prohibitive. We always
laugh and say that we don't have anything antique to show that
says we've been here since 1883, but on the other hand we're
still here and nothing burned down. [laughter] You've seen the
pictures of the old winery, and truly it wasn't that enchanting;
if you think about preserving something, it wasn't. There isn't
anything left of the original wooden winery; it's all new.
Teiser: Was it redone in stages?
J. Wente: It was redone in stages, yes, and they're still doing it. I
always laugh and say that I seem to be the only one in a dead
panic every year about whether they'll have everything back
together by crush. I've never seen a piece of equipment come
into this place that first it was Karl, and then it was Bob
Detjens and Karl together, and now it's Eric and Aris. They run
it a little, and they think, "Well, this would really be better
and more efficient if we did this to it." So we will have just
paid this enormous amount of money for something, and they're
taking it apart. [laughs] I'm going like this [gestures],
thinking, "Gee, the grapes look like they're about ready, and
they're still fooling with that press." But it always seems to
Advances in the Vineyards
J. Wente: The biggest change was under Karl, because Karl really went from
the lack of technology as far as equipment is concerned to state
of the art winery; it all really occurred under Karl. That's
everything from presses to bottling wines, too: equipment in
the fields- -I think about the vineyards. We had two good wells
down on East Avenue, and they ran pipelines from East Avenue all
the way to the top of the vineyards at the Fagoni place, which
is a couple of miles, and started sprinkling- -started
irrigating- -under Karl. And he put in an enormous reservoir for
frost protection, which we never had before; we just held our
breath and hoped it wouldn't freeze too long or wouldn't freeze
at all. Although the latest recorded frost in our vineyard is
May 22, so you always have the feeling that you're not quite
home free until the first of June. Also, I think the worst
berry shatter we had was probably about the fifth of June from
heat, so it's a short block there. [laughs]
Then, with the advent of the canal coming through, we had
access to water.
Teiser: Oh, yes. When was that?
J. Wente: Probably in the sixties.
Teiser: The Delta Mendota?
J . Wente : Yes , but this is the one that goes to San Jose .
Teiser: Does it have a name?
J. Wente: Yes; I refer to it as the canal. I'm sure it does have a name,
Ruth. The only place it's underground is when it goes through
Ernest's property, because Ernest would not give them the right
of way to have an open canal behind his house .
Teiser: Oh, really.
J. Wente: Really. It was practically completed on both ends, and Ernest
was sitting there saying, "I'm not going to do it." So they put
it underground. He said, "I'm not going to wake up some morning
and find I'm downtown because the canal is broken." Ernest said
he had lived in that spot too long, and the hills shift; you get
a little tremor, and the hills shift. "That canal's going to
shift, and it's going to dump its water, maybe not today, maybe
not tomorrow, and maybe not in my lifetime, but it's going to
happen." So they went underground behind Ernest's house, and
then it comes out again.
Then we really went into piping all of the vineyards and
irrigating. That led to all kinds of changes, because Karl was
working with both Upright and Chisholm Ryder on mechanical
harvesting, which led to how you do the viticulture in your
vineyards, which led to a different kind of piping for your
sprinklers so that when you were mechanically harvesting you
weren't ruining your sprinkling system, because they are
permanent-set sprinklers. (But drip irrigation is now being
You've seen the lumber carriers and the way we handle the
grapes. Karl thought that one out. He bought, for something
like seven hundred dollars, a used lumber carrier. He and Cecil
Aguirre built one- ton capacity steel tubs. The lumber carrier
could drive over them and pick them up, and then they took these
out and dropped them in the avenues in the field. Karl was
trying to get rid of wooden boxes , which he thought were a
mess- -hard to clean, heavy, and so forth- -and so they went to
lightweight plastic tubs. The pickers used the plastic tubs and
then dumped in these one -ton tub containers which were on
little- -we referred to them as burros, but they were tiny
motorized carts that you could steer down vineyard rows. When
those were full we put them out in an avenue, and the lumber
carrier came along and picked them up and took the grapes back
to the winery. So you got your fruit in quicker with less
damage and all that sort of thing, which was one of the things
Karl was thinking about.
That translated into doing the same thing with the
mechanical harvester rig. We started out with the lumber
carrier idea, and then the little geared- down- -these things are
like a cart with a long handle on them, and the man on the row
could set this to move slowly enough so that as they went along
with their small boxes, picking on each side of it, they could
dump in it. Then whoever was in charge of that kept the thing
moving at an adequate pace for the pickers to dump into.
With the advent of the mechanical harvester and the
viticultural change of putting enough vineyard up on trellises
so it could be mechanically harvested, we went to that system.
I think we're probably very close to being 100 percent
mechanically harvested, both here and in Arroyo Seco. But the
J . Wente :
lumber carrier stays with us. It still does the same thing; it
still brings the fruit in from the vineyards.
I've seen those in action down in Arroyo Seco, and it never
occurred to me that they were lumber carriers.
The harvester is built on the same principle. Even though it
has all that equipment up on top and in the center, it's a
lumber carrier base, and it straddles the vines.
Those are wonderful developments .
of mechanical pruning?
Have you gone now to any kind
Not without men. But one thing we use our harvesters for they
take out the fingers that hit the vines and knock off the fruit
and replace them with big, circular saw blades. They run that
down the row, and what it does is get rid of the heavy outside
brush. Then the pruners come in, and they're not fighting all
those long canes. That's then ground up and put back as humus
to keep the soil loose. Another thing it does is that we've had
much less incidence of scratches or eye damage. We've never had
anything really serious, but when you're fooling with those
canes out there in the vineyard, they're always whipping around.
Teiser: So you do prune --
J. Wente: With pneumatic shears. There's a compressor that goes down the
row, and then there are two booms that go out with as many
stations as the compressor can handle, I think probably four to
six on each side. So you're covering, say, six rows on each
side. Then a hose comes off at the station for each row, and
it's attached to a pair of shears. You just push a button;
you're not gripping and cutting. To that extent we're
mechanical, and it makes it much easier and quicker to move
through the vineyard pruning. It's just recently that we
thought of cutting the heavy brush off first, so we're getting
double use out of that mechanical harvester. This is another
example of how we just can't leave anything alone, so we use it
for something else, working around and coming up with another
idea. Although I don't say that's one of Karl's ideas. We
weren't doing that when Karl was in charge; that's something
that Eric and Phil have come up with.
Phil's goal is one man per hundred acres. He thinks that
with the technology and the equipment you have farming, you
should be able to get your vineyard down to where you have one
man per hundred acres for maintenance and care.
Advances in the Winery
Teiser: I guess the improvements Karl made to the winery, inside and
out, were just endless.
J. Wente: Well, they were. Everything from the temperature controls to
the stainless steel fermenters and the stainless jacketing on
them. The first stainless steel fermenters had iron jackets,
not stainless. I think Cecil [Aguirre] and Karl were looking at
them someplace else, and they said, "If we're going to do it,
let's see if we can do it stainless all the way," because that
iron bit you're going to be painting; there would be rust
problems, and the maintenance would be greater. So for those
outside jackets that go on the stainless steel tanks for
temperature control, they did turn up with the stainless jackets
as well as the stainless tanks.
I'm sure the boys will be full of what went on in the
winery. Let's see if there's anything else [looking over her
Expansion in Monterey County
M. Wente: Well, Monterey was all Karl's doing.
Teiser: How was that decision made?
J. Wente: Basically, there was an interesting kind of pressure going on
back then. One of our main concerns was that we were losing
growers, and that, in a way, put the price of what their
vineyard land was going for- -it indicated that if we were going
to be taxed for the best use, or whatever the tax man's thing
is --if somebody across the street just got $10,000 an acre, and
you're being taxed as an agricultural thing, will you be taxed
at $10,000 an acre or as agriculture? There was no indication
that you'd be taxed as agriculture, so with that in mind we
really started looking.
There were a lot of family discussions about whether we
wanted to stay in the wine business. Obviously, the decision
was made .
J . Wente :
J . Wente :
I should ask you about the whole family participation,
you like to discuss it later?
Why don't we finish with Monterey and then come back, because
actually Monterey was a family decision. Ernest and Karl really
did a lot of looking before they settled down in Monterey. We
always laugh and say it's because of the rocks in Monterey; they
reminded Ernest of being at home. But Ernest said, "No, the
roots of grapevines like to have something to grab onto." That
was his explanation for rocks; he said it was good to have your
vines in rocks.
That's really how we wound up in Monterey. We were looking
for something to hedge our bets. And, of course, it was pre-
Williamson Act. Along with the tax situation, it's not terribly
viable to be the only farmer in the area, shall we say. There
wasn't any direct pressure on us to stop farming or to stop
growing grapes or anything like that; these were all sort of
peripheral things, and we were trying to make the best educated
guess we could about what was going to happen to us and how
quickly the valley might fill in.
Then we bought the Monterey property as a grape supply
source and to hedge our bet against what might be happening
here. We were really into it just a couple of years or so when
the Williamson Act came along in '65. That put things back in
You put your land in the--
In the Williamson Act, yes. All of our land went into the
Williamson Act. That relieved a great deal of pressure as to
what would happen for a long-term site.
Did you decide to go to Monterey because it was accessible? How
do you truck things back and forth?
Four-lane freeway. West to #680 and south on #101. We went in
because Ernest and Karl liked the soil and the climate, and it
had the same kind of growing conditions that you think about
being good for premium varietal grapes. One of my opening
remarks for talks sometimes is that 1 say that California
premium wine country starts just south of the Oregon border and
winds up just north of Mexico, but in conjunction with coastal
valleys where the temperature is right and you're far enough
inland to have warm enough days to ripen grapes, but you're not
so far inland that you've got too much heat, and so forth and so
They just felt that the soil and climate and everything
looked good, and it turned out to be absolutely true. The
growing season is different. Eric can tell you that the
Chardonnay that comes from Monterey is a little different from
the Chardonnay from Livermore, but that's all to the good.
Back to being an estate vineyard, we bottle estate -grown
Chardonnay from Monterey, and we bottle estate -grown Chardonnay
from Livermore. It's nice to have the contrast and the
capability of doing that.
Teiser: You can call it estate -grown even though it's not contiguous?
J. Wente: Yes. You can say "estate," but if it's not contiguous you can
say "vintner 1 grown." I think that contiguous has now gone,
because Carolyn is the one who got the BATF to accept vintner -
grown; if you own property, farmed it, were in complete charge,
and the grapes came to your production facility, you could say
vintner -grown. I think now the same thing is true: if you own
it, farm it, and the grapes come directly to you, you don't have
to say "grown" anymore. I think you can say "estate-bottled."
I think she made her point, and you don't have to say "estate-
grown" anymore. She was very proud of that, and I was very
proud of her for doing it- -that she could get the BATF to accept
that. Because it does seem funny that if the property is yours
and so forth that you can't say "estate bottled" on it. 2
Getting back to our concept of wanting to be an estate --
estate in my mind connotes a family operation, as in a wine
estate as opposed to- -I think of farming. I think estate
perhaps sounds like my tree -lined driveway to my house and
swimming pool (I don't have one), but that's not what I mean.
[ laughs ]
For Monterey grapes we use the central coast appellation
for estate wine.
*Since we talked, we are not using "vintner -grown" anymore. The
vineyard and winery must be in the same appellation to say "estate."
2 See also interview with Carolyn Wente, p. 58.
Teiser: In Monterey County at Arroyo Seco, the system worked out for
handling the grapes and bringing them to the vinery here --
J. Wente: At this stage the grapes are picked and mechanically harvested;
everything in Arroyo Seco is mechanically harvested. The
vineyards were planted to be mechanically harvested before we
were really quite sure about the mechanical harvester; it wasn't
quite perfected when they planted those vineyards to be
mechanically harvested, but Karl said it was going to work and
was the coming thing, and we might as well do it.
Karl's thrust in a lot of this was that he wanted to be
able to maintain a year-round labor force and not have people
coming in seasonally. He wanted his people well paid, well
cared for, children in one school- -not this bouncing around from
when there is ranch work and when there isn't ranch work. We've
really done that, because our field crew goes from pruning to
cultivation to vineyard care to harvest, and we use the same
year-round people. It makes for loyalty, it makes for greater
interest in your job, a greater feeling of responsibility. You
sit somebody up on top of a $200,000 harvester, you want that
guy to be interested in what he's doing; you don't want him
taking out rows of vines. The same thing is true when you're
cultivating and so forth; you want them to feel a part of the
Teiser: When did you start field crushing in Monterey?
J. Wente: I think the field crushing was not far behind- -I'm trying to
think if I remember the little burro system in Monterey with
hand picking, and I truly don't, but that doesn't mean it didn't
happen. But we were certainly field crushing in 1970. I have
it in my mind that we almost just started out mechanically
harvesting in Monterey. We still do some field crushing, but
mainly whole -berry pressing now.
Teiser: At first you would have brought the grapes over here?
J. Wente: I just think about those steel boxes coming in, rather than
grapes, from Monterey. I think the fun thing about Monterey was
that while the vineyards were maturing, Karl started with UC
Davis the mother nursery block. This is when Davis was into
their heat-treating program for virus -free vines. Karl took
five acres in conjunction with Davis and put in a heat-treated,
certified nursery of maybe five, six, or seven different
varieties of grapes. We sold cuttings out of that certified
nursery for years. I guess one of the jokes was that when
somebody wanted something, they'd say, "Well, you know, we're
selling those cuttings; that'll cover that." [laughs] The
cuttings were a bonus. We didn't plan to have that kind of
income from Monterey. I mean, it takes you five years to get a
new vineyard going.
The cutting business was just fantastic, and Karl was there
at the right time with certified cuttings, just as all the 1960
plantings went in all over California. The record of our
cutting book reads like Who's Who in the wine industry. I think
we sold cuttings everywhere, all up and down Napa, Sonoma,
Canada, Virginia, Mexico, Missouri. A lot of the new vineyards
in the states of Washington and Oregon are right off of cuttings
out of the Arroyo Seco vineyard. As I say, we always teased and
said, "Well, we have the cutting money; we'll do it with that."
Teiser: You've always had a plant nursery here, haven't you?
J. Wente: Yes, but not on the scale that we were doing it there, and of
course this was certified, guaranteed wood. If you handled it
properly, presumably you wouldn't have any problems in your
Teiser: I believe that an earlier operator of Chalone Vineyard, Will
Silvear, had got cuttings from the Wente nursery.
J. Wente: He brought grapes to the winery here. He pickup -trucked his
fifteen boxes a day from Chalone. Whatever he picked, he'd
bring them down in a pickup truck, and Ernest did the crushing
and bottling for him. At least he took his grapes. Now, when I
say the crushing and bottling, I can't remember Will Silvear
with a Chalone label or any label, but he was almost on the way
out when I was on the way in. That's something that Hilma
[Hagemann] will probably know about, or even Cecil. Certainly
Bruno [Canziani] would know about that, because I do remember
meeting Will Silvear. He was absolutely marvelous.
Teiser: Was he?
J. Wente: Fun to talk to, did it all himself up there on that earthquake
fault, quaking all the time [laughs]. Herman really encouraged
him like crazy, because he thought he had good grapes and it was
a good place to have them.
Teiser: That's interesting. I didn't know that.
J. Wente: I think of Will Silvear in conjunction with Herman and Ernest,
not Karl, so that's the vintage he would have been.
Teiser: He also had Almaden [Vineyards] make a champagne for him. I've
seen the bottle. These things tie in interestingly. He was
growing grapes at Chalone in the 1930s and 1940s. I've
uncovered a little mythology about him.
J. Wente: I think that's fun that the mythology is there, because I think
that someone like Will Silvear, where the people who knew him
personally are no longer around, would develop a cult almost. I
could see where something like that would happen.
What else can I tell you about Karl in Monterey?
Teiser: Yes, I'm sorry I distracted you.
J. Wente: Oh, I'm sort of Ernest's pupil. I could just sit and listen to
him- -we had offices across from each other, and Ernest would
come in around mealtime, go home at lunch, and then come back at
mid- afternoon. He'd say things like, "Can you hang up the phone
now and come in? I want to talk to you." I told Carolyn- -he
wouldn't do it for me, but for Carolyn he did a Livermore book
about families and things in Livermore, as opposed to the kind
of thing he did with you [in his Regional Oral History Office
interview] on vineyards and California wine. 3
Teiser: Do you have more on Monterey?
J. Wente: Just that in planting in Monterey, Karl had always been
interested in champagne and in making champagne. That was
always something that was down the road, and he didn't make it;
the road stopped for him before he got into the champagne
business. But I do think it's interesting that Monterey really
has the perfect climate for champagne grapes. I think the boys'
interest in going into champagne is a little bit of tipping our
hat to Karl.
Teiser: Did Karl make some experimentally?
J. Wente: Yes. Actually, Herman was always doing that. Herman was the
biggest wine and grape trader going. We always had unlabeled
champagne. Somebody made it out of our wine, and in return
Herman would make something for them. The industry was very
3 Ernest A. Wente, Memories of the Early History of the Livermore
Valley, privately printed, 1981; 57 pp.
small at that point. That was not only done, it was acceptable.
You didn't have to track the wine like you do now and all that
sort of thing. The regulatory system of the wine industry now,
I think, is one of it's greatest hazards; it may be what finally
does it in- -all the government regulations.
Teiser: Of course Wente Bros, did some bulk wine business still when you
were first married, didn't they?
J. Wente: We were just about out of that. We had half -gallon jugs --the
half -gallon jugs with the little hook handle --that were only
sold in the tasting room. It was almost like on Friday
afternoon locals came in and bought their red wine for the
weekend or the next week. But when I arrived they were no
longer shipping any uncorked finished jugs. Bruno can tell you
about that .
Ownership. Decision Makina, and Responsibilities
Let me go back to the family interest in the winery. Herman and
Ernest were the complete owners of the winery; from their father
[Carl Heinrich Wente] they bought the winery and the vineyards.
Herman left his to Edith, and then Edith to Karl, although
Herman left Karl stock or something. Anyway, it was certainly
understood from Herman's will that anything to do with the
vineyards and the winery would become Karl's. The same thing
was true of Ernest. As life becomes more complicated and
estates become more complicated, we all now have stock, but
there's no outside stock; it's strictly family. It's a
corporation that is strictly family-owned stock now.
I've tried to give mine away as fast as I can- -you know,
estate planning and all that sort of thing. Basically, the
three children all have an equal amount. We're beginning to
pass things on to Christine and Karl, who are Eric's children.
But it's all family owned.
I see you were on the board early on.
Have you always been on
No. I would say that was after Edith's death. That's the date
that passes into my mind, and I don't know why. I could
certainly find out just by looking at the minutes book, but I
think officially that's probably about right. If not when Edith
died, then when Edith stopped being interested in it. With
Herman's dying, Edith was on the board. Perhaps I went on a bit
earlier than her death, because I know she just said, "Enough's
enough . "
Teiser: What is the board's function?
J. Wente: The board functions as any corporate board functions. We have
an annual meeting, we meet as executive committee or when
necessary to conduct the corporate business. These are very
serious meetings when we have them, but on the other hand I'd
say that board meetings go on every day, because all three
children talk to each other every day, and I see them. [laughs]
You're now chairman of the board?
J. Wente: Yes. I think that means I've reached my sixty-fifth birthday.
KARL L. VENTE'S INDUSTRY AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES
Teiser: Going on to Karl's activities in various industry and local
J. Wente: He was director of the Wine Institute and the Wine Advisory
Board. I think maybe he was the youngest chairman of the Wine
Institute; he was very early on a director of the Wine
Institute. Then he was on the state college university system
board, and he chaired that. He was on the Bank of America
board, he was on the board of PG&E [Pacific Gass and Electric
Co.], he was on the California State Automobile Association
Locally he was one of the founding directors at the local
hospital and was chairman of that. He was one of the founding
organizers of the Zone Seven water district and I think was its
first chairman. He was in his late twenties then; he was a
young chairman. What else? He was so busy, that just seems
Teiser: He must have been very willing to take responsibility.
J. Wente: I think he felt that when you take, you give back, very
definitely. Oh, he belonged to the Bohemian Club and Wine and
Food Society of San Francisco. Those are fun things as opposed
to--. I think one of the things that's interesting to me as I
see what we're doing now and the kind of pause we've had, I
always feel like there was a generation gap in our public
relations between Herman and Carolyn and Phil and Eric. Karl
was forty -nine when he died, and he was just backing away from
the business to a certain extent, which is one reason for some
of these boards; he was looking for something to do that was
interesting to him and to get out of the kids' hair. He said,
"You know, I can see that I need to start--." I think what he
was really saying, too, was that he wasn't going to be there as
long as grandfather and Herman, breathing down their necks.
Although then he'd immediately say, "I can't really say they
were breathing down my neck." But he wanted the boys to feel
there was someplace to go and that they would be in charge .
Karl was very outgoing and gregarious, and I still run into
people who suddenly identify the name and say, "I knew your
husband. 1 can't tell you how much he influenced me, what he
did for me. He was just one of the most outstanding people I've
ever come across," and so forth. And this is a long time after-
-Karl has been dead for fourteen years now, and I still run into
people who don't know me; it's just a name association.
Teiser: I have a little story. I had to appear before the Wine Advisory
Board to get some money for this series, and he was conducting
the meeting. I was frozen with fright, having had no experience
with that sort of thing. He looked at me and nodded, and
smiled, and I thought, "Well, okay." He just gave me confidence
to get up there and ask for $10,000. I've always remembered
that very kind gesture.
J. Wente: When I think how the p.r. end of the wine industry and the
marketing end of the wine industry have changed--! think from
Herman and Ernest and it being feasible to be a home family
winery, the wine industry has taken this big, technological,
capital-intensive swing. Your marketing and your public
relations and so forth are every bit, if not more, important.
You can't afford not to be doing the right thing in the field
and in the winery, but whether those things translate to staying
in business has to do with your marketing and your public
Karl was one of these people, like Herman, who knew
everybody and was into a lot of things, was well liked, and was
aware of this change coming on. He was looking at our
relationship with our distributors, both main distributors and
wholesalers and distributors throughout the country, and how
this should become a part of something that we should be paying
very close attention to, and on and on. Then Karl died. I will
say that when Karl died there wasn't this overabundance or
proliferation of wine writers, wine magazines, wine critics, and
every restaurant maitre d' being a wine buff and all that sort
of thing. This has sort of come even much more strongly post-
Karl than when Karl was alive, but he was very aware that this
was in the offing.
I think that Jean and the two boys and then Carolyn were so
concerned with keeping the vineyards going and the winery
go Ing- -even though we'd all been around forever and should have
osmosed a lot more than we did, we actually found out that we
knew a lot more than we thought we did, which was surprising.
But for quite a few years we missed out on that one segment that
we should have been paying attention to, and 1 think that had
Karl been around he would have been doing a lot more of that
while the boys were getting their feet wet in the winery and the
vineyard- -where he could keep an eye on it, but they weren't
going to get into any serious problems; he could be out doing
more of the marketing end and that kind of thing.
I think the children are doing a fantastic job now. I
think they're back on it; they're really on top of it. Carolyn
is a whiz at it, and so is Philip. Eric doesn't have quite the
same opportunity because his responsibilities in the business
take him in a different direction. That's something that I see
as probably a fault of mine; I didn't pick up on it.
Well, let's get back to family. I forget what brought this
on! We were talking about the family involvement in the
Teiser: I guess you're part of the p.r. now, too, aren't you? Or you
always have been?
J. Wente: I think I always have been, in a way, because I laugh and say
that 1 served more p.r. meals and made more p.r. beds than
probably anyone. [laughter] That was part of the business. We
entertained at home constantly, and I enjoyed every minute of
it. Rarely were there any bummers. I think you meet interesting
people. I don't know what it is about wine and the good life,
but I do think you meet fascinating people whose vocation is not
necessarily the wine industry; it's their avocation. Goodness
knows, we've had marvelous people come through in the course of
meeting them businesswise.
Teiser: Do you give talks about your wines?
J. Wente: Yes, we all do. Arel, who is Eric's wife, is excellent at it.
She's a good ambassador for us; she really is. Of course,
Carolyn and Phil are at it all the time just in their marketing
and so forth. I am doing less and less. I'm playing my back
off role. I find my span of attention for traveling is great,
but my span of attention for business traveling is shorter and
shorter. I find it harder to keep a smile pasted on my face
from six o'clock in the morning until midnight, working. I
think the children are all so good at it, and I think it's time
I did a little "Jean" thing or two.
Teiser: They're very personable people, so I'm sure they make good
J. Wente: I'm fantastically fortunate that the three of them are
interested in the family business and that they all get along so
well. They each basically have a niche, and it all overlaps.
They each have their own territory, and it works out extremely
JEAN VENTE'S WORK WITH CULTURAL AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Teiser: I want to ask you about your own very active participation in
J. Wente: I guess I'm a "museumer . " I've always been interested in
museums. I suppose this was part of my family, because Corcoran
was probably fifteen hundred to two thousand people, twenty-five
hundred at the most when I was growing up, so it was a very
small town. When my father had a business trip and it was
feasible, or perhaps even when we could afford it, he was very
big on taking us to San Francisco or Los Angles, staying in
hotels, going to plays, going to museums, and doing that sort of
thing. He was also very big on taking us to baseball and
football games. [laughs] I was really very fortunate.
I was sort of looking for a niche of something to do. This
opportunity came up to be part of the beginning of the Oakland
Museum, and I just found that fascinating. One thing I like
about it is that it's an ongoing learning experience. There's
nothing stagnant about a museum, or static either, as far as
that goes, and there are so many facets to it, from keeping the
doors open to the actual collections. It has now turned out
that I'm the current chairman of the Museum Trustee Association,
which is a national organization with headquarters in
Washington. We are about museum governance, which of course is
the realm of museum trustees.
I'm enjoying it thoroughly. It's like anything: the board
meets four times a year, but I'm on the phone every day at six
o'clock in the morning because of the East Coast/West Coast time
schedule. And everybody knows they can get me early in the
morning, too. I'm doing a fair amount of traveling in
conjunction with this job. I find it continuing to be
absolutely fascinating. The people you meet, the museums, the
collections, and the doors that are opened to you are just
marvelous. I feel that museums are going to, and should, be
playing a bigger and bigger role in education. I think our
education system needs to take advantage of museums, and museums
need to take advantage of what they can offer in the way of
education, which is really unlimited.
Teiser: You've been on the board of the California College of Arts and
J. Wente: Yes, I have. I am the just -re tired chairman. Rod Lorimer of
Clorox is the new chairman; he's been chairman about six or
eight months now.
Teiser: Did your interest in the Oakland Museum come out of that?
J. Wente: No, I was on the board of the Oakland Museum before I was on the
board at CCAC. Well, I think an art college- -it' s education,
it's art, it's cultural approach to things --is a fascinating
thing to be involved in.
Teiser: You're also on some other boards. You're on the California
State Automobile Association board.
J. Wente: Yes, I am. Let's see- -I'm still on the CCAC college board.
Gee, my mind is absolutely blank, but let me pull out a Jean
Wente resum [laughs]. 1 I work on several things with Stanford,
but I think everyone --we always laugh and say, "Your degree is
only as good as your college." It's the credibility of your
college, and I'm sure Stanford's credibility will pick up
shortly after the trouble [President] Donald Kennedy has had
[with the charge of misuse of federal funds].
Oh, something that I think is kind of fun is the
Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vines. I was their first
Supreme Lady of the Vine. It's a national organization with
most chapters in California, and I thought it was rather
enchanting that they asked me to be their first Supreme Lady.
I've been active in the Monterey winegrowers' groups and in
the Livermore Valley winegrowers' groups.
Teiser: Are the Monterey people active?
J. Wente: They are. It's amazing; I went to the annual meeting at the end
of February, and there are something like twenty plus members
listed now, whereas there used to be five or six that were
actually growing grapes and in the wine business. That has a
lot to do with it. When you look at Napa and Sonoma, where
l See p. 34a.
Jean R. Wente (Mrs. Karl L.) 1992
5565 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA 94550
Chairman, Wente Bros., Inc.
Vineyards and Wineries
Current Community Activities
Founding Board Member of the Museum Trustee Association and current
Trustee Winterthur Museum and Garden
Trustee and immediate past Chairman of California College of Arts and Crafts
Honorary Chairman of the Livermore Valley Wine museum Foundation
Member of Stanford Associates, Stanford University
Member of Steering Committee for Friends of Radiology, Stanford University
School of Medicine
Member of Committee for Art, Stanford University
Member of Humanities Study Group, Stanford University
Trustee of World Affairs Council of Northern California
California Commission on Campaign Financing
ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) National Board Member
Board member Oakland /Alameda County Coliseum Foundation
California Associates, a study group with membership mainly from the Los
Former Community Activities
Chairman and Board Member of Oakland Museum Association; President and
Board Member of Oakland Museum Association Women's Board
Member of Committee that established NEH state -based humanities
program in California
Alameda County Architect Selection Committee
Chairman Alameda County Art Commission
Advisory Committee Rand Corporation/ Urban Institute on Immigration
WENTE BROS. SPARKLING WINE CELLARS & RESTAURANT
5050 ARROYO ROAD LIVERMORE. CA 94550 (510)447-3023 FAX (510) 447-0970
there are several hundred wineries in each county, I think that
has a lot to do with it. I was quite excited to see the
enthusiasm and the new faces, and there are quite a few new,
small wineries going in down there, which is what it needs to
make it go. Of course, we're growers down there, as opposed to
being a facility presence. You don't get a lot of touring until
you have facility presence; you can look at a vine, and then you
can look at the next vine, but if you can't taste the product--.
You know, Monterey grapes are everywhere; if you pick up a
bottle of wine, you may very well have Monterey grapes in it.
KARL L. VENTE'S CONCERNS
Was Karl ill for a time before he died?
J. Wente: Karl was diagnosed as having Hodgkins [disease] twelve years
before he died. He went through very intensive treatment at
Stanford, which has one of the outstanding programs for Hodgkins
in the country. He was there under treatment for the better
part of a year, and then he went back for regular checkups.
Dr. Henry Kaplan said something to me about Karl taking more
treatment than they'd ever given anyone before and having it
work, and that the young interns were laying bets on whether
he'd walk in for his last treatment or not. They're so
debilitating that people would come in, and they'd wind up
coming in in a wheelchair, but Karl walked in for his last
For all intents and purposes , as far as outward
appearances, he was just fine for the following ten years. I
think that what happened to Karl when he died- -it's like getting
polio the day before the Salk vaccine; I think they've now
advanced the treatment enough that they can handle it. He
signed on as an experimental case. His Hodgkins was very well
advanced when they found it.
Teiser: The reason I asked is that I wondered if he planned with you for
J. Wente: Yes, I think so. We talked a great deal about it from then on.
J. Wente: Not detailed planning, but we certainly did estate planning and
that type of thing far more seriously after we found out about
the Hodgkins . Something I should have said early on is that
Karl was very aware of being an only child for the older
generation, and he felt very responsible for them. We talked
about that and the fact that I would then be responsible. We
talked about the children and education for them and that type
Karl always, from the day we were married, talked business
with me. He'd come home and say, "Let me try this out on you,"
or "What do you think about this?" That sort of thing. When he
died, I thought, "You dumb -dumb, why didn't you pay more
attention?" Early on, before the Hodgkins, I was busy with
three children and running the house and so forth, and I don't
think you ever think about what happened happening. But Karl
was very sharing about the business, and especially after the
Hodgkins. Well, after the Hodgkins, I paid more attention;
let's put it that way.
Teiser: Did you have clear ideas then about how your children would
function in the business?
J. Wente: When Karl died, Eric was back working for us, having gone to
grad school at Davis. Phil was just out of Davis and just back
and working. I've never even put this to the kids particularly,
but whether, if Karl hadn't had Hodgkins, both boys would have
turned up or not, I don't know. They're so close together in
age, and they're so different. I think that's the reason it
works. It used to be that if I took on Phil, Eric would say,
"Mother, you don't understand the situation," and so on. If I
take on Eric, Phil's right in there, "Mother--." [laughs]
They've always been like that.
Whether there would have been enough going to keep all
three of them truly busy, even though Karl was planning to back
off --at that point Ernest was still reasonably active, and I
think Karl worried about whether he could find enough to keep
those two bright boys interested. I think they probably more
seriously thought about returning knowing about the Hodgkins
than they might have otherwise. That may be just my own feeling
Teiser: Did the older generation have any idea that Carolyn would come
into the business?
J. Wente: I think her grandfather hoped she would, but I don't think he
thought about it until after Karl died. I don't think they
seriously considered that she might do that. I think Karl would
have been delighted to know she was back. Ernest was from the
generation where you were a hausfrau, although I must say he
tipped his hat in my direction a couple of times, [laughs],
bless his heart. He was a marvelous support.
We laugh, because when Carolyn graduated from college, we
sure didn't have anything to do with her. We had no place to
slot her, she had no skills we could use --answer ing the
telephone or using a typewriter and that sort of thing- -so we
shipped her off. It was kind of fun, because she learned a lot,
and she learned very quickly. She's got a good grasp of the
business and certainly knows the wine business inside and out at
this point, and, as 1 say, is marvelous with marketing and
Teiser: She certainly has a good presence.
J. Wente: Yes. I guess maybe it was four or five years before we brought
her home, and she's been invaluable ever since.
Teiser: I daresay you had something to do with it.
J. Wente: Maybe it goes back to Karl. 1 said Karl had kind of an unusual
childhood in that everybody was around. He had his
grandparents; you know, his grandfather Monihan lived with them,
and his Wente grandparents were just down the road, and he spent
a terrific amount of time there. He had all these doting aunts
and uncles. I mean, he really had a family support group going.
I can say exactly the same thing for my three. Karl ate
breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home; he would come by during
the pre- school years with the kids if he was doing something
where he could handle it. You know, the two boys are just
seventeen months apart, so they're practically twins. He'd come
by and pick up the little boys, take them in the pickup truck
and be gone for two hours, the most divine thing that could
possibly happen to a mother. [laughs] I think a lot of it has
to do with that kind of thing, and that's not the norm for kids.
I think there's something about having the ranch and living on
it and being with your grandparents and your father and your
great aunts and uncles. It all translates into a very firm
Teiser: I think we've covered all the main subjects I've thought of. I
will be talking with your children- -adult children.
J. Wente: Well, I think of them as kids. [laughs] I love talking to you.
The children and I are extremely flattered to think that you
want to continue on with the family. We sort of look at
ourselves as practically an institution at this point. [laughs]
Back to Karl againwhen the vine business was beginning
to expand with all the new wineries and the new growth in
vineyards, Karl was a constant source of information for these
people. Karl consulted for more beginning wineries and
vineyardists and did it willingly. It was just like Herman
saying, "We need the expanded industry, we need the top quality,
we need to be going in that direction." I think of all the
people who came through our winery when Karl was still with us,
looking at it for all the innovative ideas and things that they
would like to be doing. It was sort of pointed out as, "Go down
and talk to Wente."
Teiser: Can you think of some of those who came to him?
J. Wente: I will. I think the ones I enjoyed most were the Spaniards who
kept coming. I will put my mind on that.
Teiser: I'd like to know what the influence of this winery has been
elsewhere. Thank you very much.
Carolyn Wente, the youngest of the three children of Jean R. and
Karl L. Wente, was born in Livermore in 1955, attended local schools,
and, like her brothers, worked at various tasks in the winery and on the
family ranch. At Stanford she studied history and also took business
courses. After graduating, she worked as a financial analyst at Crocker
Bank in San Francisco for several years. In 1980 her brothers asked her
to join Wente Bros, as vice president for public relations and
She was interviewed at her home on the ranch, following a back
operation, in bed but active, surrounded by communication and business
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
Your full name
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
C Aft Itf JQ \AJttt fe L^(A
Date of birth
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Father's full name
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Mother's full name
Your children A/ / A
Birthplace Ll l/tlrm/Trf.
Birthplace L* \,'&Y
Where did you grow up? I* /
Present community 1^1
Areas of expertise
jft / />
Other interests or activities
Organizations in which you are active
Carolyn Wente, circa 1990
INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN WENTE
CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOL TEARS, 1955-1980
[Interview date: April 25, 1991 ]##
Let's start at the beginning:
were you born?
when were you born, and where
I was born November 6, 1955, in St. Paul's Hospital, which is
the same hospital my father was born in, and his claim to fame
was being the very first Livermore baby born in that hospital.
There must have been a few in between.
I think so, like both my brothers!
Then you came to the family home?
I came home and was raised in Livermore on our ranchwhat we
refer to as the Mel ranch, which was the original property that
Louis Mel and his wife purchased here in Livermore and where
they built their weekend home. That home is where I spent the
first five years of my life, and then my parents built a house
on the hill above the old Mel home, where I grew up the rest of
the time .
It's about a mile or two miles from the original estate
winery on Tesla Road. My mother still lives there today.
Arturo Chavez , who is our vineyard manager here in Livermore ,
lives in the Mel house now. In 1983, when we celebrated Wente
Bros.' one-hundredth anniversary, we renovated the old Mel
winery to use it as an entertainment facility upstairs, and then
downstairs was a cellar with barrels and stuff for aging.
Where is that ?
C. Wente: It's off of Tesla Road, and it's directly behind the old Mel
house, built into the side of the hill.
Teiser: What was your childhood like?
C. Wente: I went to Livermore public schools all the way through high
school. It was during a time when the city of Livermore was
growing quite a bit, because every year a new school was built.
Because I lived out in the country and they picked all the
country children up on buses , we were bussed around to all the
new schools as they opened to help fill them up as the new
neighborhoods were growing in Livermore. Many of the new
neighborhoods that went in were where old vineyards were; people
had sold off their land. The Wagner vineyard would be one, and
there's a housing tract here in Livermore that's called the
My life was going to these public schools and ending up in
Livermore High and graduating from there. It's the same school
my father went to and graduated from. Other than schooling, I
remember, virtually every weekend or after school, working on
the cattle ranch with my grandfather, riding horses, looking out
for the fence, checking on the cows with the calves with him; or
riding in the vineyards with my father, checking on what the
grapevines were doing at various times of the year.
Working in the Winery
C. Wente: When I got to an age where I could be of some use in the winery
or working summer vacations, like my two brothers I worked in
virtually every position throughout the winery.
The first job I had in the winery was working on the
bottling line, putting caps on the bottling line and then
tailing off, casing the wines, and checking the labels. From
that point on I knew that school looked pretty good [laughs],
because that was not exactly my idea of what I wanted to do for
the rest of my life. That is certainly all automated today and
is a little bit different operation than it was then.
Then I worked in the tasting room, in the office, and
various jobs around. My exposure to the winery was every
vacation working there or sometimes after school if an extra
hand was needed.
Teiser: Was that unusual for a girl at that time?
C. Wente: A lot of my friends, certainly through high school, had jobs or
worked. I think my grandfather and my parents, particularly,
never really treated me any differently from my brothers. I
think they expected that we should all pull our oar and do what
we needed to do. 1 think there was maybe a lesson to be learned
from that, that the wine business and the farming business is
hard work, but it also provides a nice lifestyle. That
certainly showed in the fact that all three of us wanted to come
back and be a part of it. Without that subtle lesson being
learned early on, maybe Eric would have gone on to be a doctor,
1 might have been a banker, and Philip a skier, 1 don't know.
[ laughs ]
Teiser: Girls were not necessarily destined for jobs in wineries
earlier, or were they?
C. Wente: My grandmother was the first chemist or lab analyst that we had.
She did all of the lab analyses for my great-uncle Herman, so
she was always involved. My mother certainly, from day one that
I can remember, was always involved with the entertainment and
public relations side of things, which is probably the more
traditional role that women in the wine business had always
taken in supporting their husbands.
My role at the winery is marketing now, along with all the
auxiliary functions that fall under marketing. I don't think
that in my mind I wanted to be winemaker. The vineyards always
interested me, the cattle ranch interested me, maybe because I
was much more of an outdoors person, but I always felt that I
might end up on the business side or the p.r.--the marketing-
side, and in fact that's what happened.
Teiser: I didn't realize there was that much continuity.
Stanford. Va shine ton, and Crocker Bank
You were at Stanford and studied history,
Did you study some
History was my major, and I chose it because I certainly enjoyed
history and thought it really gave me a broad background. It
was very easy for me and allowed me to take a lot of other
classes that I wanted to take which were probably more business
related. Stanford doesn't have an undergraduate business
degree, so I ended up taking accounting, computer science, and
those kinds of things. No chemistry; I don't have any chemistry
background. I leave that to my brother Eric and my brother
Teiser: When you got out of college, what did you intend to do
C. Wente: In my senior year I was a quarter ahead at Stanford, and I took
the winter quarter off and went back to Washington, D.C. , and
worked as an intern for Senator [Paul] Laxalt. I very much
enjoyed Washington, but during my period in Washington was when
my father died, so I came back to be with my family and my
mother, in particular, to support her and be around through the
end of that winter quarter. Then I went back to Stanford in the
spring and finished up.
At that point I felt, maybe being a little independent,
that I wanted to go find a job outside the winery. At some
point I always felt I would come back and work at the winery,
but I also felt it was in a very transitional state, and both of
my brothers were getting their arms around what was going on.
My grandfather was there, and my mother was also very involved.
In my mind I needed to go out and establish who I was and do
what I wanted to do.
So I got a job with Crocker Bank as a financial analyst in
their agricultural banking department. Over the next three plus
years that I worked for Crocker I did financial and business
planning for their commercial and agricultural banking
department. I very much enjoyed that, learned a lot. They were
very supportive of me and my endeavors at the bank.
Teiser: In spite of your uncle Carl's association with Bank of America?
C. Wente: Yes. Maybe they were eternally hopeful at that point that Wente
Bros, might come toward Crocker, but I think I made it quite
clear that there was a strong connection with the Bank of
America. [laughs] I think they also realized that at some
point I might go back and work in the family business. In fact,
I had said that to them when I interviewed with them.
Finally I decided to come back to the winery when Crocker
started to invest a lot of time and money in me. They were
going to put me in what they called their fast track management
training program, at which point I felt that they were making an
investment and that I needed to really decide what I was going
to do about the winery. At the same time, my brothers had come
to me --this was in 1980 --and said, "We recognize the need for
hiring someone to do marketing and public relations for the
winery; we have our hands full with the vineyards and the
production side. Is this something that you're interested in?
If not, we're going to hire somebody else." I said, "You bet!
I'd be very interested in it."
WENTE BROS. SINCE 1980
C. Wente: I think the timing was right at that time for me to come back,
and so I did. I joined the winery in October of 1980, and I've
been here ever since.
Teiser: Most jobs develop as you go along. Was yours then what it is
C. Wente: I think you'd probably get three different perspectives on that.
My job is not at all like it was when I first joined the winery,
and I think all jobs change as one gains experience. My brother
Phil at one point had said to me, "Your training obviously was
not strong on the marketing side, but as Eric felt, and we all
believe, that we're fairly smart, logical individuals, we can
take ideas and develop them and do things. There's nothing that
we don't feel we can tackle and go after." He felt I'd be very
successful in that area and could do a good job, but there
needed to be some amount of guidance . I think he kept prodding
my brother Eric, saying, "Are you, as president of the winery,
guiding Carolyn and giving her the direction that she needs to
understand where she ought to go?" I think Eric certainly had
the same feeling, that he needed to be a good goal -setter for
My feeling about coming back into the winery was that I
didn't want to step on anybody's toes, because certainly
somebody had been doing the marketing. It had been pretty much
split up between Eric and Phil and our national marketing
company, Parrott & Co. So I didn't want to come in and step on
somebody's toes and say, "Okay, I'm going to take over this and
take over your territory." On the other hand, I think Eric and
Phil looked at me and said, "Here, you can do this," and just
sort of brushed their hands. "There is more than enough to do;
roll up your sleeves and get to work." That was a good, healthy
attitude and one that encouraged me to roll up my sleeves and go
Winery Goals in Transition. 1980-1990
C. Wente: For us, back in 1980, we were probably at the peak of our sales
volume under the Wente brand or label. That was primarily with
the Le Blanc de Blancs, Grey Riesling, and chablis at that
point, which were the more moderate to lower-priced wines. Our
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blancs, Semillons were all sold out at
that time; we couldn't make enough to keep up with the demand.
Somehow the Le Blancs and Grey became the bigger volume items ;
we were able to buy grapes from other people and increase the
production more rapidly than we did with the Chardonnay and
Sauvignon Blancs .
Teiser: You cut back on those?
C. Wente: I think my father kind of saw the writing on the wall for the
way the market was going and where the consumers' tastes were
going- -towards the premium high end wines, the pinnacle wines
being Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc. If
you look back during the seventies, those were the wines he was
moving towards in producing, doing vineyard selections on them
and making smaller, estate -bottled lots. It's not that the Grey
Riesling and the Le Blanc de Blancs weren't a major part of the
winery; they were a major part of the volume and the cash flow
but not, I think, the direction where my father saw it going.
When Eric took over the winery in 1977, when my father
died, I think the winery was geared up to be much more of a
product ion- driven winery and less market driven. In the last
ten years, from 1980 to 1990, the three of us have really
recognized the fact that the wine business is much more
marketing oriented than production oriented. We've had to make
those adjustments at Wente Bros., and it's been a bit of a
struggle. I think a lot of people recognized Wente Bros. 1 as a
white wine winery, and probably recognized it as Grey Riesling
and Le Blanc de Blancs because they became such popular wines in
the seventies and early eighties. Most people don't recognize
the fact that Wente Bros, was the first one to produce
Chardonnay with the variety labeled as such, or all the
Chardonnay cloning that my grandfather and great uncle did, or
all the foundation vineyards that we got into. We were truly on
the premium side always; that is the backbone of our business.
I think that's what my brothers and I recognized and where we
intend to emphasize or take the business.
C Vente: And that we needed to first start in the vineyards and make sure
all of our vineyard plantings were planted to Chardonnay and
Sauvignon blanc in the right areas, Cabernet in the right area.
That included the expansion of vineyards down to Monterey and
extending our vineyards here in Livermore . We are truly
focusing on the fact that the three top varieties that we want
to produce are Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and Cabernet
Teiser: You're fortunate in that you have your own nursery.
C. Wente: Yes. You'll have to talk to Philip about this, because he
certainly knows more about it. Maybe my mother talked about it,
because it is probably clearer in her memory and less clear in
mine about the nursery that we had down in Monterey; the number
of cuttings that we sold virtually funded our vineyard. I mean,
we paid off the Monterey vineyard by selling all these grape
cuttings during the early seventies when all these new vineyards
were flourishing. We're very grateful for that and glad to see
the expansion of vineyards in California.
Marketing and Promotion
Teiser: As you settled into your job --even the term "marketing" hasn't
been used in the wine industry so long. How did you know the
functions of a marketing manager?
C. Wente: I think you see a need, and you fill it. Certainly the needs
arise by the questions wholesalers ask you; the materials that
they want or need to sell your wines with have to fit into an
overall vision of where we as a winery see ourselves and what we
want to recognize and be recognized as. All of those things,
interrelated, created a whole list of projects that needed to be
done. I think with any list, somebody can go down the list and
get those things accomplished, so it's kind of on- the -job
training, if you will. [laughs]
Teiser: What were the projects like?
C. Wente: To start off with, since I came back in the 1980s, one of the
first projects I did was to say, "Okay, what tools do we have to
sell our wines? What things are coming up that we can talk
about that will help sell our wines and position us in the
marketplace?" Probably the major thing that came up was the
fact that we were going to be celebrating our centennial in
1983. That would probably have been the first major event that
1 did on the public relations side. 1 got together with Donna
Vilcox, who was the general manager at that time at Concannon
Teiser: She's with you now?
C. Vente: She's with us now. It was actually the first time I had met
her. We got together for lunch one day and started talking
about how we both had our one -hundredth anniversaries coming up,
and we ought to put on some sort of joint celebration. We
started brains terming. That was about a year before- -sometime
in 1982 . So we planned several events for 1983 with both
wineries. The largest event was what we called the centennial
weekend, which was a two -day event. We had over 25,000 people
come through the valley and were just amazed at the response we
got from people coming out to celebrate the two wineries'
I think it awakened people's awareness to the Livermore
Valley again. Because we don't have the number of wineries that
are in Napa or Sonoma, I think people have forgotten a little
bit about Livermore; there just aren't the numbers of wineries
out there banging on everybody's door, saying, "We're from
Livermore," "Livermore," "the Livermore Valley," which also
helps on the marketing side. The more people you have out there
saying where you're from, the greater recognition you're going
to get. That was some of the reawakening in the local people's
minds about the fact that there were two strong wineries out
Since then we've had several new wineries start up in the
Livermore Valley. We have a lot of projects underway, which my
brother Phil will probably talk about, because he's very much
into what we think is the renaissance of the Livermore Valley in
terms of the vineyards and wineries. We feel there's a strong
positive atmosphere for future growth in the viticulture and
winery area here.
Back to the centennial, I think that was a very major event
that took a lot of planning, got us kicked off in the right
1992 Concannon Vineyards was acquired by Wente Bros.
direction, and brought a lot of attention to the one -hundred-
But then where do we go from there? It simply became a lot
of time on the road for me, talking to different wholesalers,
understanding how they saw Wente Bros., what we needed to do to
convince them about who we were and where we were going. 1
think we still are working on that and working very hard at it.
Teiser: I seem to remember that you were traveling with Carolyn Martini.
Did you put on joint presentations?
C. Wente: As you know, we had been marketing our wines with the Martini
winery since the 1940s.
Teiser: Through Parrott & Co.?
C. Wente: Yes. Then back in 1975, I believe it was, we purchased Parrott
& Co. with the Martinis from the Menzies family, who had owned
it for a hundred-plus years. We continued to market our wines
together, and I think that's where the strong association for
California wines --Martini for reds, Wente for whites --came
through, which is still fairly true, although I think there were
benefits of the Wentes and Martinis splitting up back in 1988.
The Martinis left Parrott & Co., and Wente bought out their
portion, so it has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Wente
Bros, and is our marketing arm. We have a national sales force
that is still Parrott & Co. and representing brands other than
Wente Bros.; they have three or four other wineries, some
imports, a couple of spirits brands, and Ficklin port that we
still represent nationally.
Back to Martini and Wente, the Martinis, I think, upon
splitting up had an opportunity. As Carolyn Martini put it,
"When we sold our wines together, they'd always present Wente
Chardonnay and Martini Cabernet. Now we can introduce a whole
new generation to the fact that Martini produces white wines.
People generally start with white wines, so it'll be a natural
progression for us to go from white to red and get them into the
Martini red wines; and vice versa for Wente Bros." So we both
saw different marketing opportunities in the split. On the
other hand, 1 think we had done business so long together that
it was kind of funny to go back out into the marketplace and not
be marketing with Carolyn or Mike Martini.
When Carolyn and I would go on the road once or twice a
year together, we'd go to various markets, do wine tastings and
presentations to the wholesalers, because obviously we were both
in the same wholesale houses. We did travel quite a bit
together, and I very much enjoyed being with her. We were a
great team, because I'm a morning person and she's a late-night
person, so when one of us would start dragging, the other one
would pick up. [laughs]
I think we both enjoyed each other. She's still a very
good friend, although I don't get to see her that often because
we're both so busy.
Teiser: What were some other of the projects that you picked up?
C. Wente: You asked me what the term "marketing" was. I sort of answered
it, but marketing to Wente Bros, came under a whole umbrella of
things in my job title, which included our retail operations,
meaning both of our tasting rooms , one at the estate winery- -
Teiser: I've just been over to the one at the estate winery. It's very
C. Wente: Thank you. I guess it was one of the first tasting rooms, built
and opened up back in 1968 . We thought at time that it was a
very big tasting room [laughs] , but nowadays it seems fairly
small for the amount of traffic and the popularity that wines
have gained, and the fact that people really do like to come out
and visit wineries, taste wines, and become more educated. We
hope at some point to expand that tasting room and make it a
We opened the sparkling wine cellars tasting room in 1985,
and that also fell under my bailiwick- -one of the hats I wear.
Also at the sparkling wine cellars tasting room we have a
conference center, where we began renting rooms for conferences
in 1986 and becoming more of a full -service conference center.
Today that's just going gangbusters. If you drove up to my
house you probably came through the parking lot that was full;
they've got a conference going on there today.
Georgine Woodward, who is the facility sales director, has
done a tremendous job in booking the facility. I think part of
that is marketing Wente Bros, and getting Wente Bros.' name out
to the community. Having a lot of people come to a winery to
hold a conference is a wonderful thing. They can have a rural
setting, it's quiet, they can have their meetings and also have
different events like tastings or tours to break up the monotony
of their conferences [laughs]. All of that I developed. I have
to say that I have tremendous staff who have just been really
the ones who have put it all together. 1 just get to help them
out with it and give them a little guidance.
Creating a Restaurant
C. Wente: The other thing that fell under my area of responsibility was
the restaurant. That was a major portion of time and energy
Teiser: How did it happen that you decided to undertake that very
complex job of creating a restaurant?
C. Wente: You want the real family inside story, or do you want the p.r.
version? [laughs] I would say that when we purchased Cresta
Blanca winery from Schenley, we had various ideas as to what we
were going to do with this property. Finally we decided we
wanted to get into the sparkling wine business, and this would
be the ideal site to have our sparkling wine cellars --to move
the secondary fermentation away from the still wine winery, the
estate winery- -so that those very active yeasts weren't floating
around over there to infect any of our still wines.
We decided to renovate this winery, and one of the nicest
buildings on the property was the old Cresta Blanca hospitality
house. It was in the best condition. We couldn't quite decide
what we were going to do with it. We had taken the old
champagne building of Cresta Blanca and turned it into some
amount of storage- -there are some tunnels that go back in that
building itself where we have the sparkling wine en tirade- -and
we decided to make the building itself the tasting room and
visitors' center area, and upstairs put the conference center.
That left really no need for the hospitality room or a tasting
room, so we had this nice little building sitting there.
My brother Phil felt it would be really nice to have a
restaurant on the property to showcase great California wines
with great California food. There was no other white -tablecloth
restaurant in the valley within a half hour or forty- five
minutes driving distance. Much like Domaine Chandon was to the
Napa Valley, one of the first white -table -cloth restaurants that
I think really kicked off the culinary boom that's gone on up
there, we felt maybe starting and having the cornerstone placed
here in the Livermore Valley with a good restaurant would awaken
people to the fact that they didn't have to drive into San
Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley to have a good meal.
I said that sounded all fine and dandy and, yes, very
visionary; but on the other hand, a restaurant to me was twenty-
four hours a day, seven days a week, and not many of them were
successful. They weren't entirely profitable, and did we really
want to get into this? Eric, Phil, and I talked about it a
great deal and certainly included my mother, who rolled her eyes
and wasn't quite sure it was a thing we ought to be getting
into. My brother Phil I think lobbied my brother Eric a little
bit harder than he lobbied me, and the vote came down two for
and one against, me being the one who voted against it, and
somehow 1 got to run it. [laughs]
I think all I knew about the restaurant business was
selling wine to restaurants or dining in restaurants. Lord
knows, I've dined in restaurants all across the country, in
Europe, and the Far East and certainly had a distinct opinion
about what kind of restaurant I wanted and what style. But had
I ever had any restaurant experience? No. I think we hired
some very astute, good people to help develop the restaurant, a
good chef, a good general manager, etc. The restaurant business
has a high rate of turnover of personnel. Ours is not too
different from that, particularly in the top management, but of
our wait staff we probably have five or six of the core original
waiters that we hired five years ago who are still with us. I
think we are stabilizing on the management and the kitchen staff
as well, but we've gained a great reputation for what we're
doing out here that now attracts top kitchen people and top
restaurant management people to want to be out here.
Traditionally, kitchen people are temperamental and have short
tempers and need a lot of direction. Were you the personnel
Yes, and I guess that was one of the things that in developing
it did take a lot of time and patience and understanding. I
think 1 grew exponentially in that area, learning about
restaurants, learning about people, and learning how to make a
profit. One of the initial things that we had decided when we
started in on this restaurant venture was that it was not just
to be a p.r. function; it had to stand as its own profit center
and either make it or break it. If it was not breaking even or
making money, we would close the doors on it; we were not going
to fund something that didn't make sense or wasn't profitable.
I've been really pleased with the community's reaction and
support. They've all come out and supported the restaurant, and
it's been profitable. We've gained some nice awards; within the
first year we were recognized as one of the top one hundred
restaurants in the United States in a restaurant book published
by Simon & Schuster. The first year we were open, and every
year since then, The Wine Spectator has recognized our wine list
as being one of the best in the country; they've given us an
award of excellence for it.
So I think we've got some really exciting things going on,
and it's ever evolving and ever changing, as I think the
culinary scene is. You can't say, "I'm here, and I'm staying
here." I think in the restaurant business you've always got to
be changing and adjusting to what the marketplace is all about.
We've certainly changed some food styles, we've changed prices,
some presentation. I think we consistently try to work at
improving the wine list, broadening our depth. I think we have
a fairly good breadth of selections, but it's trying to always
keep up with those older vintages and making sure that you lay
enough of certain vintages away. We have the luxury, unlike a
lot of other restaurants, of having a warehouse where we can
store a lot of wine. It's not like being in downtown San
Francisco, where your space is very limited. So there are some
fortunate things, being out here in the country.
Another advantage is that you don't have to buy your own wine.
Well, we do for all of the other wineries, but, yes, for Wente
Bros, wines it's a little different.
Do you actually make use of some of the produce of your ranching
C. Wente: That was one of the other things that sort of fell under my
bailiwick. When we opened the restaurant I was surprised,
because I thought fish would be the number one selling item and
chicken probably number two, because back in 1986 it was a very
health conscious, trendy thing to have lighter, lower
cholesterol, and this, that, and the other thing. At our
restaurant beef was the number one selling item and lamb was
number two. It may have said something for our market out here,
but on the other hand, it then led us to the idea that here we
had a cattle ranch. We run an approximately two hundred cow-
calf operation, and why not select the top calves each year and
feed them out and have a natural lean beef, one that is not
grain- fed, fatty, hormone -injected, or fed to induce weight
gain, and provide our customers with lean, healthful premium
We've been fine-tuning it over the last three years now
that we've been actively doing the program, and 1 think we've
gotten it down to a science that works. At one point I was
trying to take the entire animal that we slaughtered, use the
prime cuts here, and then market the rest of it as hamburger to
various restaurants around the Bay Area. Probably the best
known would be Perry's in San Francisco; it was using Wente
Bros, lean beef. But they were a little bit timid to market it
that way on their menu, as having a lean-beef burger, and were
not willing to pay the premium for a lean beef, so it may have
been a little bit ahead of their time. And it was just the
logistics of trying to market hamburger to all the different
We have finally gotten down to where we take the primal
cuts that we want for the restaurant from the slaughter house,
bring them back here and trim them out, and then just sell the
rest of the animal to the slaughterhouse right then and there so
that we don't have to market the entire animal. That seems to
keep our kitchen staff very happy; they love the quality of
the beef, and they love the whole concept of having an estate -
That took us one step further, to the olive trees that we
have here on the ranch.
Teiser: Yes, I wondered if they had been there always.
C. Wente: They were planted by Louis Mel. He imported the cuttings from
France. His wife had apparently grown up with olive trees on
their property in France, so he brought these over and planted
them along their driveway up to their house. According to
Darrell Corti, who was very helpful on this entire olive oil
project, he identified the trees as being the Lucques variety,
which I guess in Italian is "Lucca." As far as he knows, we
were the only ones who have that variety in California, and
you're no longer able to import the cuttings for them.
Teiser: There is a Lucques variety imported from France. Would that
have been the one Mel brought?
C. Wente: Yes.
I think the early California Mission olive trees came from
C. Wente: What we found through Darrell Corti was that the type of
varieties that we had were some Mission and then this Lucques
variety that Louis Mel imported. In tracing this back, Charles
Wetmore, who was the founder of Cresta Blanca winery, also
imported some of these olive cuttings as well. Early ripening
Mission, Picholenes, and what they just call Mission are the
other three types that we have on our property in addition to
the Lucques. Darrell Corti was suggesting that he felt that
since Mr. Mel and Mr. Wetmore were such good buddies, they
probably exchanged some of these cuttings back and forth.
At any rate, my grandfather had harvested these olives
through about the early sixties. 1 remember as a kid the
pickers coming in and picking the trees, but the price of labor
for picking olives soon outgrew the revenue we got for selling
the olives to Lindsay Olive or whomever during the sixties. The
price of olive oil wasn't that high then. I think lately olive
oil has taken off again for all its healthful benefits. We
thought about whether this would be economical for us to do, and
so we gave it a try. The crop just kept coming up, year after
year, so all we needed to do was go out and pick it. It wasn't
much of an investment [laughs].
Nick Sciabica, with Dan Sciabica and Sons in Modesto, did
the custom pressing for us, and he also was very helpful. He
and Darrell Corti were there when the olive oil was being
pressed, and they were just amazed. I guess that to qualify as
an extra-virgin olive oil, the fatty acid has to be less than
.20 [two -tenths] of 1 percent, and ours was .01. So we were
really excited about it. I think the quality of it is quite
To have an extra-virgin olive oil sitting on all your trees
all these years, you kind of kick yourself [laughs], but the
restaurant staff is thrilled to be able to use it in the
restaurant in various presentations. We do a thin-sliced beef
that they drizzle some of our olive oil on, with some capers and
parmigiano cheese shavings, and it's really quite tasty. And
they use it on a pizzetta that they do and on some other things,
and we sell it through the tasting rooms at this point. We hope
to continue producing it. This last year the crop was very,
very light, and we ended up not picking it because it was so
light. I think it had to do with the flowering last spring; we
had those very late rains that hit the flowers off, so we didn't
get a very good set. Also I think the olive trees were impacted
by the drought.
Teiser: Do you also manage your advertising program?
C. Wente: Yes, I do, and we do very little advertising. I think, again,
that part of our marketing philosophy is that the dollars that
we could spend in advertising we could use better in the
marketplace supplying point -of -sales tools for the salesmen.
Being about a 200 ,000 -case winery in just domestic sales, we
don't really have the dollars built into every case to have a
national ad campaign. We do a little advertising here and
there, but nothing that's "Galloesque. "
Appellations and Label Terms
Teiser: At the WITS conference early this year, you were talking about
appellations and brand names. How do you rank appellations in
connection with brand names?
C. Wente: That's a good question. [laughter] In my opinion the whole
vineyard goes from varietal, brand, and appellation, or brand,
varietal, appellation. But the concept that I've dealt with
most was when the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms] came up with this idea of having appellations. Where
did we fit in, where did we want to fit in, what were we going
to do about it? Because nobody else was going to take the bull
by the horns and get something done. Did it have importance to
us? Yes, it did, because of other regulations about how you
qualified for estate-bottled wines, which virtually all of our
wines are. It then became a matter of pedigree, and I think
that's all appellations are- -a furthering of the pedigree on the
Having said that, I think in the past people always
recognized a brand name and recognized the style of wines that
you made. Today the consumer might have a little bit different
perspective, because Napa Valley is a buzz word to them. I
think the example I used at the WITS conference was if you were
to go out and stop somebody on the street and say, "Could you
name five appellations in France?" They could probably name
five of the gross or large appellations, like Chablis, Burgundy
(two easy ones), Champagne, Bordeaux. They might even get
Loire, or they might even go down to some smaller ones like
Medoc on down. But if you were to ask that same person whether
he could name five California appellations, I bet you they could
name Napa Valley, and they might be able to name Sonoma, but I'm
not sure they know Stag's Leap, Carneros , Monterey, Livermore
Valley, Arroyo Seco, San Luis Obispo.
So in my mind the appellation system here still hasn't
really developed enough. It's in its infancy, and I know the
BATF is trying to fine-tune it even more. But I feel there is a
lot that can be done in that area and that we have the potential
here in the Livermore Valley or with an appellation that we're
proposing now, called the San Francisco Bay appellation, to be
that third appellation in the consumer's mind that they could
name beyond Napa or Sonoma. San Francisco Bay has an immediate
connotation as to where it is for most consumers, and it is
easily recognizable and therefore I think a very important
concept for the wineries and vineyards that surround the Bay,
and one that we are spearheading and pushing very hard.
Teiser: This reminds me that you, I believe, were instrumental in
getting BATF to recognize "estate" --
C. Wente: --and "vintner- grown" --
Teiser: --for non- contiguous properties.
C. Wente: Right. [laughs] Wente Bros, has vineyards here in the
Livermore Valley and in Monterey County. We grew grapes in
Monterey, but our winery was in Livermore, two hours north,
which precluded us from using the term "estate -bottled" on the
label. That, to me, was a little bit frustrating, because it
was the same thing as growing our grapes here in Livermore and
crushing them here and making the wines . What we were trying to
do was get a term that the BATF would accept as recognizing that
the vintner grew his own grapes and produced them without being
in the same area of appellation.
What we presented was the term called "vintner -grown, "
which virtually read the same as " estate- grown. " It's just that
the winery did not have to be contiguous to the vineyards.
Subsequent to that, the Central Coast appellation came into
being, and our Monterey vineyards and our Livermore Valley
vineyards are within the Central Coast appellation, so we can
still use the term "estate-bottled," which, again, speaks to the
confusion that goes on with all this appellation stuff.
Therefore I go back to a consumer walking into the store, and
probably their first thought is, "Do I want red or white?" If
they decide on white, then, "What variety am I looking for? Do
I want Chenin Blanc? Do I want Semillon? Do I want Sauvignon
Blanc? Oh, let's see; I'm going to have some fish, so I'll do
Sauvignon Blanc." Okay, they walk over to the Sauvignon Blanc
section and see a variety of labels. Then it's brand, or it's
price. I think that's the next thing that comes into play; I
don't think it's necessary to put the pedigree on the label,
may get down to that, but I think it's probably more price-
driven or what they've heard of as a label. So I think the
brand importance becomes significant.
Is your price structure changing, or have you achieved a level,
or do you conceive a level where it will land?
C. Wente: I think that's a good question. We're evolving, as is the
entire industry. I don't think $2.99 wines are going to be
around. It's such a competitive end of the business, and
nobody's making any money in it. Everybody's moving up
pricewise in the industry. As I said, back in 1980 the majority
of our sales were in Grey Riesling and Le Blanc de Blancs.
Today our number one selling wine, which we probably do eighty
to a hundred thousand cases of, is Chardonnay. We have two
tiers of that Chardonnay, one of which is our estate brand,
which is the more moderately priced, probably selling for around
$7.99 a bottle. Then we have a reserve Chardonnay at $15 to
$18, depending on the vineyard and the year.
I think, as I said earlier, we look at always moving
towards that super -premium, ultra-premium end, because I think
we feel our vineyards and the backbone of our business has
always been on the premium side. I think my father always
pushed towards that, and certainly my great-uncle Herman always
pushed towards the quality end, coming up with the varietal
labeling. And my grandfather selected out what he felt his
favorite clones were. I think all of their efforts went towards
producing the best wines possible in California. I think that's
where our heritage and tradition are, and we want to continue
Wente Bros, in that direction. Price points, I think, will
always keep pushing upwards .
Teiser: Where are you positioning your champagne, say vis-a-vis
Schramsberg and Domaine Chandon?
C . Wente :
The champagne for us has been, quite frankly, a struggle. I
think most people think of Wente Bros, as a still-wine winery,
and producing both a sparkling wine and a still wine, we've had
a hard time getting recognition for the sparkling wine. Most
people don't right off the top of their head think of Wente and
champagne. Our positioning for it has been around Domaine
Chandon and Piper Sonoma- -in that categoryand I think we will
continue that positioning. We use what we feel are the top
grape varieties --Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot blanc--for our
cuvee. We age it probably longer than anybody in our me'thode
champenoise category on the yeast- -four-plus years --and I think
the product is really superior.
Again, it's been a struggle, because when you go into a
wholesale house you have an opportunity to sell maybe one or two
things, and you have to tell that wholesaler what those one or
two things are that you want them to be pushing. In today's
business, it's not like Wente Bros, twenty years ago, where we
had fifteen or eighteen different wines and had to be all things
to all wholesalers because they didn't have a lot of other
wineries to fill those gaps. Today most of the wineries have a
very narrow line of wines that they produce, and they say, "My
number one priority is Chardonnay, my number two priority is
champagne, and my number three priority is Cabernet." That's
Jordan, for instance. The wholesaler is going to say, "I'll
pick number one and push that and get behind you on that one,
but I'm going to give somebody else the number two spot on
champagne; I'm going to give that to Schramsberg or Wente." So
the market is so crowded that the wholesaler is not going to
work on your whole line, and our bigger push has been on our
still wines rather than our sparkling wines . You look at
somebody like Korbel [F. Korbel & Brosx] , who got out of the
still wine business because they recognized what their core
business was, and that's champagne. I'm not saying that Wente
Bros, is going to get out of the sparkling wine business, but I
think we're certainly de- emphasizing it in terms of our list of
priorities. Still wines are our backbone, and we're going to
stick with them.
We should speak about your export program,
interesting- -glamorous .
Actually, Eric is the one who's instrumental in the export
program. My father started it up, and then Eric and Larry
DiPietro, who has managed the Canadian sales for many years now,
Then Eric hired John Schwartz, who is now our export director,
to take over the bulk of what Eric was doing on exports. John
has really done some fascinating things: getting us to be the
first [United States] vine in Russia, and most recently to be
the first sold in Poland. He's really done some great things,
but Eric would know more about that.
Teiser: Are there any other things you've done with the BATF?
C. Wente: My only contact with BATF has truly been through the appellation
system. My mother and I worked very closely on the Livermore
Valley appellation, on amending the Central Coast appellation to
include the Livermore Valley, and to write the Arroyo Seco
appellation. So we've been involved with three appellations at
this point, and we're working on our fourth, which is the San
Francisco Bay appellation.
Teiser: Are you involved in labels? I know you changed labels recently.
C. Wente: Label approval has always been fairly routine. I basically feel
the BATF is a fairly cooperative , supportive regulatory arm of
the wine industry and has been willing to listen to what the
wine industry's problems are.
Owners. Managers, and Employees
Teiser: You mentioned just now that you had been at an executive
committee meeting. What is the executive committee?
C. Wente: [laughs] Essentially I guess it's how Wente Bros, works. My
brother Eric is president of the winery, my brother Philip is
executive vice president, and I'm vice president. I suppose in
a family business none of us truly feels that the titles are
that important, but that you need to have them in a corporate
sense. People who work for a family, at least in our family,
understand that they will probably never get to be president of
the winery, but we have a vice president of production, a vice
president of national accounts, et cetera.
Everybody has responsibilities for certain areas, but the
executive committee takes our senior management people and talks
about the direction of Wente Bros. So we get input from our
managers, and it's not just a top-down decision-making process;
we try to take their expertise and assimilate it into our vision
and our plans and have them participate in where they think
Wente Bros, ought to be going. Yes, it is 100 percent owned by
the family, and it is a family concern, but we feel our managers
have a lot of input and ideas that we take heed to.
Teiser: Are they actually members of the executive committee?
C. Wente: Yes, they are, and they are voting members. We have our chief
financial officer, our production manager, our vice president of
our Western and California division for sales, and our national
sales manager for Parrott & Co. who sit on the executive
committee, and then there are Eric, Philip, and myself. So
there are seven of us, 1 guess.
Teiser: Do you have a corporate board?
C. Wente: Yes, we have a board of directors, which consists of my mother,
my two brothers and myself, and our chief financial officer,
Gary Ventling. We have regular board meetings, but I would say
that the board meetings are probably more of a reflection of
what comes out of the executive committee meetings, and it's
more of a reporting function.
Teiser: I've talked with a number of people who are involved in family
corporations, and most had some guiding principles. When they
had a meeting and couldn't agree on something, they would have
some rules of action. If you disagree, what happens?
C. Wente: That's an interesting question. In the past, before we
established an executive committee, it was the family, and it
came down to a family vote. Generally the family always voted
in one direction (with the exception of the restaurant; I was
being a little tongue-in-cheek about the two-to-one vote on it),
probably because my two brothers and I grew up together and my
mom was instrumental in raising us- -those are the four owners of
Wente Bros. We all have the same goals and values and
understanding of where we want to go and what we want to do.
It's not to say that we all march in locked step together and
that there aren't some different ideas or discussions, but that
we all talk about it and mutually agree that that is the
direction we want to go. I can't think of any time where
somebody just adamantly slammed their fist down on the desk and
said, "No, I don't want to be a part of it," or, "I don't agree
with this," or whatever. We all logically discuss it and talk
through it, and we all become believers in what we're going to
do or we probably wouldn't go forward with it.
With the institution of the executive committee, which has
been a year or more now, there are things that we bring to a
vote, but virtually everybody votes in the same direction anyway
because we will have hashed out or heard everybody's reasonings
behind it. I can't think of anything that somebody feels so
strongly about that they don't go along with it. I don't mean
to make it sound like the executive committee is ineffective.
All I'm saying is that I think maybe it's because we have good
communication and we all have common understanding of goals,
and/or we input in such a way that we do initiate whatever that
person is saying. People are responsible for their own areas,
and therefore we probably take what they say as what ought to be
I think we must all talk it through enough that everybody
eventually agrees to the logic, or it's modified to be a plan of
action that everybody can agree upon. Maybe that's the way we
work it out; we compromise enough, and whatever the compromise
is , it works for us .
You know, I think to have the same values really does say
something. But that's not to say Willy Joslin always agrees
with what Philip has to say, or that Gary Ventling has to agree
with me .
C. Wente: If they don't participate in it, then where are you going to be?
They're your chief people. I think that's why we have been as
successful as we have been, because we've got good people who
work with us and believe in what we're doing.
Teiser: Many of them have been with you for a long time, haven't they?
C. Wente: Yes. Gary Ventling is probably the newest comer in the
management staff, and he came from Chateau St. Jean about 1988,
after they were purchased by the Japanese. He's been a great
asset to the winery on the financial side. Willy Joslin came to
Wente Bros, in 1975 or '76 with Eric. They had known each other
at Davis. Larry DiPietro has been with us since 1975. This is
the new generation of management that has come in, which was not
picked by my father or my grandfather but by Eric, Phil, Jean,
and my grandfather, certainly at that time.
Then we have all of the "older generation" (they probably
wouldn't appreciate me saying that), like Bruno Canziani, who is
in our tasting room but who used to be the cellarmaster for my
uncle Herman and my dad; and Cecil Aguirre , who was vineyard
manager for my grandfather. They're still with us. Elbert
Kirkman, who used to be the office manager, now works in the
tasting room part time. These people have been with us forty,
fifty, fifty- five years.
We don't have a lot of new hires; we have a lot of long-
term employees, and it's nice. It's nice not to have the
turnover. As I said, the greatest turnover has been in the
restaurant, and that was something very new to me, to have that
kind of turnover. I couldn't believe that somebody would work
for you for six months and then move on to another restaurant.
It was just inconceivable: "You mean you're not here for life?
What's the matter with you?" [laughs]
Teiser: I think you've discussed the developments since 1980 except your
public participation programs.
C. Wente: There are a couple of things we've done in that area. One is
our summer concert series, and this will be the fourth or fifth
Teiser: Who manages those?
C. Wente: Donna Wilcox started the first one when she was over here at the
sparkling wine cellars. They still fall under my umbrella of
responsibilities, but Georgine Woodward, who is our facilities
sales director, manages the concert series now and has for three
years running. She helps book the acts and then coordinates all
the labor, set-up, production crew, and is in charge of all the
ticket sales. She really does an excellent job. We get 1,200
people per concert, and I think it's really been a nice thing to
gain more exposure for what we're doing out here. It has
certainly heightened the awareness of the sparkling wine
cellars, which was a new facility when we started up with the
summer music series, and now more and more people know about it.
That's been a really good program for us.
The other thing was a result of the centennial celebration
that Donna Wilcox and I put together. The next year it sort of
evolved into what we call the Livermore Valley Harvest
Celebration. That's held on Labor Day weekend. That's gone
from the first year that we did it, where we had maybe three or
four thousand people and didn't spend any money on publicizing
it, to fifteen thousand people and a yearly event that has
become the fund raiser for the Livermore Valley Winegrowers
Association. In the first year the Wine Institute had the
regional representatives council, the Livermore Valley was the
third organization in terms of the amount of funding that we
got. We got matching funds from the California Winegrowers
Association through the marketing order. Napa got number one
and Sonoma number two, but Livermore, with nine little wineries,
got somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty thousand dollars
because of the amount of money that we raised as a non-profit
organization through the harvest celebration for promoting the
Livermore Valley and raising funds for the Livermore Valley Wine
Museum and that kind of thing.
It is our major fundraising thing now. We don't have the
number of wineries to assess dues to get matching funds to
publicize the area, but I think it's really been a good event
for us to bring people in, and it's certainly a wine education
We do what we call Christmas Wine Trails, which is the
first weekend in December. That's a valley-wide winery event.
It's at the time of year that we're pruning the vines, so one of
the fun things we do here at the sparkling wine cellars is that
we'll bring a lot of the cuttings over. People come and make
their own Christmas wreaths out of the vine cuttings and really
enjoy that --give them as presents.
Other programs that we do here are barrel tasting on
Presidents' weekend and Art in the Vineyard, which is a fifteen-
year-old event with the Livermore Valley Art Association. We do
small valley events that attract people to the wineries.
Who handles those?
My tasting room managers usually execute those.
Vente Land and Cattle Company
You are vice president of Wente Land and Cattle Company,
That means that my brother Phil is president, and I'm vice
president, and there you have it. [laughter] We get a lot of
business done at our board meetings. We usually do them on
horseback. As I said earlier, I grew up riding every weekend
that I can remember. My brothers went away to college, and I
became my grandfather's right-hand cowhand and virtually rode
every weekend for him or after school if he needed me; if there
was a sick cow or a calf or something, I'd get them in, and I'd
get up before school and go feed with him. So there were
various things that involved the cattle company. Now, other
than the pleasure side, I'd say I don't do that much, because we
have a ranch manager who does that.
Teiser: How much land have you involved in--
C. Wente: We have approximately two thousand acres in the cattle ranch,
and we run a cow- calf operation. We also purchased some steers
and feed them out here. We figured that it takes about seven to
ten acres per cow- calf unit to feed them year-round.
Teiser: As I drove along, admiring these beautiful hills, I was
wondering if some day you were going to have terraces full of
C. Wente: We actually were talking about that this morning --terracing the
north side of the hills for cooler vineyards. As 1 said
earlier, I think there is a tremendous potential for the
Livermore Valley for growth of vineyards and wineries. You just
have to ask whether it's economic to plant new vineyards, and
can you make a profit off of them? What is the real estate
value of the valley going to be? How is it preserved? What is
the board of supervisors' agricultural direction going to be?
Where does the South Livermore Valley fit into the general plan
scheme? Those are all issues that are certainly hanging fire,
but there is a lot of developable vineyard land around here.
It's probably not at the price that the Napa Valley is at right
now, and the vineyards are just as good. That's what the future
is going to bring.
Teiser: Maybe by the time you make a decision, there will be some
equipment for handling vineyard terraces.
C. Wente: Wouldn't that be great?
Work vith the Vine Institute and Other Organizations
Teiser: You mentioned your Livermore winemakers' group. You've done
some things with the Wine Institute, too. You've been on a
committee there, haven't you?
C. Wente: Yes. I guess I started out just being a member of the p.r.
committee when it was in existence. Then I became chairman of
what was the community relations committee, which was to help
develop or recognize what was going on in various communities
with regard to viticulture and winemaking, particularly the
urban pressures side of it. That committee went by the wayside
in the reorganization of the Wine Institute, and last year I was
asked to be co-chairman with John Culbertson for a group called
the Vine Ambassadors, which was to train a group of industry
representatives to go around to speak, representing the entire
wine industry- -not to represent just Wente Bros, or Wente Bros,
point of view, but the wine industry's point of view, to get the
good things out about wine- -the healthful side, the economic
side, all the positive things that aren't being said about wine
in the papers.
We've had some success there. Due to funding and changes
going on at the Institute, I think we're in a little bit of a
hiatus as to what's going to happen with it. When we had the
opportunity, or when they come across something at the Institute
where they need spokesmen, there is this group that is willing
to go out and spend some time doing it.
My brother Phil is probably the one who has been the most
active in the Wine Institute. Eric was in the health and social
issues area, but he quit that two years ago, and somehow Phil
got nominated as the next chairman, so he took it over from Eric
and is still very active in it.
Teiser: You've been active in the local chamber of commerce, is that
C. Wente: Yes, I was. When I first came back and started working at the
winery, I was very active in the local chamber and was on the
board of directors for them. Then, as I became increasingly
more involved at the winery and traveling more, I got off the
chamber board because it was hard to tell when I was going to be
in town and when I wasn't. So I no longer am involved with
them. I'm on several other boards: the American Institute of
Wine & Food; I'm a director here in the San Francisco chapter
and was secretary the last two years, and I've now passed that
on to Monica Scotto. I'm involved with the new Les Dames de
Escoffier group here in northern California and am treasurer of
I consider those fairly industry -related organizations, and
outside of them I'm on the Stanford University Friends of
Radiology, which is probably one of my father's legacies, to
keep involved with the cancer research going on over there.
Currently I'm chairman of an event for the American Diabetes
Association, a fund raiser for them in San Francisco. I'm on
the Washington Performing Arts Society Board back in Washington,
D.C. Those are some of the community things that I'm doing in
my spare time. [laughs]
I don't know how you have had time to lie in bed. 2
been using your computer?
Yes, I have it right here, and I just set it up and type away.
I pulled out of my file this November 30, 1990, article from The
Wine Spectator that you undoubtedly remember. How do you think
the article turned out?
I guess my feeling about it was that it was the first time The
Wine Spectator has ever done an article on Wente Bros. , and they
took a fairly broad brush stroke of where we are. In my opinion
it was probably not as upbeat as I would have liked to have seen
it, considering all the things we are doing and all the
contributions that we've made to the wine industry. But I think
the Spectator's reporting is generally more investigative and
that they need to provide what they feel is a balanced story and
not a p.r. puff piece. I always like the p.r. puff pieces
[laughs], being the p.r. gal that I am. But I think overall it
was fairly straightforward: "These are all the things that the
Wente family is doing." The one thing they seemed to me to be
saying was that we weren't particularly focused, and I think we
are all very focused and tremendously dedicated. Where there's
a will there's a way, and we certainly have it, I think.
How long had the author, Steve Heimoff , known you?
He'd met us once and spent the day with us.
Is there anything we should add?
No, I think I probably said more than you ever wanted to hear.
In talking to my brothers you will certainly get a more rounded
picture of the entire Wente operation and their activities,
particularly on the winemaking side and the vineyard side. I
think that's probably the one nice thing about it, that we all
have our fit in the organization, and we all respect each other
and the job that each of us does but keep abreast of what the
other persons are doing and feel free to speak out about it. We
She had had a back operation.
don't get offended by a person's statement but consider it as
good, positive input.
I just hope we can continue doing what we're doing so that
Eric's and Phil's kids, and my kids if they come along, all have
the opportunity to make the choice that we did- -if they want to
be a part of the business or not. Back to the family lessons,
that was something my parents were able to do, to allow us to
make the choice. We all chose that this was a lifestyle and a
business that we wanted to be in and feel very strongly about.
[following portion added by telephone on April 29, 1991]
Teiser: Can you say again what you told me after your interview about
your brothers at the time of your father's death?
C. Wente: My brother Eric was twenty- five at the time, and Philip was
twenty- four. They both had to step in and take an incredible
load and put their arms around the business and go forward with
it. I think Eric and Phil both just really rose to the
occasion, and they were interesting in how they worked together.
Eric is probably one of the most incredibly smart individuals
that you'd ever want to meet, conservative, and thinks things
through carefully. Philip is equally smart but very visionary
about where he feels the winery should be going. They're a nice
combination and a nice balance. I think I find myself somewhere
in between the two, and I think that's what makes the three of
us a nice working combination.
Teiser: I believe you said one of the brothers stepped in first to take
over the leadership at your father's death, and the other--
C. Wente: They were both working at the winery when my dad died, and Eric
stepped in and became president. I think Philip was supportive
of that. We all sit around and often ask if it's just because
of age, Eric being the oldest and then Philip and myself, that
we should, in the old Germanic sense, have the eldest be
president. I think the three of us are comfortable with our
titles and our roles, but somebody has to be the final decision-
maker or push the other two to make decisions, and I think it's
set up really well.
Teiser: I thank you very much.
PHILIP R. WENTE
Born in Livermore in 1952, Philip R. Wente was educated in the
local schools before going to the University of California at Davis.
There he took courses in enology and viticulture and earned a degree in
agricultural science and management. He then joined the family
enterprise, where he had worked at many tasks during his school years.
In 1977, following the death of his father, Karl L. Wente, he assumed
responsibility for agricultural operations, subsequently becoming
executive vice president of Wente Bros.
He was interviewed in his office at the Wente Bros, estate winery.
Regional Oral History Office University of California
Room 486 The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 94720
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
Your full name__
Date of birth / f " /|~ 5* 3"- Birthplace A_
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Father's full name Kkf I Aft i Ox /^/,' ^ f <_
Occupation /vy ,'h^ c< /" , ; .'L(J6 /^ Birthplace A i |/P /
Mother's full name
Occupation j\J *\\^ C\\ uvJl f~ _ Birthplace ( pf( 0(?^ V\
Your spouse t 1 6(. I ' "t A /i ^\ r # A^ A /. V /? ' C
Your children V T^ ^^ A. \f\ fA\ t i-L Ul? V\ t -t
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Philip Wente, circa 1990
INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP R. WENTE
GROWING UP IN THE LIVERMORE AREA, 1952-1970
Interview 1: June 3, 1991 ]////
Teiser: Where were you born and when, Phil?
I was born here in Livermore, California, on November 11, 1952
Teiser: Where did you live as you were growing up?
P. Wente: I lived right down the road from the winery here on the old
Louis Mel Ranch where my father lived- -4725 Tesla Road- -until I
left for college.
Teiser: What was it like growing up in a wine family at that period?
P. Wente: I think I went through several different periods of the
industry, being born in 1952. My recollections go back to when
I was about three, maybe 1955, and particularly starting school.
There was no particular romance to the wine business, as far as
I could tell back then. You were almost more popular if your
father was a cattle rancher or a vegetable farmer than a
vineyardist. I think the winegrowing business wasn't up on the
type of pedestal it seems to have placed itself today.
So going to school, 90 percent or 99 percent of the kids
had never heard of Wente Bros . , had no idea there was grape
growing or winemaking in this valley, and in the early or mid-
fifties the valley was substantially a larger wine growing
district than it is today, with Cresta Blanca being a very large
winery at the time. There were maybe five or six thousand acres
of vineyards here up until Cresta Blanca closed up in the mid-
sixties, and then we went downhill from there. Until the early
eighties we went down to the low of probably twelve to fifteen
hundred acres of vineyards .
Even graduating from high school, most kids didn't know
anything about Wente Bros, or the fact that there was wine
growing in the valley, so it wasn't as if it were a huge
influential part of my life in terms of social interaction.
There were no other kids going to school whose fathers were
winemakers. The Concannon kids were maybe a half a generation
off, so I really didn't know any of their children. There were
no other winemaking families going to school, so there I didn't
have friends who were winemakers. There was no social
interaction, and there was no wine growing society like there is
in Napa or Sonoma- -or at least perceived in Napa or Sonoma- -and
that type of thing.
I think from the early sixties on, the Lawrence [Livermore]
National Laboratory probably dominated Livermore as the main
employer, and 20, 30, 40 percent of parents of the kids in
school worked there. I'm just generalizing figures.
What about your family life?
interest in wine growing?
Did that incline you to an
Yes. I'd say I had a very strong family life. Also, living in
a rural situation, it pretty much removes you from the
neighborhood type of play, so when you came home your family was
everything rather than going down the street and playing with
the kids next door. Pretty much what we did after school and on
weekends was all family oriented, and my family life had a
tremendous effect on my view of the world and what I enjoy
My grandfather, as you know from past conversations, was
very interested not only in the wine business but also in the
cattle business and regularly enlisted our services to help him
run his cattle operation. He provided us horses to ride at an
early age, and also the American trend towards the West was
fairly strong in those years, so we all grew up wanting to be
cowboys and farmers as well.
Did you have duties?
We had fairly regular duties, once we got to a reasonable age.
I think from eleven years on I was employed every summer by the
family in the business doing one form of work or another. I
started off at fifty cents an hour when I was eleven years old.
I remember that quite clearly. I was very impressed with
working nine hours and earning four dollars and fifty cents.
[ laughs ]
Teiser: Did your work make you want to do more of it?
P. Wente: Even though the work was very menial laborhoeing weeds and
picking up rocks and things like that- -I always liked it. There
was just enough tractor driving and horseback riding and other
things thrown in to spice it up. I never looked at it as
drudgery; I looked at it basically as part of life and the
responsibility that you do. I kind of enjoyed it. It was
something to do, and the interaction with the other workers was
Teiser: Did you enjoy working with your father?
P. Wente: Yes, I did enjoy working with my dad. I spent a lot more time,
actually, working with my grandfather than my father in terms of
the physical sense. My father was really rather busy on so many
different fronts that at best he was the supervisorial type who
assigned you your jobs for the day or the week. Then you might
see him again in a couple of days to have him come around to
check up and see how you were doing. Whereas I would physically
go out and work with my grandfather, building fences or driving
cattle or branding or round-ups or whatever. He was actually
directly hands-on involved, and he had more time to come around
and check on you every day when you were working out in the
vineyards or in the winery. He'd always stick his nose in every
day to see how you were doing.
And I had probably a much closer working interaction with
Cecil Aguirre, who was our ranch foreman here. He started in
1959, I believe. He was the cellarmaster to the Charles Krug
winery. My dad recruited him to come and work for us,
originally in the winery. Then he took over our agricultural
operations here in Livermore as general manager and foreman for
my father and grandfather. So he was really directly our boss
whenever we were working in the field, and he was a wonderful
man to work for with a great understanding of the mind- set of a
young man and how to get the most out of him.
Wente Bros . Enmlovees
Teiser: As I remember, you have a tradition of good employees in this
P. Wente: I certainly always felt that way.
Teiser: Do they stay a long time?
P. Uente: Yes. Cecil is still with us, as an example. Bruno Canziani and
Elbert Kirkman, who started here in the early thirties, are
still with us on a part-time basis, although limited. They've
been with us for fifty- seven years, and Cecil's been with us
more than thirty years now. Willy Joslin, our winemaker, who
started with us in 1977 after the death of my father, has been a
very loyal and outstanding employee.
Ralph Riva ran our Arroyo Seco vineyard operations; we
purchased the ranch from his father, Alfred Riva. Ralph was
going to Cal Poly [California Polytechnic Institute] at the
time, and my father asked him to take a few courses in
viticulture and think about whether he'd like to come back and
work for us. He thought that was a great idea, so he came back
in the mid sixties--! think it was '64 or '65 when he got out of
college --and he's been with us ever since. Now he's vice
president [in charge] of our vineyard operations.
Teiser: Is he here in the Livermore Valley, too?
P. Wente: Yes, he's overseeing all our agricultural vineyard operations at
this time, along with Arturo Chavez, who has also been with us
since about 1965. Keith Roberts now oversees our Arroyo Seco
vineyard and has been with us for fifteen years or more.
Robert Detjens was a wonderful long-term employee.
Unfortunately he passed away early from heart problems . He was
also a recruit of my father out of Fresno State [College] and
Cal Poly back about the same time as Ralph Riva; he was a
contemporary of Ralph Riva. His family owns a vineyard over
here in Livermore; the Detjens vineyard was the old Belle View
Winery of the Duvall fame that Ernest spoke of in his previous
conversations. 1 Robert was really a dedicated employee as well.
] See Ernest Wente 's interview, pp. 9-10.
Teiser: In the family- owned wineries I've talked to, there's often a
problem- -that you seemed to have solved- -because an employee
knows he can never be at the top, and he has to be willing to
assume he'll have a good position but no ownership position.
Does that come up ever?
P. Wente: I think that is potentially still always a problem, especially
for an individual who's particular dream would be to own his own
business. However, I guess with the top managers we've had, it
seems to have been satisfied by the fact that they have
substantial responsibility and feel as though they're part of
the family. I guess that's the way I would put it as much as
anything. I believe that if we can make people feel as though
they're as much a part of the family as the family itself, then
maybe there's some satisfaction in that.
Another long-time employee of ours is Lawrence DiPietro,
who Eric and I went to school with ever since about the fourth
grade. He's actually Eric's age and graduated from college at
the same time Eric did. My father recruited him, from when he
used to work here summers as a teenager with Eric and me, to be
our business manager and controller. He's now our national
Bruce Hunter is another long-time employee. He is the
president of Parrott & Co. and started with us in '73.
I guess what we've tried to do more recently to formalize
some of these things is to put together what we call a
management committee and have these people be a very active part
of that management committee. In fact, they could go so far as
to have the majority vote over the family if they felt there was
a particular way the company should be going other than the way
that the family sees it. So we've gone so far as to share that
much of the management responsibility.
Teiser: Let's get back to your early years. You went to school here in
Livermore , did you?
P. Wente: Yes, Livermore Grammar School and Livermore High School, and I
graduated in 1970.
Teiser: Did you at that time have any career ideas?
P. Wente: I think I did, and they mostly came back to the family business.
I think there is something very special about the way parents
can raise you to not- -my parents never made any statements that
I was expected to work for the family or that they wished I
would, or any other such thing. It was always just kind of a
given. There was no particular moment in my life when I said,
"This is what I'm going to do," or, "This is not what I'm going
to do." I just grew up loving my life and loving my family and
loving what I always thought I was going to do. I wanted to be
just like my father and just like my grandfather, and I never
had any other aspirations.
I think the fine line that parents have to walk in order to
make you toe the line, at the same time not being so heavy-
handed that they drive you away, is a real secret to a family
staying together, or a family business --
Teiser: You are lucky in the continuity in your family--.
P. Wente: The family has certainly had its ups and downs in terms of the
number of offspring in each generation. Certainly in Ernest's
generation it was only Ernest and Hilma having any children out
of the seven or eight children of that generation. I think that
was very unusual, and then the fact that Ernest only had one
child, which was my father, Karl, was probably somewhat unusual,
too. The fact that Herman passed away early and Karl passed
away early was unfortunate in terms of the loss of the resources
that they could have brought to the family.
Teiser: But you boys were already working by the time your father died?
P. Wente: Right. Eric started, I think, in 1973, working for the company,
and I started in 1974. My father passed away in early '77, so
we had two or three years but also, more than that, all of the
summers and weekends working with them. The exact technical
detail of what you did every day in terms of working was no
mystery. I think what we really missed was the big world
picture --the long-range planning or view of where the industry
was going, and the late seventies was such a critical time in
THE WINE INDUSTRY IN THE 1970s
P. Wente: It was really the transitional time from the rather small,
family-oriented industry, where still in 1977 there were only
twenty or thirty wineries that anybody even cared about, to
literally in five years the industry exploding to five to seven
hundred wineries .
Teiser: There was that slump in '75, wasn't there?
P. Wente: There was a little slump. It was a slump that we never really
noticed. Wente Bros, at that time was really on top of the
world in terms of premium wineries. We were probably the most
respected white wine producer. Robert Mondavi was not a factor
even at that time, and families like Louis Martini and the older
wineries, even though they were corporate- -Beaulieu and
Inglenook--were still having a very strong reputation. Paul
Masson and Almaden were still considered premium wineries in
those days. They've almost faded from the picture now in terms
of just being labels and not associated with any particular
facility anymore. But they used to make a whole range of
premium wines. The Mirassous were quite a factor at that time.
The Jordons , the Far Nientes , and the Sonoma Cutrers of the
world didn't even exist, and Robert Mondavi was just having his
first successes with his Fume Blanc and his Cabernet and wasn't
even a factor in producing Chardonnay, as far as I can remember,
at that time.
Teiser: I remember your grandfather saying (I can't remember exactly how
he phrased it; I'm not quoting him accurately) that there was no
other industry he knew of that had so many amateurs come into
it. He was speaking of Smith and others earlier. Then I
believe they dropped out.
P. Wente: Those cycles have come around two or three times. There's no
product in the world that has been as romanticized for thousands
of years; even two thousand years before the time of Christ wine
was romanticized and revered. There's no other consumer product
that I can think of in the world that has worldwide
organizations where people pay money to belong, strictly to
enjoy wine. It is an incredibly unique industry in that way.
The only other farming industry in California that probably
is even remotely like that is the cattle business, which has
attracted romantic investors off and on, or the horse-breeding
business. Just for the pure romance of owning a cattle ranch or
a horse farm or horse racing, people invest in it literally to
watch their money go down the drain, just because they enjoy
being associated with it. The wine business is a lot like that.
Well, I think that particular total romantic era has
started on a decline again. The people who are getting into the
wine business are looking at the bottom line much stronger. The
romance as an attraction to get into the business is still
there, but the people who are getting into the business are very
hard-nosed about making money, as opposed to the movie stars and
the business and corporate executives who just have a lot of
money and only want to own a winery for the sheer enjoyment of
drinking their own product with their name on it and living in
the Napa Valley or Sonoma County.
Teiser: In Monterey County, of course, you had that phenomenal tax
advantage for investors. I don't suppose it affected you
directly there, but there was a lot of money put into Monterey
County vineyards at one time.
P. Wente: It did have a direct effect on us in terms of how it affected
the industry as a whole and the reputation of Monterey County at
the same time. A lot of people related back to the Bank of
America report that came out in the early seventies claiming
that the wine industry was a wonderful opportunity for
investment due to all the tax advantages and what they viewed as
the unlimited growth potential when looking at the European
consumption figures versus the United States consumption
figures. 1 All these rosy outlooks we've all since learned never
existed in a puritanical society like we exist in. I think it
*Bank of America, San Francisco, California Wine Outlook, a 20-page
pamphlet published in September 1973.
was a great underestimation of the social structure of the
United States. It is not Mediterranean in any way, shape, or
form. It is very much northern European and very staid and
conservative in its viewpoints.
All those things have since come to light, but at the same
.time Monterey County got caught in a vineyard explosion
expansion. It exploded Sonoma and Napa as well. Napa in 1965
was only about twelve thousand acres of vineyards. I'm not sure
if my figure is exactly right; it may have been only eight
thousand acres of vineyards at that time. Maybe we should call
it ten [thousand] for average. It's exploded up to some thirty
or forty thousand acres today. Monterey County did the same
thing. I think they've reached thirty- seven or thirty- eight
thousand acres .
Teiser: But Monterey went from almost nothing.
P. Wente: From nothing in '62 to that level, and it was badly misplanted
with the wrong varieties in the wrong areas. The wines had no
home. The great Monterey Vineyard Winery experiment itself
staggered and failed two or three different times until it was
picked up by Coca Cola. Then it became Taylor California
Cellars, and the whole push there was to low-end quality, and
there was no upper -end ringleader for Monterey County. The
other main supporters there were Paul Masson and Almaden, who
were also going to the same swing in terms of moving away from
the premium area and going more towards the popular-priced area.
With the wrong varietals and the wrong type of promotion,
Monterey really took a dive for a number of years. It became a
rather suspect area in terms of the more elite restaurateurs and
retailers in the country, in that the Monterey appellation
carried no significant advantage in terms of marketing, which
was very important for wineries like Wente Bros., Mirassou,
Jekel, Ventana, Chalone , and a number of others. That's one of
the reasons why, when the BATF put together their new
appellation regulations, we all applied for different
appellations, such as Arroyo Seco, Pinnacles, Chalone, and a
variety of other ones, in order to get away from the Monterey
County name - -
P. Wente: --until the name of the region could be stabilized. I think we
have long since turned the corner on that. Monterey still has a
very romantic, beautiful image in most people's minds, having to
do with the cities of Monterey and Carmel, and it's a very
outstanding and marketable name again. In fact, it is
P . Wente :
commanding one of the highest prices in the industry for
Chardonnay, Rieslings, Gewurztraminer , and a number of other
varietals. All the wineries again are very proud to use the
name Monterey as an appellation. I think it really has the
potential to be the second or third most recognized appellation
in California, but I think it would be somewhat difficult for
anybody to think they are going immediately to unseat Napa as
number one in the near future.
Sonoma has a lot of divisiveness within its rather large
appellation, with a lot of different sub -appellations and a lot
of different promotional groups that want to see Alexander
Valley, Dry Creek, Russian River, Sonoma Valley, or any number
of sub -appellations promoted in their particular county, as
opposed to a uniform appellation promotion. I think Monterey
has gone back to the origins of that appellation, really getting
after promoting Monterey itself, so they're on the rise. A long
answer to a short question.
I think the stability that you have represented has undoubtedly
contributed considerably. Too bad about the Jekel winery.
It remains to be seen what happens there. I think Vintech's
idea of putting together a consortium of wine brands was a good
one. I don't know really that much about the inside workings of
that whole deal, but it appears they were just undercapitalized.
I think Jekel will get back on its feet in one form or another,
because the vineyards are really some of the most outstanding
vineyards in the Monterey area. Wente Bros, bought grapes
from Jekel for a number of years before he started his winery
and brand, and I always thought they were some of the best
grapes in the county.
University and Career Interests
Teiser: To get back to the chronology here, was it more or less a
foregone conclusion that you would go to Davis?
P. Wente: No, I don't think so at all. Everybody else in the family had
gone to Stanford [except Ernest] . There was only one year
separating Eric and me, so I had basically gone to school my
whole life one year behind Eric. I really didn't want to go to
2 The Jekel property was purchased by Brown- Forman at the beginning of
Stanford for that reason, and I also don't think I had the
grades to get into Stanford, so I didn't even bother to apply
there. However, I did apply to a variety of other schools and
was really unsure where I wanted to go. I was accepted to USC,
Oregon State, Davis, and a couple of other ones that have
slipped my mind right now. I had a great love of snow skiing
and probably decided to go to Davis for snow skiing as much as I
did for the agricultural or viticultural and enology programs
My father didn't necessarily encourage that getting a
degree in viticulture and enology was that necessary to continue
on in the wine business. He always believed that with a good
biological science background you could either go back to Davis,
as Eric did to get his master's after he graduated from Stanford
with a bachelor's in chemistry, or that you could have a
substantial enough understanding of the basics that you could
learn the rest on the job, so to speak. He was happy to have us
go wherever we wanted. He would have been just as happy to have
me go to USC as he was to have me go to Davis .
Teiser: When was a decision made --or was it ever really made- -that you
were going to be the agriculturalist and Eric was going to be
the production person?
P. Wente: I don't know that there was any decision that was ever really
made in that direction. I think we just kind of drifted into
where our interests really were. When Eric first got out of
college, he spent quite a bit of time in the office putting
together a new accounting system for the company and learning
the business management side of it, before he actually went out
into the winery and became the winemaker. I will say this:
after having graduated with a degree in agricultural science and
management-- [tape off; telephone interruption]
Teiser: You and Eric settled into your separate interests?
P. Wente: We did. As 1 was saying, by the time I got my bachelor of
science degree in agricultural science and management, which is
pretty much a biological science major, I had umpteen hundred
hours of lab work and other things , and it was very obvious to
me that I really didn't care to be a technician in a laboratory.
It wasn't my personality makeup to be very careful and delicate
and technical in nature. I much preferred outside farming type
of activities and the more physical labor of the vineyard area.
Teiser: Whom did you work with at Davis?
P. Wente: I was one of the last classes of students to have all the
original [Repeal period] professors of the department there- -
Dr. [Maynard A.] Amerine, Dr. [Harold P.] Olmo, Dr. [Curtis J.]
Alley, Professor [Cornelius] Ough. I took Dr. [Ralph E.]
Kunkee ' s class on microbiology.
Teiser: Did you work at all with [Albert J.] Winkler?
P. Wente: No, Winkler was retired by that time. I met him several times
and talked to him, but did not take any classes from him.
Teiser: You really did have a stellar array of professors.
P. Wente: They had been there for a number of years and put the department
together. Let's see, Dinny [A. Dinsmoor] Webb was still there,
and [Vernon L. ] Singleton, and I took some classes from them.
[Klayton E.] Nelson taught a class on ampelography, and it was
difficult. I really enjoyed working with all of them.
Teiser: Did you work especially closely with any of them?
P. Wente: I probably worked more with Curt Alley in the vineyard than
almost anybody else, although I worked quite a bit with Harold
Olmo. He was my advisor, always giving me a bad time. I always
wanted to try to get out of some class or another, and he'd look
quite stern and say, "No, you can't."
I forgot to mention that another professor was Jim
[James A.] Cook, whom I actually took my very first viticulture
from. I always remember that he read down the roster and came
to my name and said, "Oh, are you Karl's son?" I said, "Yes,"
and he said, "I want you to know something. No son of a
winemaker has ever gotten an A in my class except Marko
Zaninovich." [laughter] And he gave me a B+.
Teiser: How did Olmo steer you?
P. Wente: Oh, he didn't really steer me all that much. The way the system
worked was that I pretty much set up my own major based on the
various titles that they gave these things and how you could
flex the classes that would meet the requirements of the major.
Once you had all those picked out, Dr. Olmo would generally just
go down the list and make sure 1 was on track for filling my
course requirements . I remember trying to get out of Botany 2
or something like that. By the time I was a senior, I said,
"Gee, I've already completed all the upper division classes. I
don't know why I should have to go back and take this basic
class." He said, "Because [bangs on the table] it's listed
right here as one of the requirements." I was really rather
upset with him at the time, but I thought, "Okay, if that's the
way I have to do it, I have to do it."
Teiser: Did you then go on to Berkeley?
P. Vente: No, I graduated and came to work.
Teiser: You didn't take any further courses?
P. Wente: I didn't take any further. I took just one graduate course
there at Davis, I think, from Ralph Kunkee. Other than that I
didn't take any other graduate work.
Teiser: There was no question of straying into another field?
P. Wente: No, none at all. Just like any other college kid, when I
graduated I took a couple of the summer months off to have some
fun, and then I came to work and have been here ever since.
Teiser: Did you travel before you came into the winery?
P. Wente: During the summer of '75 I went to Europe. I came to work for
nine months first, and then I took eight weeks off and went to
Europe with some friends. I didn't spend that much time
particularly touring the wine business. We did go to visit a
few people. I saw Louis Latour in Burgundy and several other
growers there, but it was more just an enjoyment trip.
VENTE BROS. SINCE 1974
Construction. Equipment . and Systems
Teiser: What did you do first when you came into the winery in '74?
P. Wente: When I first started I did basically odd jobs, construction-
oriented work that I filled in. I did a lot of electrical work,
a lot of plumbing, and a lot of concrete work. I spent quite a
bit of time in the farm shop welding farm equipment and a little
bit of tractor driving and equipment operation. I think that
first harvest I ran the mechanical harvesting crew, which
consisted of one harvester at that time. [laughs] I had the
night shift, and the machine harvested during the night.
It went from there into other types of jobs. We always
have believed in doing as much of our own construction as we
possibly could, and I think I spent probably the majority of my
time over the next few years mostly construction-oriented,
always improving the winery and building. It was heavily
concrete work, a lot of tank foundations and slabs, production
facilities. I used to spend quite a bit of time replanting
vineyards and laying out irrigation systems and that type of
Teiser: Were you contributing ideas, too?
P. Wente: In terms of the big picture and the direction of wine styles or
the direction of the winery, no, I was not. In fact, there
wasn't really all that much communication in those areas. It
was more just status quo. Maybe in 1976 or so my father made
arrangements for me to go out with some of the Parrott & Co .
representatives. Parrott & Co. was our national distributor at
that time and was owned by the Menzies family. He set up a
series of week- long visits with some of our representatives, and
it was really my first experience in marketing. I really hadn't
spent any time in seeing where the wine went after we made it.
I spent more time on just day-to-day operations, and primarily
operations in the vineyard and construction work that had to be
One of my first big projects that I was in charge of was
enlarging our frost reservoir system to handle an additional
several hundred acres of frost protection, and that sort of
Teiser: Were you contributing ideas on how better to do construction and
mechanization and that sort of thing?
P. Wente: Again, not all that much. We had Robert Detjens, our winery
engineer, whom I mentioned earlier, who was really a very
bright, outstanding individual in that field. He was so far
ahead of the project that there was very little left to be
thought out. In a lot of sense I was just one of the
construction workers. A lot of the guys had a nickname for
Robert; they called him "Mr. 64," meaning sixty- fourth of an
inch --every thing had to be so detailed, down to the finest,
minutest decision. We all had a lot of fun with that. He was
really an expert.
Teiser: Did you learn a lot from him?
P. Wente: I learned quite a bit from him. I really did. He taught me
over and over again that if you do it right the first time, you
never have to do it again.
Teiser: In recent years you've been in charge of some mechanization and
P. Wente: We always keep searching for what we believe are the newest
innovations going on in the industry and what are the latest
quality trends. I won't say that I have been that much involved
in terms of design of equipment. We used to be heavily oriented
towards design and construction of our own equipment that was
unique to the industry; nobody else in the industry offered a
system anything like Wente Bros.
A lot of that had to do with my father and Robert Detjens,
both who were quite inventive and outstanding visionaries in
equipment design, the wine business, and what they wanted to
accomplish. Since both of their passings, we have probably over
the last four or five years really gone back to a little bit
more what you might call standard equipment- -what' s available in
the industry, and yet at the same time what is the leading edge
of the latest technology. We've been very careful to be sure
that one of our number one priorities is to always continue
designing so that we can keep the winery dynamic and modern and
on the leading edge of current technology. I think we've been a
leader in that field in terms of handling the grapes and juice
and must. Nobody has a more gentle and rapid handling system
than Uente Bros., and we still have some rather unique holdovers
from my father and Robert Detjens' time in terms of how we
harvest the grapes with our mechanical harvesters and how we
deliver that grape to the winery.
Teiser: My impression was that in Monterey County you pioneered a system
for harvesting and transporting the juice.
P. Wente: Yes, we've done a lot of things that you might call pioneering,
and that's a good word for it. I won't necessarily say we
originated the ideas or the systems, but we probably got the
bugs out of them and put together one of the best systems in the
business. In my and Eric's capacity since our father's passing,
what probably caused the greatest revolution in the system of
handling grapes was our sparkling wine production and the need
to be able to mechanically harvest Pinot noir and handle it in
such a manner that we came out with absolutely white juice for
the production of m6thode champenoise sparkling wine. It was
from the problems posed by handling this Pinot noir that we
developed our Arroyo Seco Monterey County pressing and grape-
We decided that where we used to field crush in the old
days and deliver liquid must to the winery, that system was no
longer viable because there was too much extraction of tannins
and other compounds from the skins that were causing a number of
problems for us. What we did was move to a system where we
could handle whole berries and whole clusters that were picked
at night to keep them very cold- -in the fifty to fifty- five
degree range --and press them at night, so that we got the juice
away from the skins as fast as possible. We were doing this in
two- or three -ton lots, so the mechanical harvester was
literally picking two to three tons in fifteen to twenty
minutes. That two to three tons would only be at the most a
mile or two radius from the press site and would be instantly
delivered to the press site by our straddle truck system that we
already had, where we could press it within an hour and
therefore have almost no skin contact time and have a very white
or light-colored juice, as in the case of Pinot noir.
One of our last special designs that we made was a bladder
press with Valley Foundry that Bob Detjens did design in order
to produce our sparkling wine cuvee. We believe that from that
P . Wente :
we learned so much about the basic quality of really fresh
juice, and we enjoyed that experience so much that we renovated
our pressing facility here at the main winery to reflect that
system that we built in Monterey.
For grapes grown around here?
For grapes grown in Livermore and also grapes that we receive
from the growers in this area.
The transportation from Monterey to here --how long does it take?
It's about a three-hour truck trip. This system is basically
for white wine or champagne cuvees. We transported it as
Oh, you refrigerated it?
We had a refrigeration system down there for stainless steel
tanks where we pressed and held the juice. Now, you have to
remember that the juice was coming in at nighttime at about
fifty to fifty- five degrees, so we didn't really need to
refrigerate it all that much; it was at the right temperature,
and we just needed to hold it at that temperature.
Teiser: I remember one mid-day being down there and stopping for a
sandwich at what they called the Slurp and Burp--
P. Wente: Oh, right there on the corner of Elm Avenue and First Street in
Teiser: --and seeing one of your trucks sitting there in the steaming
heat for about an hour, I guess. I suppose that happened
P. Wente: In those days we were probably shipping machine -harvested field
crush grapes in four -ton closed tanks that sit on the back of a
flatbed. It was our old system back then. We had applied S0 2
in the field. In those days we had about a six-hour schedule on
it and were actually looking for skin contact time. A little
bit different philosophy has developed since the late seventies
and early eighties when we were using that system. Today we're
looking for absolutely minimal skin contact time on most of our
varietals because, again, it's white wine and not red wine.
Assuming Leadership. 1977
Teiser: What had you done by the time of your father's death, which I
know was a turning point? I understand from your sister that
you and Eric assumed responsibility quickly. Did you have
fairly well-rounded experience by then?
P. Vente: Again, I would say, as I was pointing out in a roundabout way
earlier, I think we had a fairly well-rounded experience in day-
to-day operations here at the winery, but I think we were really
quite lacking in understanding the wine business in terms of the
big picture. The international wine business was not even a
concept in our minds back then. Being rather isolated here in
the Livermore Valley, we didn't have a lot of day-to-day contact
with other vintners. We were very young; I was twenty- four,
Eric was twenty-five, and Carolyn was twenty-one and still in
college. So we really didn't see the sales side of the
business, we didn't see the long-range planning side of the
business. We hadn't really had that much of an opportunity to
talk to our father about what his vision for the company was,
where he intended to take the company.
We certainly could see from the wines that he had produced
what he had desired to accomplish, and 1 think he had a very
balanced program at that time. He had a couple of very popular -
priced, well-known wines but also a very balanced distribution
on some very premium wines such as Chardonnay, S6millon,
Sauvignon Blanc, and late-harvest Rieslings. We probably didn't
have as good a grasp of that particular aspect of the business
as we should have. Now, Ernest was still alive during this time
and provided a lot of critical guidance for us, but Ernest
himself was not as interested in the wine business and the
romance and the marketing of wine as he was in the growing and
the production of wine. This is where Herman had a great
strength, and I believe that my father also took over that
aspect from Herman, and that's what made him such an excellent
partner for his father and what made Herman an excellent partner
Neither Eric nor I, unfortunately, had the time to spend
with my father in terms of the marketing and the business vision
side of the business. In terms of what my father thought our
immediate education should be, it was always much more direct,
hands-on operations. That's probably the one thing that I miss
the most- -not being able to learn from my father or ever being
able to have any such discussion with him. It would be
marvelous to have that discussion with him today.
Teiser: Your mother knew something of that, I suppose.
P. Wente : Hindsight is always real clear. My mother did have a good
vision of those things, but I think she felt that probably it
was best to let Eric and me go ahead and learn from our mistakes
rather than coming in with any particular set of rigid ideas or
directions. I think my grandfather felt very much the same way.
Maybe the two of them stood back and had a conversation about
letting us go ahead and make it or break it on our own.
Teiser: Well, it worked, didn't it?
P. Vente: It worked. We undoubtedly made some mistakes and went in some
directions that probably were better not to have done, but I
think that's true of most companies. We did some things right,
and we did some things wrong. That's not to say that I won't go
ahead and do some wrong things in the rest of my life, but 1
hope I do more right ones than wrong ones.
Teiser: I wish I'd been able to interview your father. The two people I
most regret not having interviewed are your father and John
P. Wente: I wish you had been able to do that, too, because it certainly
would have given me a lot better vision of what he was thinking.
It's too bad you didn't have an opportunity to interview Herman
Marketing and Distribution
P. Wente: One of the other fairly strong influences in our lives at that
time was John Gallagher, who was the president of Parrott & Co.
Right at my father's death, my father and Louis Martini were
negotiating with the Menzies family to buy Parrott & Co. , along
with John Gallagher. John Gallagher became a one -third partner
in Parrott & Co. with the Louis Martini family and the Wente
family. So he had a very influential position in the marketing
and direction of our wines. He was really a hard-driving
salesman with a great knowledge of the business, but not a
particular wine enthusiast as much as he was a hard-nosed
I'd say that the hard-nosed business aspect of his view of
things probably had a fairly strong influence on how Wente Bros,
grew for a number of years. We grew very rapidly with wines
such as Le Blanc de Blancs, Grey Riesling, and chablis, and
probably not as balanced as we should have with wines like
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semi lion, Pinot Noir, and some of
the other premium varietals that we were making. They took a
little bit of a back seat to the wines that could really sell a
lot of cases.
Over the last six or seven years we've really reversed that
direction and focused more on the historical varieties that
Ernest and Herman and my father had really built their
reputations on, which were Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,
S6millon, and Johannisberg Riesling in my father's case,
particularly from Monterey County. I think Karl certainly won a
lot of fame and prestige for a series of late -harvest Rieslings
that he was able to introduce from that Arroyo Seco vineyard.
I wonder what was the effect of marketing with a red wine
P. Wente: I'm not exactly familiar with the dates of Wente Bros.
association with Parrott & Co. However, I believe it to be
sometime in the late thirties or early forties, where they
represented us in the Western United States. They took over
from Frank Schoonmaker as one of our agents, and Twenty-One
Brands took over as the other. At that time, it's my
recollection from stories that have been told that Louis
Martini, Korbel, and Louis Benoist at Almaden joined with
Parrott & Co. at the same time, so we've been marketing with
Louis Martini for a number of years. When the Martini family
and the Wente family, along with John Gallagher, purchased
Parrott & Co., it was a very amiable relationship. Certainly in
my view Louis Martini is one of the most wonderful individuals
in the industry. He was almost like a second father to us in a
lot of ways. He was a very calm and stable influence, along
with my grandfather, Ernest, who got along extremely well with
Louis. The two of them would always keep things--
Teiser: Louis, Sr.?
P. Wente: No, Louis, Jr. I guess I should say Louis P. Martini. Louis P.
was certainly very stable and down to earth. He probably had a
lot more vision of marketing along the lines of my grandfather,
which in the end may have been somewhat unfortunate for us , in
that during the time when the wine business became so highly
competitive, their philosophy was a little bit more along the
lines that if you made a great bottle of wine for an outstanding
value, it will sell itself. They weren't prone to the idea of
wanting to market themselves or to place themselves on any type
of pedestal as superstars along with Robert Mondavi's angle of
marketing, where it really is quite important to market your
brand name, your family, your winemaker, as much as it is just
to sell wine --that image is everything. This is a lesson that
the Wente family and the Martini family probably learned a
little late in life. It's a lesson that we both learned, but at
the same time it's very hard to struggle back up the ladder,
considering that we were probably both on top of the ladder in
the late seventies. We did go down a few rungs in people's view
of us, but I believe that on an over-all quality basis both
wineries continued to produce outstanding, award-winning wines,
whatever subjective criteria you want to use for quality.
Across the board, our wines were really second to none, but the
image and the marketing of our wineries was such that in the
connoisseur's view they were not as exclusive or elite as they
should have been because Grey Riesling and Le Blanc de Blancs
were mass marketed.
Teiser: Do you think it had anything to do with your pricing?
P. Wente: I think it did have something to do with our pricing. We don't
think we kept our pricing on our premium wines, such as
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon, and late-harvest Rieslings up
in the areas that we should have. Also I think it had to do
with our control of our distribution networks, both at Parrott &
Co. and our local distributors in major cities. We did not have
marketing programs that focused or targeted our premium wines to
be in the right restaurant accounts and didn't put enough
pressure on the distribution system to make sure that we got our
fair share of wine lists, placements in premium package stores,
and other things. We probably let the distribution system drift
with the sales of our wines, and I think it's an obvious
conclusion that most people have always come to, that if you let
marketing and distribution drift, it will always tend to drift
downward and sell what is easiest to sell, which is the lowest-
priced wines. That's just the natural tendency.
That is certainly nobody's fault but our own for not
controlling our own destiny. Those, again, are hard lessons
that we learned, where we probably could have used a little bit
more of our father's vision or knowledge in guidance during
those years. I think we have a pretty firm grip of that reality
today, and we have a pretty firm grip of the worldwide wine
One of the things that is still pretty difficult in this
vision is that you can certainly see what you would like to do
and where you would like to be, but it's a business that is
sometimes rather slow to be able to achieve those goals. It's
not a business where you can change your product overnight; it
often takes five to ten years to accomplish even the smallest of
Teiser: To go back to the point about marketing with Louis Martini- -did
it delay your interest in red wine that appears to have grown
P. Wente: I think it did have some effect on us, although that was a
conscious decision. I think it was a very good partnership for
a number of years for that very reason. Certainly in the
thirties and forties, to my biased recollection of what I've
read about the wine industry and been told, Napa Valley was
known rather as the red wine district of California, and
Livermore Valley was known as the premium white wine district or
Sauternes district of California. Having the Napa Valley
producer producing red wines and Livermore Valley producer
producing white wines was the natural fit. At the same time,
that's where our focus was, that's where our anchorage was, but
we always did produce some red wines --some Pinot Noirs; some
burgundies, which were primarily produced out of Petite Sirah,
which later became a Petite Sirah varietal; and we produced
Cabernet off and on, depending, a few years here and there, as
well as some Zinfandel. We always made those wines, but they
never got the focus from Parrott & Co. because Louis Martini was
making all of those wines, and that was fine with us. We made
Chardonnays , Sauvignon Blancs, Semillons, Pinot Blancs, and
Rieslings; and he produced Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer , and some
other white wines, and he never got the focus vice versa from
Parrott, and generally that was fine with him. They weren't
their priorities, that wasn't where their production orientation
Since we stopped marketing together, our Cabernet has been
one of our fastest- growing items percentagewise, and we've also
refocused a lot of our production facilities to be able to
increase our production of Cabernet and Merlot as well as
Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. We look forward to being a little
more balanced winery in that sense, but I still don't think it
will represent any part of the main part of the Wente Bros,
business in the future; I still think we'll always be known as a
white wine winery, and that's where our focus will be. Probably
upwards of 80 percent of our sales will always remain white
Teiser: I like your Zinfandel.
P. Wente: I do, too. It's from that marvelous old Raboli vineyard, right
behind the winery here, that's some seventy -five years old, and
maybe only ten years younger than Lionel Raboli himself,
[ laughs ]
Expand in* Wente Properties Since 1977
Teiser: You've been making new plantings in the Livermore Valley since
'77, I believe.
P. Wente: Yes. I think one of the unfortunate things that has happened to
the Livermore Valley that we're able to sit here and look
backwards at with the clarity of hindsight is that the whole
political process was going through a dynamic change during the
sixties. The state mandate for all jurisdictions to have
general plans, planning units, and these types of things wasn't
in place in the early sixties, and growth was rather rampant and
helter-skelter. The tax assessor was having a marvelous time
running around assessing things at various whims and notions.
My father really believed that there might come a time, given
the way things were going at that date, that the Livermore
Valley would no longer be viable for winegrowing, much as the
northern Santa Clara Valley, unfortunately, has seen a demise.
So he headed out for Monterey County.
But then, as in most cases whenever there are excesses,
which there seemed to be in the planning and development area of
the valley at that time, cooler heads prevailed and the state
mandated its general plan laws and regulations. The cities and
the counties got things under control, and by the mid- seventies
growth had slowed substantially and it didn't appear that we
were going to be in a valley with a million people and all these
other horrible forecasts.
There was a substantial amount of land left in the prime
winegrowing area of Livermore Valley that had a historic
winegrowing background. The real estate market slowed to the
point where the speculators were mostly gone, and prices were
returning to agricultural values, and we were able to acquire
the 640-acre Beyer Ranch, which is just east of the winery here,
and we were able to acquire the old Schenley-Cresta Blanca
property, which is west of the winery here, about midway between
the winery and the city of Pleasanton on the farthest south side
of the city of Livermore and the winegrowing area. That
consisted of a 315 -acre purchase. To back up one further, I
believe our first purchase, in 1977, shortly after my father's
death, was the 100 -acre Migilore Ranch, which is directly
adjacent to the original winery parcel here.
Between all those acquisitions it amounts to almost a
thousand acres of new vineyard land here in the Livermore
Valley, and that's a significant and substantial investment that
we made. We originally purchased the old Schenley property- -the
Wetmore Ranch, where the old Cresta Blanca establishment was, as
it's known in its various names for the land. We had very
little interest in the winery buildings themselves. It was our
belief at the time that the cooperage was all ruined, and on
many of the buildings the roofs of the buildings had fallen in
to the floor and were in great disrepair.
Teiser: Schenley had thought to develop it, didn't it?
P. Wente: Schenley had another forty or sixty acres right on the edge of
the City of Livermore, and that seemed very viable to
development, where they thought eventually, I believe, that they
were going to develop the home ranch, or the Cresta Blanca ranch
itself. I think they also thought in the back of their mind--
again, these are just rumors or conversations I have heard
second- or third-hand- -that they might want to get back in the
wine business some day, so they held it in terms of speculation.
They did lease out the winery cooperage; I think they closed
[their Livermore Valley operations] in '65, and they actively
leased the winery cooperage out until about '77 or '78. Then at
that point they just basically shut everything down, and they
really let things go to pot.
So we bought it in '81.
Teiser: Myron Nightingale's stories of Schenley are rather shocking.
P. Wente: Yes, it's really unfortunate, because it's such a beautiful
winery. They had quite a name; Cresta Blanca had one of the
finest names in the business at one time.
Teiser: You've certainly brought it up--
P. Wente: Well, we've spent a lot of time. After we had some engineers
review the buildings, we realized that actually the structural
parts of the buildings were still fairly sound. Then it became
an issue of what we were going to do with the buildings,
because, as I say, we had originally considered taking a
wrecking ball to the whole place and just growing vineyard
there, which is what our primary interest was, not to acquire a
second winery. We were right in our estimation of the
cooperage; it was all pretty well shot, but we were able to
salvage some of it.
We kicked around several different alternatives. At that
time we had already started our sparkling wine venture. We laid
down our first cuvee in 1980 and were planning to build a
sparkling wine facility down at the Arroyo Seco Ranch in
Greenfield. When this opportunity came along to have these
buildings already in existence, we reconsidered our venture.
Why build a whole new set of buildings down there when we could
have these in more of a ready- to -go state with a less
substantial investment? Although I'm not sure it turned out to
I think it was always the romance of the whole situation,
Eric, Carolyn, and I having grown up and knowing the old Cresta
Blanca facility, and what a beautiful old winery it had been.
Wanting to preserve it was sentimental, and it probably colored
some of our business decisions at the same time. But 1 think
that's the difference between being an old family in the
business and being a hard-nosed investor in this business.
Teiser: Did you rework the caves?
P. Wente: We expanded them and reworked them to bring them up to modern
code. We reworked all the buildings. Actually, we tore several
of the buildings down that were just beyond repair. We reworked
the buildings that were still in a reasonable enough structural
situation to salvage, and we built one new building there, which
is the restaurant, although it does sit on part of the
foundation and basement of the old tasting room or hospitality
house, as they called it, that Cresta Blanca had there.
Teiser: The caves--! should think it would be a real advantage to have
that much storage space, whether or not you'd reconstructed the
P. Wente: We were able to remodel the caves for a relatively low square -
foot construction price, so yes, there was an advantage there
just in terms of creating storage space. It was about on the
same order as a tilt-up concrete warehouse type of building.
And obviously these caves have a lot of romance and
attractiveness about them. However, we weren't necessarily
looking for more winery storage there in particular, just due to
the fact that hauling barrels back and forth over there didn't
present a very efficient type of winemaking operation. When we
had the idea of creating a completely separate type of
production facility for methode champenoise sparkling wine, it
really made a lot more sense to go ahead and renovate the entire
set of buildings.
Teiser: It has turned into a practical facility?
P. Wente: It has. [tape off. Phone interruption]
The Sparkling Vine Business
Teiser: I take it from your tone of voice that it has turned into a
practical facility with qualifications?
P. Wente: We started planning to get into the methods champenoLse
sparkling wine business in about 1978. It was something that we
felt our father wanted to see done with the Chardonnay and Pinot
noir grapes at Arroyo Seco. He always believed that it was the
perfect cool climate to be able to produce classic mthode
champenoLse sparkling wine there, and we thought we would try to
carry that out. You have to realize that in 1978, when we were
looking at the sparkling wine business in California, there were
only a few producers- -Korbel, Hanns Kornell, Schramsberg;
Domaine Chandon was just really getting started, and Piper
Sonoma, I believe, was under construction. That was about the
extent of it, so it looked like a rather wide-open field to be
Little did we know that literally at the same time we were
planning on that, there were ten or fifteen other companies
going through the same gyrations themselves. Since then the
sparkling wine business has become a very competitive business
in California, with a lot of new and different producers
entering the marketplace, most of them at this point having some
type of very formidable French connection or Spanish connection
with substantial funding and financing behind their brands. So
for a small family winery like ours, it presents a very
difficult proposition to market sparkling wine as a line
extension. At this point it doesn't seem to be that widely
accepted by the consumer as a line extension for wineries.
Neither Chateau St. Jean nor Sebastiani nor Mirassou, and I
could name a few others off the top of my head- -Beaulieu- -have
been successful at creating a strong demand for a sparkling wine
from a noted table wine house. The more successful people have
been the ones who have come in with a lot of funding, have
created a beautiful facilitywhich I think we did, so we at
least covered that part of it- -and have had some type of
European connection. Schramsberg is really one of the only
major independents that's been able to make a real go of it in
terms of economic sense, but still with only the sparkling wine
One of the things that we have done that has made the
facility very worthwhile, though, is adding the restaurant to it
and the small conference room that we operate at it--
diversifying the uses. We have our summer concert series there,
and we do a lot of our public relations and other types of
benefits there. But we're spreading the base of the overhead
there substantially, including the sparkling wine business
itself, and therefore the facility has become a very positive
business aspect to our overall portfolio. At the same time 1
think we continue to evaluate how we're going to approach the
sparkling wine business. There needs to be some dynamic vision
and change given to the whole situation.
Focusing on the Classical Varieties
As you acquired property, you did plant more vineyards. Did you
have an overall plan?
Since Eric and I and Carolyn have been looking at those
decisions, I think we have probably been greatly influenced by
the sales trend of our own wines, by what appeared to be selling
in the marketplace, and by the tradition or direction that the
family had always focused on. During the late seventies and
early eighties we continued to expand our plantings of Grey
Riesling and Chenin blanc to produce Grey Riesling and Le Blanc
de Blancs. At the same time we greatly expanded our plantings
of Chardonnay because we really believe that Wente Bros, had
always been one that had a leading role in the production of
Chardonnay and that it was one of the varieties that we felt did
exceptionally well in both Livermore and Arroyo Seco.
And we modestly increased our plantings of Sauvignon blanc
and Semi lion, more from a traditional aspect; 1 think we always
believed that Sauvignon Blanc would maintain a slow, steady
growth rate, which it seems to have, but Semillon has always
been a little bit more of a difficult sell. It probably reached
its peak in terms of our sales percentage back in the mid-
fifties. But it is, again, a variety that we dearly love in
terms of tradition and taste, and we continue to produce it.
Teiser: Do you add Semillon to your Sauvignon Blanc?
P. Wente: We do on occasion, and vice versa; sometimes we add Sauvignon
Blanc to our Semillon. And sometimes we add Semillon to our
Chardonnay, so it's a rather versatile variety, and it seems to
be enjoying a little bit of resurgence in interest right now.
We have a number of wineries contacting us about the purchase of
Semillon grapes that they're using in some of their programs. 1
think Semillon has a very bright future. I think it's one of
the classic varieties, as 1 do Sauvignon blanc, of the Bordeaux
area, and will retain recognition among wine drinkers around the
world. Certainly the same thing can be said of Chardonnay, so
if anything, over the last four or five years, when we have
concentrated our plantings and our visions, they are probably on
the top four or five Classic French varietals of the Burgundy
and Bordeaux regions.
We've shied away from Rhone Valley varietals or Loire
Valley varietals. There have been other people who have
recently been quite successful with Rhone varietals, and they
may warrant some consideration. We were producing Petite Sirah
for a number of years, and it was quite popular, but Petite
Sirah got substantially undermined in a rather controversial
move, that I always thought was rather unfair, by the University
of California and the California Department of Food and
Agriculture [CDFA] in a not very scientific background study of
the origin of the variety, claiming that it was Durif . We have
a complete set of very extensive ampelographies that were
printed around the turn of the century that made Petite Sirah a
synonym for Sirah rather than Durif. It says that Durif and
Petite Sirah have absolutely nothing in common.
The same was true of Pinot blanc. It was undermined,
again, by the CDFA, and the Foundation for Plant Materials at UC
Davis coined it a Melon de Bourgogne rather than Pinot blanc. I
question the veracity of the genetic research done on that in
terms of how long that particular strain of Pinot blanc has been
in California; it's been here for well over a hundred years, and
things change naturally through generations of repetition,
replanting, and that type of thing.
Anyway, we basically thought we had to walk away at that
point from Pinot blanc and Petite Sirah, because they had been
undermined in reputation by the University and the CDFA.
Therefore there was no point in putting a lot of time and energy
behind them, because the connoisseurs and the "wine experts"
would not accept them as premier premium varietals. We felt we
were much better off to focus on truly what we believed was
known to be the classic varietals. We think there will be fads
and trends to things like White Zinfandel or sweet Rieslings or
dry Rieslings or a variety of other wine concoctions that you
can come up with, but classically produced Chardonnay and Pinot
Noir and classically produced Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc are
always going to maintain a marketplace niche as well, and we
would prefer to stay in those classic areas.
Teiser: Do you have Sauvignon blanc in Monterey County?
P. Wente: We do not. We have nursery blocks in small amounts. We have
certified increase nursery blocks there where we can grow the
vines to produce cuttings for sale but not for production
Changes in Vineyard Practices
Teiser: As you have replanted, have you made any changes in culture and
P. Wente: We have continued to do a variety of experiments on spacing, and
it almost is amusing sometimes, in that we would do what my
grandfather called "going back to the way we used to do it."
We've done experiments with spacing as close as four by eight,
some eight by eight; we've done some spacings where we planted
ten- foot rows and then two vine rows one foot apart and then a
ten- foot row. We continue to experiment and to do a variety of
things. We think we're going to be much more flexible in the
future in terms of spacing per soil type more than anything
else. We don't think there's a uniform type of trellis system
or vine spacing that can be applied to California, like the old
eight by twelve system that Winkler recommended that was so
widely used. You've got to be a little bit more intelligent
about the vigor of the soil, the potential of the vines used,
the amount of space that you're giving it. In very poor soils,
you obviously need to have much closer spacing.
Teiser: What about mechanical harvesting?
P. Wente: We believe that mechanical harvesting is a very substantial
quality tool, and we would like to continue to be able to
develop trellising and spacing that would be able to adapt to a
mechanical harvest system. This is primarily because the
technology of it has developed to the point where it harvests
the same percentage as hand harvest, is much more expedient, and
can be done very effectively at nighttime, and we believe that
temperature is everything in harvest. And light exposure also
has a significant catalytic effect as well. So for those
reasons mechanical harvesting, we believe, has some very strong
advantages over hand harvesting. We still have probably 30 to
40 percent of our vineyards hand harvested due to the trellis
types, the hillsides, younger vines, and those types of things
that don't adapt well to mechanical harvesting.
Teiser: You've done some mechanical preliminary pruning, is that right?
P. Wente: There was a real trend towards a potential for 100 percent
mechanical pruning in the early eighties. We don't see that
here as being a very viable vehicle for super and ultra premium
vineyards or vineyards that are targeted at super to ultra
premium wines. However, pre -pruning with some kind of
mechanical trimming equipment has been around for decades, and
it is no miracle invention by anybody, and I won't claim to be
the inventor of it, either. It simply amounts to getting maybe
two -thirds to three-quarters of the brush out of the way before
your hand crew comes along to select the remaining spurs for the
next year's harvest. In a case where you might want to do cane
pruning, I think then you cannot use a pre -prune system, because
you need to leave the brush there in order to select the full-
Phylloxera and Other Vineyard Problems
Teiser: May I bring up phylloxera at this point? I remember that your
grandfather insisted upon planting on resistant rootstock in
P. Wente: Yes, he did. All the original plantings down there are on A x R
#1. Herman and Karl did some experimenting in the past with St.
George and a few of the other rootstock varietals that were
available in the fifties and sixties. We're like most other
people in the state, in that most all the studies showed that in
a variety of soil types A x R #1 was not only giving the best
production but also the best wine quality. I just went to a
rootstock seminar up in Napa a couple of weeks ago, and even
today A x R #1, where it can survive phylloxera, still looks,
from a production [point of view] --and I'm not talking tonnage
production but the leaf surface area compared to crop ripened- -
like one of the nicest balanced roots tocks available today.
There are still more A x R being planted today than any other
rootstock in the business, so the phylloxera biotype B scare has
not driven everybody out of the A x R market at this point. We
do have about three-quarters of our vineyard acreage in Monterey
County planted on A x R #1.
Teiser: Have you had phylloxera there?
P. Wente: There is phylloxera present in Monterey County. At this point
we have found no presence on our ranch. That was always one of
my great worries in traveling from Livermore to Monterey, with
the amount of equipment that we shipped back and forth. We were
always very careful to wash and sterilize all our equipment.
One of my biggest nightmares would be that I was the one who
contaminated Monterey County. Fortunately, I'm glad to say that
at this point it appears that we were not the ones. [laughs]
Unfortunately, Monterey County has been contaminated with
phylloxera, but at this point it looks like it's all biotype A,
and the A x R is still resistent to it.
Teiser: Have you used A x R #1 here in Livermore, too?
P. Wente: Yes. The majority of our plantings here are on A x R #1. We do
have some St. George. We are looking at a variety of things
that we're going to do. Right now our new plantings have been
on both 5BB and Freedom. We're also looking at the possibility
of going with some Teleki 5C, some new S04--the proper form of
S04 that UC Davis has got in stock now. Again, we're looking
for rootstocks that are a little bit more on the vigorous side,
such as Freedom, because in the Livermore Valley typically most
of the soils are in the very poor strain- -either very heavily
gravelly or rocky, or very dense red clay. There is very little
sandy loam or river bottom type soils like you see in the Napa
Valley, which are deep and rich. 1 Our historic tonnages here
have never gotten above three to three and a half tons to the
acre on average, and we just don't possess soil types that are
going to produce seven, eight, or nine tons to the acre Cabernet
or Chardonnay as they do in the Napa Valley floor.
Teiser: You have other problems in your vineyards here in the Livermore
Valley, as 1 remember.
P. Wente: Our single biggest problem, which is a problem that is not
unique to the Livermore Valley, certainly, but seems to have
taken a particular domination, is xiphinema index, the nematode
that is the virus vector. We have both xiphinema index and
xiphinema americanum as well as several of the root knot lesion
nematode varieties. However, both of those varieties, the root
knot and lesion varieties, don't seem to adapt as well to
Livermore soils and don't move as freely, so they're much less
of a problem.
! See also p. 106.
Our primary problem is the xiphanema species and the fan-
leaf, yellow mosaic, leaf roll, and other viruses that they
transmit to the vines. On top of that probably our next biggest
pest in terms of vine damage is Eutypa, which is the more
commonly known apricot dieback. Both of those problems would
probably exceed phylloxera in terms of pests. In fact, several
years ago we viewed our phylloxera problem so low that we
planted almost four hundred acres on their own roots here. In
hindsight it was probably not that wise a decision, knowing what
we know now about the potential for B Type . Everywhere is a lot
like what Monterey County used to be. A lot of people felt that
phylloxera and virus would never be transmitted to Monterey
County, but it's bound to happen, I guess, and B Type is bound
to reach Livermore Valley at some time. At this point we're now
taking steps, as I mentioned, to continue to plant on what is
thought to be biotype B resistant rootstocks for phylloxera,
also with a heavy emphasis on nematode- resistant stocks.
There appears to be a new patented stock out of Davis
called 39-16 that shows both some reasonable vigor and a
substantial resistance to dagger nematodes, although not that
much of a resistance to root knot and lesian, and also some
resistance to or a masking of the effects of the viruses not a
complete resistance, but some resistance anyway. It really
looks like a potential rootstock that might be excellent for us.
However, it does bring along several problems with it. It's
very difficult to get it to root, and it's a little bit more
difficult to accept a union or a graft or a field bud than the
A x R. Let's say the A x R is the comparative scale.
Do you have any plans that might hinge on genetic engineering?
At one time I was very excited about genetic engineering. The
University hired a young professor named Robert Logan who was
going to be their genetic engineering hero. He came around to a
lot of the wineries and promised great things out of genetic
engineering: we were going to get rootstocks that were going to
be resistant to fan- leaf and nematodes and phylloxera and all
these other things , and it could be done in five years . He made
presentations to the Wine Institute for this type of funding and
other things. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons the
system caught up with him, and he was offered a substantial
amount more money in private industry and left the University.
None of the things that were originally promised out of the
great days of genetic engineering breakthroughs have really come
around in my vision. I still believe that the potential for
genetic engineering is there, but most of the people you'll talk
to, at least today in 1991, won't put quite as much miracle
stock in genetic engineering as they once did.
Telscr: Back to cross-pollinization?
P. Vente: Not back to cross pollinization so much as it is back to
studying what is available in your own vineyards. What natural
resistance has developed? Rely more on what you can see with
your own two eyes and don't count on so many miracles.
Teiser: How about natural predators?
P. Wente: There is a lot of talk, and there has been for a number of
years, about natural predators for insects, particularly [grape]
leafhopper and even some of the others, like skeletonizer ,
tortrix, and other things. Primarily, here in Livermore Valley
our only insect predator is leaf hopper. We don't have any
orange tortrixes, grape leaf skeletonizers , or other things, so
we're fortunate in that knock on wood! Livermore Valley has
always been a relatively isolated winegrowing region and has
been somewhat saved from the ravages of the movement of some of
In Monterey County we do see some tortrix and several of
the other things. We were leaf hopper-free down there for a
number of years. It's only been in the last, oh, three to five
years that we've seen a substantial infestation of the grape
leaf hopper, which is too bad. We're also primarily free in
both areas of Pierce 's Disease; I haven't seen Pierce 's Disease
in Livermore, and I don't believe it's been introduced into
Monterey County at this time, although you never know. Again,
knock on wood. That is a substantial advantage for us over the
Napa- Sonoma areas.
Monterey County Varieties
Teiser: Have you changed varieties in Monterey County?
P. Wente: We've done some T-budding down there, primarily Grey Riesling to
Chardonnay, but we have just basically seen the phasing out of
Grey Riesling from where it was once a very popular varietal.
Primarily through the late sixties and seventies Grey Riesling
was popular. I'm not that familiar with the history of it
before then. From what I read and see, and from a lot of our
notes , it was a variety that Wente had made for a number of
years but wasn't necessarily any more popular than Sauvignon
Blanc or Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay or any of the other things we
were making. It was just kind of unique to us, maybe in the
thirties, forties, and fifties. Amerine and Winkler were always
harping about the fact that it was a lower-class variety, and
they really didn't encourage very many people to plant it.
There were only a few wineries that ever made it.
We have grafted all of our Grey Riesling in Monterey over
to Chardonnay, but we continue mostly in that vineyard to focus
on Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer. We have a
very small amount of Chenin blanc down there. We're not really
experimenting with any other varieties in that area. We still
have a substantial amount of Pinot blanc, or what was called
Pinot blanc; we're grandfathered in for the life of the vineyard
to be able to call it Pinot blanc.
You make a varietal Gewurztraminer?
We do, yes, in a limited quantity. If you're not selling it for
$3.99 or $4.99 a bottle, it's very difficult to sell much of a
volume of Gewurztraminer. I think Gallo and Fetzer have been
relatively successful in selling huge quantities of
Gewurztraminer, but it's at a very competitive price. We'd
prefer to sell it in the $8.00 range. We sell a fermented dry
style, and at that rate it's difficult to sell.
Cresta Blanca Vineyards
Teiser: Going back to Cresta Blanca, I read somewhere that when you
bought the land you estimated that it would cost you $10,000 an
acre to plant. Did it?
P. Wente: That's interesting. I hope I wasn't the one who estimated that.
Ten thousand dollars an acre is kind of a common planting figure
that's thrown out by any number of authorities or business
people giving estimates on planting vineyards. One thing I
would say about Cresta Blanca is that the vineyard itself had
been abandoned for a long time.
Teiser: You said Cresta Blanca 's vineyards were abandoned.
P. Wente: Yes, they were abandoned since the early seventies, I guess. We
bought the fruit over there up until maybe '72 or '73. We
purchased the ranch, as I said, in '81, and the most difficult
and probably one of the most expensive aspects was cleaning up
the old vineyard. It was so overgrown, with a lot of oak trees
springing up, typical of anything that's been abandoned for that
length of time. It was heavily overgrown, and it took a long
time to build the land up.
I think our typical vineyard planting expense in the mid-
eighties, with overhead sprinkler irrigation that was installed
there- -that particular vineyard is on its own roots- -probably
was in the four- to five -thousand- dollar- an- acre range to
establish that vineyard. If you want to factor in the expense
of the first three years of care before harvest, you may get it
up to the eight- to ten -thousand -do liar range. There are a lot
of figures about the economics of winegrowing that are thrown
around, but you need to know how they're qualified. [laughs]
I was over there the other day looking around, trying to find
Carolyn's house. I was asking Carolyn if you had any plans to
plant on the hillsides.
I have thought a lot about that. We have fifteen hundred acres
of pasture land that lies between the old Cresta Blanca winery
and this facility here, and a lot of it is a rather steep slope,
and some slope types aren't particularly conducive to planting,
but there a lot of it is moderate slopes that could be planted.
Land Use Planning
P. Wente: I think one of the things that we've been striving very hard to
do here in the valley is to put together a comprehensive, long-
range plan for what we call the Livennore Valley winegrowing
district. We've worked closely with the county, the cities, and
the like in putting together a couple of different very high-
profile plans that we hope will significantly increase the
awareness, the image, and the investment potential of this
valley. If we can achieve these things, and the Livermore
Valley name and appellation- -or we've also applied for San
Francisco Bay appellation- -become significant and well known and
command a premium for those grapes such that it would encourage
additional planting, then I think it would make a lot of sense
to start investigating planting on the hillsides.
In the meantime, I think it may do us well to select
several hillsides and do some small experimental plots to see
what types of grape varieties we can have there. It's been in
the back of my mind for a couple of years now; however, we've
got so many irons in the fire right now with all these
development projects and other things that our resources are
fairly well used up in terms of that type of adventure. So it's
an adventure that's going to have to remain on the back burner
for the time being.
Teiser: You're in an agricultural preserve, aren't you?
P. Wente: Yes, part of our property is and part is not.
Teiser: How much of it is?
P. Wente: Probably three-quarters of it is.
Teiser: Is that good?
P. Wente: It depends on what day of the week it is. What we've actually
done is file for non- renewal on about three hundred acres of our
Williamson Act contracts, and I've done that primarily to keep
the city and county in line. I think sometimes when people are
used to seeing property in a certain state, they begin to take
for granted that it just remains that way rather effortlessly,
and that it's their own personal park rather than my private
property. I think every now and then you have to rattle their
cage a little bit to keep them honest and to make them realize
that things just don't happen that way out of the goodness of
everybody's heart. It's a lot of hard work, and this is a
business. The economics of this business are driven by the
economy and the community and all of the other factors and
influences. They can't just zone us at their whim to be a
permanent agricultural park just because they feel like it.
We're taking steps across the valley right now to make sure
that we drive the direction of the future of this area rather
than the planning commissions and the city councils and the
county supervisors . We intend to do that out of an economic
base by creating plans that are so strongly driven that they
can't be refused.
Teiser: Do you have a general vision for the future of the valley?
P. Wente: We do as a company, or as a family, let's call it. About six
years ago we hired the architectural firm that did the sparkling
wine cellars, Robert Lamb Hart, and had them put together a map
of the south Livermore valley, naming the property owners on
each parcel and outlining what was on those parcels at that
time --which ones were developed, which ones had five -acre homes
on them, which ones were still generally open, and agriculture.
We colored this map in in a variety of colors that would show a
whole variety of potential things happening, from recreation and
parks to vineyard to subdivisions or suburban type development,
and wine use potential.
We took this map on a road show, basically, to the various
interest groups in this valley and in the county. The
supervisors became quite interested in it and funded a $200,000
study to outline what might be done in what we call "this
winegrowing district." Coming out of that they basically
outlined a district that is roughly fifteen thousand acres in
size that now houses approximately two thousand acres of
vineyard in it and a definite potential for, let's say, six to
eight thousand acres of additional vineyard. We don't believe
that 100 percent of anything ever happens , but we do reasonably
believe that maybe four to five thousand acres of that six to
eight thousand acre potential might be put back into vineyards.
So we could end up being somewhere between a five -and six-
thousand-acre planted vineyard district.
At this point we have roughly eight wineries, two of which,
Concannon and Wente , have sizeable national distribution
facilities, and another six small, local, boutique wineries that
are in operation. We felt that if we could attract one or two
more nationally distributed, relatively large-sized- -fifty to a
hundred thousand cases- -type operations, as well as maybe
another ten local boutique-sized wineries, we would have a very
significant winegrowing district that could take its place in
the California scheme of things and be well noted and well
Primarily, this would be driven by the fact that we are in
the Bay Area, and that we are within forty- five minutes of six
million people. Therefore we have a profile that is undeniable;
we have a high visibility that we can't get away from even if we
wanted to . We think that we could take advantage of that high
visibility by creating a very well-thought-out plan and mix of
upscale development; beautiful recreational opportunities, from
equestrian to golf to tennis to using the natural resources- -
such as Lake Del Valle, which is right behind the winegrowing
district, for water sports, to the beautiful Sycamore Grove Park
that runs right down through the middle of the winegrowing
district. The gravel quarry area near Pleasanton, which is
right on the northern boundary of the winegrowing district, has
a potential chain of recreational lakes. Around the year 2000,
most of those are supposed to be deeded over to the Zone 7 water
district for both water storage and recreation. It all lines up
along Arroyo Del Valle, from Sycamore Grove Park- -actually , all
the way from the Del Valle Regional State Park, down the Arroyo
del Valle, and all the way through the gravel pits will be one
long park district with a variety of uses.
The potential there is absolutely outstanding in terms of
what people look for when they want to associate their love,
image, and romance of winegrowing. As we talked about earlier,
no product in the world has the romance of wine. If you want
people to have a high concept of your wine, you've got to create
the image and romance so that when they come to see where the
wine came from, they're literally swept off their feet by the
beauty, the romance, and the activities of the area. I think
Monterey County is a classic example of a region where just
vineyards don't create success; you must create an environment
that enhances the salability of the vineyards. Market-price
grapes in California will never be an economic success; you must
be able to be the winegrowing district that commands a 15 or 20
percent better- than-market-price range for your grapes --or
whatever; maybe 100 percent better. But you must achieve a
With all of these types of thoughts , we set out to put the
first few pieces in place. The first piece of the puzzle that
we thought we would achieve was our sparkling wine cellars- -the
renovation of the old Cresta Blanca winery; a beautiful, first-
class restaurant to put our best face to the world; a conference
center where we could attract executive -level corporations to
hold business meetings and introduce them to Wente Bros, and the
Secondly, we tried to work with Computerland, which
purchased the old Ruby Hill winery and the Hagemann vineyard,
which Almaden had leased since the early forties. They were two
three -hundred- acre parcels that Computerland combined into a
six -hundred -acre parcel and was planning to put a corporate
center there that would be surrounded by vineyards. Well,
Computerland ran into a variety of legal problems and financial
problems and was forced to liquidate the property very rapidly
in order to post a cash bond for some of their legal problems,
so we stepped up to acquire that six hundred acres. Southern
Pacific had owned half of it before that, along with the
Hagemans, who had owned the other half, as 1 mentioned.
We didn't want to see it go through another scenario that
would not lend itself to the environment that we are looking for
for the wine business, so we went out on a limb, so to speak- -it
seemed to be a pretty big limb at the time, and it's turned out
to be a huge limb- -and acquired that. We did some plans, again
with Robert Lamb Hart, put together some concepts for a golf
resort-vineyard complex with a limited housing development.
P. Wente: Yes.
After investigating that concept for a while, we were told it
wasn't enough landsix hundred acres- -to really be an
attractive situation, so we set out to acquire the adjacent
seven -hundred -acre piece that was owned by the archdiocese of
Oakland. Along with a friend and real estate broker, Jack
Bariteau, we were able to acquire an option on that seven
hundred acres .
In the meantime, while we were negotiating this option, we
were successful in bringing together a coalition of Signature
Properties, which is a local northern California home-building
company out of Pleasanton, and the Niclaus Sierra Development
Company out of Tampa. Signature and Niclaus Sierra formed a
joint venture that acquired basically our interest in the
property that we owned and included our option negotiations with
the archdiocese of Oakland, so the option and the property all
came together as one. We retained an interest in that in terms
of what would be the ongoing vineyards and wine operations that
this project would put out.
They began to process their project in 1987, through the
public hearing system in the county planning process. Just two
months ago, in March, they finally received unanimous approval
from the county board of supervisors to proceed with their
project. The project had evolved a variety of times through the
process, but I think when all is said and done it will end up
planting about 700 acres of vineyard, it will renovate the old
True winery, which is now occupied by Fenestra, and it will deed
over 200 acres surrounding the old Ruby Hill winery to Wente
Bros. Wente Bros., with the ownership of that 200 acres and the
Ruby Hill winery, will proceed to renovate the Ruby Hill winery
and plant the 200 acres of the vineyard as part of the project.
The Ruby Hill winery itself?
That was a fine building.
It was a fine building, yes. We believe that is really one of
the cornerstones to our investment in this winegrowing region
here. It strategically occupies the western end of the
winegrowing region. We feel that strategically our sparkling
wine cellars, the old Cresta Blanca facility, occupies the
south-central portion, and all of Wente Bros, estate winery and
vineyard on the eastern side locks down the eastern side fairly
What we then set out to do was to broaden the investment
base in the Livermore Valley by trying to get the county to
change their archaic zoning law that had zoning parcel size
outside the city limits at a hundred-acre minimum. That was
instituted around 1972, and what we tried to point out to the
county was that it was a ridiculous size for zoning; that a
hundred acres was not large enough to support a grazing cattle
ranch, and it was much too large to encourage individual
investment for intensive agriculture, either orchards,
vineyards, or any other such intensive agriculture. We
understood what they were trying to do, which was to stop
parcelization of land and development, but at the same time they
were not creating an agricultural environment.
We did a study of the Napa Valley floor, and over
40 percent of the parcels in the Napa Valley floor in the prime
winegrowing district are twenty acres or less in size. One of
the very significant things about that is that during the late
sixties and all the way through the seventies it allowed a vast
diversity of investment to come into the Napa Valley and
participate in the burden of the wine business, while here in
the Livermore Valley you have two major wineries, Wente and
Concannon, carrying 90 to 95 percent of all the acreage, and the
whole investment is strictly on their shoulders. Should one of
them falter, the whole house of cards is likely to collapse. We
really believe that we can encourage anywhere from twenty to
fifty independent growers to locate here, owning vineyards of a
twenty-acre size, and immediately increase the vineyard acreage
from four hundred to a thousand acres of independent investment,
not any particular one of them solely relying on the fortunes of
At the same time, we believe that we need to further
encourage the type of recreational investment- -golf course,
equestrian- -so we've initiated discussions with some other
developers to bring in additional recreational projects to the
area. One of the things we've done, again on the twenty- acre
vineyard site, is that we got the county to change the zoning,
and we took two hundred acres of our own property and put it
through the process --a project we call Crane Ridge. It received
county approval a year and a half ago, and for the last year and
a half we've been working out all the details with the county
planning staff in order to bring forth this project to the point
of sales. Hopefully within the next month we will receive our
final development map from the county, and within the next sixty
days we'll receive our final real estate subdivision permit from
the state, and we'll actually have a product to sell in order to
test the market for twenty-acre independent vineyard sites. 2
Teiser: Crane Ridge is going to be twenty-acre vineyard sites?
P. Wente: Yes, each with the opportunity to build a primary residence on
it- -a one -acre building site. We believe that's where the
attractiveness of this market is; this is a primary residential
market. Yet if we can take this primary residential market and
allow somebody to live the idyllic country farmer life and still
be able to conduct their primary job in the San Francisco Bay
Area, then we will have created the kind of development --if you
would have it at that- -that would be very positive for the
winegrowing district, rather than helter-skelter suburban
development that brings nothing to the romance of the area.
Teiser: Would they be able to build wineries if they wanted?
P. Wente: Yes. Each of these parcels would be allowed to have a winery
and a small tasting room. We're hoping that this will be a
success. We've obviously run into a slow market, which has been
rather difficult, but such is life in the cycles of business.
Earthquake Damage . 1980
Teiser: I want to put in a mention of the earthquake damage of 1989.
Was that a notable occurrence?
P. Wente: It was not a particularly notable occurrence for us. January
1980 is when we were hit with severe earthquake damage. There
was a quake on the Greenville fault here in Livermore about
three miles epicenter from the winery. Every stainless steel
tank in the winery that had wine in it was severely damaged. We
lost thirty to forty thousand gallons of wine down the gutters .
We had several of our glass-lined tanks our old bottling
tanks- -tip over and burst open. We lost a minimal amount of
cased inventory, fortunately; we found that we only lost several
hundred cases of cased inventory. We were very fortunate in
terms of overall wine loss. We had probably four million
gallons in the winery at the time, so to lose thirty or forty
thousand gallons was not substantial. We had 175,000 cases of
cased inventory, so to lose a couple of hundred cases there was
2 The permit was granted.
But the dollar damage in terms of the structure of the
stainless steel tanks probably ended up running us in the long
term maybe three million dollars.
Teiser: Were you covered?
P. Wente: No. We spent about two million dollars in repairs, and we still
have substantial amount of damage that has never been repaired.
The only problem with it is that it's still wine -tight, but it's
substantially weakened, and if there were another such
occurrence it could fail.
Teiser: Did you strengthen some?
P. Wente: The ones we repaired and the ones that weren't damaged we
strengthened. We did extensive work with Valley Foundry, Santa
Rosa Stainless Steel, and the University of California at
Berkeley in determining at what level it was practical and
economical to strengthen tanks . They did a lot of research for
the industry and in those term were very helpful. Valley
Foundry couldn't have been better about the whole thing and
worked with us very closely to rebuild a lot of our tanks.
Grape Sources and Nurseries
Teiser: What percentage of your grapes and wine do you produce from your
P. Wente: Let's say from the 1990 vintage, 100 percent of the wines we
produced would either be from our vineyards or vineyards that we
managed- -that we have a contractual arrangement for, and we do
all the farming operations, so it qualifies as estate-grown or
estate -bottled wines. We're actually selling off this year
close to two thousand tons, and maybe even more than that, to
other wineries, so we're becoming a substantial grape seller,
and that's also been one of our primary plans to go along with
this whole creation of a winegrowing district, both for Monterey
and Livermore. We feel it's equally important to market the
quality of our vineyards as it is to market the quality of our
brand name. Therefore we also believe that if Livermore Valley
is ever to take its place as a noted winegrowing district, noted
wines have to be made from it. They have to come from wineries
other than those just here in the valley, so one of our primary
projects is to try to find wineries that are interested in
producing vines made from Livermore Valley grapes and to place
those grapes with those wineries.
Teiser: You do the same in Monterey County?
P. Vente: Yes, we do. We believe the same promotional values exist on
Teiser: Do you buy wine?
P. Wente: Through the eighties we did a variety of things, from buying
grapes to buying wine . One of the primary wines we used to buy
was Cabernet, because our Cabernet vineyards weren't planted
here until about '82. We didn't get our first vintage of
Cabernet out on a national release basis for eight years, so
Cabernet was pretty much purchased grapes or purchased wines.
But now all the wines we are selling are coming from our own
vineyards or these vineyards such as the Raboli vineyard that we
operate and have a long-term management contract with.
Teiser: So you have a great deal of control. This leads in a way to
your long-established nursery business. Where are your
P. Wente: Our nurseries, which are probably more correctly termed
"registered increase blocks," are in the Arroyo Seco vineyard in
Monterey County or Salinas Valley. If anything, we have cut
down on our overall certified nursery acreage, and in the last
couple of years we've gone through a little bit of change.
We're trying to bring in some varieties that we consider might
be gaining more popularity or more interest. We've planted some
of the Rhone varietals such as Sirah, Grenache, Viognier,
Marsanne. We've also are looking into planting some of the
Italian primary varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese,
Dolcetto, Barbera. We're looking also at Pinot gris , which is
not necessarily of any particular country of origin. It's like
Pinot blanc, a knock- off of Pinot noir, and they grow it in
Italy, Austria, Hungary, Burgundy, and also in Alsace.
Teiser: It was very popular in Italy some years ago, and I don't know
whether it's maintained its popularity there or not.
P. Wente: It has, although it's kind of controversial subject. To my mind
the Italians are selling a lot of what they call Pinot Grigio to
the United States. However, I think there are some serious
doubts that it is all really produced out of Pinot gris.
We're trying to keep our nurseries dynamic. The last two
years we've paid a lot of attention to them, but I will say that
we probably were a little bit remiss in keeping them up to date
over the five previous years.
Teiser: The nurseries must give you some prestige. I know some people
have said with pride that their stock had come from your family.
P. Wente: I agree. I think there is a lot of prestige in having clones
named after us, although I don't know how scientific that really
is, if there is such a thing as the Wente clone. There's a
nomenclature going around the industry on Chardonnay, Sauvignon
blanc, and Semillon that there is a Wente clone of those three
varieties. We have done a lot, I think, for the industry in the
amount of cuttings we have put out of our nursery and how hard
we have worked, especially in the early days with the Foundation
Plant Service and propagating a lot of these clones. I think we
will have a rededicated effort to that in the future.
Teiser: You worked with some chemical companies or some other private
P. Wente: We've always done some experimental work in the past. When I
was fresh out of college we had a lot of test plots going on,
both with the University and a variety of chemical companies,
from FMC to Dow and other people, testing nematicides,
fungicides, and other things. We continue to do that on a real
minor scale. 1 can't think of any major experimental blocks
that we have going right now with anybody. We have really cut
back on our reliance on chemicals. We would just as soon use a
grape mildicide, whether it's sulfur or some other product, a
variety of brand names, and try to avoid most of the
insecticides, herbicides, and other things as much as we
possibly can. We have quit fumigating soils for nematodes
before planting. At this point all we're doing is rotating
crops here in the Livermore Valley with alfalfa for four or five
years and then going back in with vines and relying on the
rootstock to be able to battle the soil-born pests. We think
the commercial fumigants are just basically too dangerous to be
playing with at this point.
Teiser: Do you grow your own rootstock?
P. Wente: Yes.
Teiser: That puts you in a very strong position, doesn't it?
P. Wente: Well, we've really concentrated on growing a lot of 39-16, 43-43
A x R y/1, and St. George. We are starting to grow more Freedom,
5BB, S04, Teleki 5C, and, oh gee, a couple of other ones. We're
not really in a production stage with any of those yet. It's
been a long pull trying to get into the production stage with
39-16, and we're there now. We really feel that is the
rootstock of the future for Livermore Valley. I don't think it
necessarily is for everywhere, but it certainly appears to be
the most promising thing, as we discussed earlier, for xiphenima
Traditionally rootstock has been developed by separate growers ,
There are a lot of nurseries still operating in the state that
do a lot to sell bench grafts, rootstocks, rootings, cuttings;
you name it, and they'll do it for you.
The Wine Institute and Marketing Orders
Would you discuss the industry in general?
board of the Wine Institute.
You've been on the
Yes, I took my father's seat, so I've been on since March 1977.
I've served on the executive committee of the Wine Institute
since that time as well. I've participated on the board of
directors of what was the marketing order: I was chairman of
the California Wine Commission. I was sad to see the demise of
the Wine Commission, but those things happen. I also serve on
the board of directors of AWARE right now. I'm chairman of the
health and social issues committee of the Wine Institute. So I
keep my finger in the pie pretty well. [laughs]
Is it you or your brother who has been on the social issues--?
He was chairman of the social issues committee for about eight
years, and then two years ago I took his place.
What do you think about marketing orders in the future?
I think we probably have the power in the next couple of years
to put another marketing order together. However, I think the
industry seems to be a little bit divisive right now, and I'm
not really sure why. We're talking about maybe 250 wineries.
The balance of the other 500 wineries aren't really crushing
enough tons that they're influencing much. Still, when you
consider the overall figures, I think it's the top twelve or
fifteen wineries that are crushing 90 percent of the tonnage, so
we're really talking about 10 percent of the tonnage for those
other 240 or 230. The numbers are really rather skewed in this
To have a voluntary organization probably makes the best
statement. If everybody would just pull together, we'd be so
much better off. But when you have that big a group, you're
going to have a lot of different personalities, and you're
always bound to run into some dissension; that's just a fact of
life. This is a pluralistic society, and sometimes I'm amazed
at how Congress does it.
I think the future of the Wine Institute is still very
bright. If anything, I think there is probably an immediate
potential for a research marketing order- -something to fund:
basic research at Fresno State, University of California at
Davis , and perhaps some medical research at the same time , which
is a field that the industry has never had very concrete funding
for, but which I certainly think they would do themselves well
to get into. If we can collect some $2 million a year for
something like that, I think we should be proud of ourselves.
But I think we should be embarrassed with ourselves at the state
we're in right now; collecting two, three, four hundred thousand
dollars a year, an industry this size should be completely
I see a curious parallel. Early on, in the late thirties, there
was dissension in the Wine Institute because some members
thought too much attention was being paid to small wineries like
Wente and others. Some of the big wineries thought the Wine
Institute was promoting the small ones because of the romantic
aspect and shouldn't do it. Now there is again this small
winery versus larger winery antagonism.
The Institute is aware of that, and a lot of it stems from the
Wine Commission. The Institute spent about six months doing an
industrywide survey. It hired a professional consultant to come
in and try to get the pulse of the membership. What it
basically showed was that the number one thing that the
membership wanted was for the Institute to stay on top of public
policy in its various echelons- -local, state, and federal
government and international public policy- -to influence
whatever trade barriers might restrict our industry or whatever
new type of laws might try to restrict our society.
At the same time they felt that the health, research, and
education fields were areas that the industry was best off to
participate in on an industrywide basis as well. They had a
fairly strong feeling that those should be things that the
Institute or a trade organization should take care of.
There was a very mixed feeling on promotion. I think the
general bottom line that was decided was that the Institute
would no longer conduct any type of promotional activities; the
promotion of a branded product is best left to the brands. It's
not like strawberries or table grapes or raisins or the Milk
Advisory Board, where it's a commodity product. Vine is not a
commodity product, and it never will be.
Teiser: Going back again, after Repeal there was a very effective
industrywide promotion, including small wineries.
P. Wente: At that time there weren't really any big, instant wineries.
There were a lot of people who all of a sudden started shipping
tons of wine around. It took until the late thirties or early
forties before things really sorted out into a few larger
players. I think when you have almost a start-up industry,
there's a lot of opportunity for industrywide promotions, and I
think the Institute, even in the fifties, sixties, and seventies
did some nice generalized promotions. But moving away from
things like the California Wine Queen, Wine Week, and other
things, the industry has become a lot more sophisticated than
that. I think the awareness of the brands and the power of the
individual brandswhen you consider that Gallo sells over
30 percent of all the wine sold in the United States, there's
tremendous power in individual brands. Generic marketing
becomes difficult at that stage.
We did a generic marketing program for the Wine Commission.
We spent $700,000 in one year, and we picked out several test
markets. I believe it was Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and
one other one. It showed that we did have a significant effect.
We did some limited radio and television advertising, newspaper
and publications, and saturation in the marketplace. There was
a measurable effect, though not necessarily totally significant
in a statistical analysis in all cases. What it also showed was
that to roll out such a program nationwide and to have a
substantial effect would have cost the industry on the order of
anywhere from fifteen to twenty million dollars. We could have
had a very effective generic wine -market ing program, and we
would have had to sustain it for five to ten years.
That should say something very positive to the industry.
If the industry was really interested in its long-term health
they might well be advised to do something like that, but this
industry has never raised that kind of money and likely never
will. There are two many mavericks, and there is too much
weight resting on one brand. If we were going to raise fifteen
million dollars, the Gallos would probably be coming up with
seven million of it. I'm not sure they're willing to spend
seven million dollars at that point to everybody else's benefit.
I mean, they've always been very generous in funding most of the
activities of the Wine Institute, the Wine Commission, and the
industry affairs. I think it's an unfair burden, actually, to
ask one company to put up that much, particularly when they may
represent 30 or 35 percent of the volume but don't represent the
same amount of the revenue. Most of the statistics today show
that the premium wine segment has achieved some 60 percent of
the revenue now, even though it's still only 35 or 40 percent of
the volume .
Teiser: I keep asking if there wouldn't be an advantage to all the wine
industry if somehow generic wines of the Central Valley were
promoted harder, just to keep people drinking wine.
P. Wente: Like the French system or the Italian system. I would agree
with you on the basis of concept, but you should probably take
reasonable varieties that can be grown in those areas , things
like Olmo made --Ruby cabernet. His Ruby cab is really a nice,
heavy-bodied red wine out of the Central Valley. Maybe we
should be looking at things like the Italians do, like
Trebbiano, or like the French Muscadelle, or wines from the
Midi. They're not trying to grow Chardonnay or Pinot noir in
the south of France in order to produce the average table wine,
but they are growing grape varieties that produce average table
wine. They market it in milk crates and put it by your back
door, you drink the bottles and put them back out in the milk
crate, and a guy comes and takes them away again. (This is
strictly my imagination.)
That would be wonderful, and that's probably what we could
accomplish if we all agreed to a twenty-million-dollar-a-year
generic wine program. However, I guess we're all just too
short-sighted and profit-oriented- -profit-oriented with tongue
in cheek, because we're not doing anything to change the basic
societal outlook of the U.S. I think until we do --one of my
favorite analogies is that wine is only heavily consumed in
wine -producing regions, and I think if you look around the world
you'll find that to be true. In Chile they drink a lot of wine,
but they grow a lot of wine. In California we drink a lot of
wine. If the rest of the United States drank wine like
California does [per capita consumption would be a lot higher] .
[tape off; phone interruption]
Teiser: You've been on the county flood control and water conservation
board. Does that fit in with your whole planning interest?
P. Wente: I think water certainly is a very important topic, and it's very
important to us, but I also think it's been a family tradition
to have some civic volunteerism, and this has been my part.
Teiser: Similarly, I suppose your reports in the Wines and Vines annual
vineyard issue was a--
F. Wente: 1 did that because, at least for quite a long time, there was
nobody else in the Livermore Valley who was going to fill that
out. We didn't have a farm advisor; we're a small district, and
there was nobody else to take that on. Phil Hiaring probably
didn't know where else to go. It's a lot like when I was
appointed to the regional water quality control board by
Governor [Jerry] Brown and served there for seven years. I did
that more out of interest. I thought it was a fascinating
position, and I learned a lot. I hope I gave as much back as I
gained, but I certainly gained a lot from the experience.
Teiser: Are you on any other public boards?
P. Wente: No, at this time I'm not.
Visions for the Future
Teiser: Is there more that you'd like to say?
P. Wente: We talked a lot about where we've come from, the vision of Wente
Bros., and where we're going. I really feel like an individual
who's probably fairly average. I don't claim to have been a
scholar or a stellar achiever at the University. However, I did
well, I got out, and I did what I had to do. What I would
really like to see in the University is a lot more emphasis from
them on the education of their students, at least in this field,
in terms of marketing, worldwide international vision of the
product, the health and social issues side of the product. I
don't think that these students are prepared to be in the wine
"business." I was prepared to make wine, but I knew nothing of
the wine business. There should be a whole other section of
that department that is mandatory for these students to be
educated with when they come out.
All the things we're going through now in terms of vision
and direction for the winery are things that I should have done
fifteen years ago. They're visions that I should have developed
at school, or at least had images put in my mind a little bit,
been challenged by seeing operations from France and Italy, or
have guest lecturers like Piero Antinori, Robert Mondavi, or
some great visionary of the industry who would pique our
curiosity and our minds to be able to put together a scenario
like we just talked about- -how you would get great everyday
table wines out of the Central Valley and how we would market
these to the acceptance of everybody, and not to have one
segment of our society with its nose so high up in the air they
can't see, while the other segment of our society disdains them.
How do you bring all these people together, and how do you
create a product that's going to mesh in this?
For me it's been difficult to mesh all of the production
side of what I learned in my life with the vision of where I
wanted the family business to go. As I said earlier, I think
that's the one side of communicating with my father that I
completely missed. Eric and Carolyn and I have kind of created
our own direction or image of where we think we want the family
to go, although based somewhat on what we perceived as the past
history from things like reading your oral history with Ernest
and that type of thing.
We believe that we want to be the best. We want to produce
the best wine, and we want to grow it ourselves. We want to
grow as a company but not necessarily in volume as much as in
prestige and revenue.
ERIC P. WENTE
Eric Wente was born in Livermore in 1951, the elder son of Jean R.
and Karl L. Vente. Having attended the local schools and worked after
school and during vacations on his family property, he continued his
education at Stanford University, receiving a B.S. in chemistry. He
went on to the University of California at Davis to study viticulture
and enology and obtained a graduate degree in food science. With his
brother, he assumed leadership of Wente Bros, following the death of
their father in 1977. He became president, with special responsibility
for production management.
The interview took place in his office at the estate winery.
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
(Please write clearly. Use black ink.)
Your full name
Date of birth
Father's full name
Mother's full name
Where did you grow up ?
Present community /y
Occupation (s) >
Areas of expertise
Other interests or activities
oU M> , _*t^<L
I ' ' I ~0
Organizations in which you are active
Eric Wente, circa 1990
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC P. WENTE
SCHOOL AND COLLEGE YEARS, 1951-1974
[Date of Interview: June 27,
Teiser: You and Phil are only a year apart, aren't you?
Yes, sixteen to seventeen months.
Where and when were you born?
I was born here in Livermore on June 25, 1951. I believe I was
born at St. Paul's Hospital.
Where did your family live?
When the winery was started and where my grandfather was brought
up was within a hundred yards of where we are sitting now. The
house was just off to my left about a hundred yards. In about
1925 to 1927, Uncle Herman built a house across the street from
the winery here, and my grandfather built a house at the corner of
what is now Wente Street and Marina. So my father was born and
raised in the house over off of Marina. Then when my father first
got married to my mother, he lived in Louis Mel's old house, which
is about a mile from here, half way between here and my
grandfather's house, where Phil now lives.
We lived in the old Mel house until I was ten years old, and
then in 1961 my parents built a new house up the hill a little bit
from the Mel house in the same area. I lived in that house from
1961 until going away to school and coming back and doing our own
thing, my wife and I.
Where did you go to school in Livermore?
I vent to grammar school and high school in LIvermore. I attended
Livermore High, where my grandfather and great -aunts and uncles
all attended high school. My father attended high school there,
and Phil, Carolyn, and I all attended high school there. At this
point, both of my kids are in high school there.
Did you have any particular interests while you were in school?
Philip and 1 were both in 4-H when we were in grammar school. We
raised steers and took them down to the local fair once a year--
those types of projects. In high school I played sports. A lot
of our time that we weren't in school or playing sports, we worked
for our grandfather on the cattle ranch or worked a lot of days
here in the vineyards and things like that. There were lots of
things to keep busy.
Did you work around the winery in high school?
No, we only worked in the vineyards and the cattle ranch in high
school. It was easier, because at that time we were working six
days a week in the vineyard, and Granddad didn't mind working any
time he could get hold of somebody to work. That fit in with the
school schedule more than the winery, which runs on a much more
standard production schedule then and now- -five days a week, eight
to four-thirty (now seven to five-thirty). That's a lot harder to
fit in than, "Okay, I have this Saturday and next Saturday free,
so this is what I want to do."
What did you do in the vineyards?
Drive a tractor, change sprinkler pipe, different projects in the
farm shop. For Granddad it would be chase cows, set fence, repair
fence, haul livestock around, spray livestock- -sort of general
farm and ranch work.
Did your interests ever draw you more towards livestock than wine?
No, not really. I still ride horses a lot and still enjoy the
whole activity. Probably one of the things in school that I was
most interested in was chemistry, and I don't really know why I
got started in it. Pretty much by the time I was starting high
school 1 had my mind made up that what I wanted to study was
chemistry, so in college that's what I majored in. At the time it
really wasn't because I thought that was going to be a good
foundation for being in the wine business; it was just that I
wanted to study chemistry.
Your father was interested in chemistry, too, wasn't he?
E. Wente: Yes, I think he was a microbiology major.
Teiser: Didn't he study chemistry at Stanford?
E. Wente: Yes. To be a microbiology major, you had to study chemistry.
It's like all pre-meds have to take chemistry up to a certain
level. Most science majors require you to take a certain amount
of chemistry. But I don't believe he was a specific chemistry
major in school.
Teiser: Did you take any trips or anything before you went to Stanford?
Did you have a break before high school and college?
E. Wente: The usual three months in the summer, but no, I didn't take six
months or a year off and do something. I just went straight on.
I guess it was after my junior year in high school that as a
family we took a month trip to Europe, which was more in terms of
touring all the major cities as opposed to, "Let's go look at
wineries," or "Let's be involved in wine activities." Other than
that, no, it was pretty much every summer working in the
vineyards. I took some time off for vacation and maybe went up to
Granddad's house at Tahoe , but otherwise there wasn't any time
Stanford University. 1969-1973
Teiser: What year did you go to Stanford?
E. Wente: I started at Stanford in 1969 and graduated in the winter quarter
Teiser: Did you enjoy Stanford in any special way?
E. Wente: It was a good experience, and I enjoyed it very much. I don't
know if you could say anybody is an average student or not an
average student, not necessarily in grade-point averages but just
in what you do. I think I by and large had a reasonably typical
experience. I was a chemistry major and spent a lot of time in
the labs there. One of the things you find out, versus being an
English major, is that chemistry majors spent a huge amount of
time in labs for not very many units. The old chemistry building
is now closed; the last earthquake pretty much finished off the
occupancy, and I don't know what they're going to do with it.
I lived in the dorms as a freshman, and I lived in a
fraternity house for the next three years.
Teiscr: What was your fraternity?
E. Wente: Zeta Psi. It's an institution that's no longer active on campus
at Stanford. I spent six months living in England as part of the
Stanford overseas program in the summer and fall of 1972, and that
was a good experience.
Teiser: Did you study chemistry there, too?
E. Wente: No, Stanford would bring professors from Stanford to the overseas
campus, but typically it leaned more towards history, political
science, communications --things that you could get a broader
spectrum of people into. There weren't any chemistry classes per
se offered there.
Teiser: Then you came back to the campus?
E. Wente: Exactly. I came back for one quarter. Having had the summer
quarter that year, and with all the rest of the units I had
accumulated, all I needed in winter quarter of 1973 was one three -
unit class to complete my major. So I went to school for the
winter quarter and didn't go to school for spring quarter because
I didn't need the additional units.
Teiser: By the time you started studying chemistry at Stanford, did you
make a connection with the wine industry or winemaking?
E. Wente: Actually, the entire time I was going to school at Stanford I
still worked in the vineyards and on the cattle ranch; I didn't
ever work inside the winery until after I got out of Davis.
During the time I was at Stanford, when we were traveling in
England I visited one winery in Switzerland for an afternoon, and
that was about the extent of any winery visits. Until about two
years ago I had never even visited any wineries in France, and
maybe one or two wineries in Germany at different points, so by
and large I don't have all that much experience outside of
California in what wineries look like, different types of
winemaking techniques, and that type of thing.
Teiser: When you graduated, you went to Davis?
E. Wente: I spent six months between Stanford and Davisspring quarter and
a summer --working here. That was my first sort of inside job; I
was bookkeeper for six months here.
Teiser: Had you had any experience in business management?
E. Wente: As controller or chief financial officer, no, I was not doing
that; I was a bookkeeper. At that point we were running on a
totally hand system, so you spent most of your time writing into
the ledgers what check was issued, who it was issued to, the
amount. It was a classical double -entry bookkeeping system, where
you kept your accounts in balance, and there was a written system
and chart of accounts. If you studied it a little bit, it wasn't
too hard to figure out how to make the system work. At the end of
the year the auditors would come in and make all the journal
entries and adjustments, and you'd book those and close it out.
It was more of a rote task than needing a lot of creative business
management or something else to deal with it.
Teiser: Was it good to know that, though?
E. Vente: It was good to understand the systems of the operation and how
things work. I think it's been a valuable experience overall in
understanding what's behind the scenes.
Teiser: Was this your father's decision as to what you should do?
E. Wente: Actually, at that point in time what I was looking for was a job
for six months, and he just turned over bookkeepers, so he was
looking around and figured that I would make a good fill-in until
he could get organized with a new bookkeeper. So I kept books
through the summer, and by the end of the summer he had found
somebody. I spent the first three months while I was at Davis
driving back on Thursdays, when I didn't have any class, to make
sure that she was figuring out how to keep the books properly and
get it all lined up.
Teiser: So you had some supervisory experience, too.
E. Wente: A little bit.
UC Davis. 1973-1974
Teiser: What did you do at Davis? What did you study especially?
E. Wente: I was in viticulture and enology.
Teiser: Who did you work with?
E. Wente: The research project I had as part of obtaining my degree I did
for Professor [Harold W. ] Berg and his assistant, Min Akioshi. I
started at Davis in September of 1973, and I managed to get a
master's degree in one year. I think I was probably one of the
few people who did that; it's usually a two-year program. Based
on all the chemistry I had had at Stanfordand for a lot of the
other prerequisites they wanted for a master's degree I was able
to show I had already had quite a bit of graduate level
biochemistry. The few courses that I couldn't cover, I picked up
outside of the enology department while I was at Davis, and then I
took almost every enology and viticulture class, except that I
didn't take the distilling class from Jim [Dr. James F. ] Guymon,
which I wish I had done. But I couldn't fit them all in, and that
wasn't one that I needed to graduate.
Teiser: You certainly must have gone well prepared, at least with a good
speaking acquaintance with viticulture and with your chemistry.
E. Wente: Yes. You get into the viticulture classes at Davis, and the light
sort of goes on for why you were doing some of the things that you
were doing working in the vineyard: "Oh, okay, I understand what
the science is behind it, as opposed to the practical effects of
it." It's a little bit like when they talked about winemaking at
Davis and what they were teaching about fermentation. They were
not really making too much of which is the suction end of a pump
and how you get the wine or juice from one tank to the next and
things like that. Those were all sort of processes that weren't
really covered. But you spent a lot of time studying what types
of yeast did produce what types of fermentations or byproducts,
what all the metabolic cycles were, and this type of thing, which
is good background, but it's not something that I use terribly
often. The more practical side of it at this point is how you get
the production system to flow the way you want it to.
WENTE BROS., 1974-1991
Final Years Under Karl L. Vente . 1974-1977
Teiser: When did you first get your experience in the winery?
E. Wente: In 1974 I got back from school, and Dad put me in the lab. He
said, "You now know all the latest techniques and analyses, so
here's the lab. You run that." I moved out of Davis about the
second or third of September and started back here right after
Labor Day. I started into the first harvest here and started
learning the basic systems of how we were making wine and how
all the processing activities went through here at Wente Bros.
I spent the next couple of years doing that and being in effect
the winemaker production manager for Wente Bros.
Teiser: When was that?
E. Wente: From 1974 until 1977.
Teiser: Was your father a hard taskmaster?
E. Wente: Oh, yes. He had the classic Monday morning routine of, "Let's
get going for the week." He wanted to have a lot of ground
covered, and he'd lay out what he wanted done. If you went away
and did it, that was great, and if it wasn't getting done fast
enough, it was, "Come on, let's get the balloon off the ground
and get going here." That was one of his favorite sayings. He
wanted everybody to keep hustling; that was one of his major
prerequisites, that everybody had to be hustling. If you were
walking across the yard, "Walk like you mean to get to the other
side." "Don't amble around; I want to see people who are moving
like they mean to get where they are going and intend to do
something when they get there."
E . Wente
Did he plan a series of jobs for you with the idea of your being
in charge of production entirely? What was his plan for you?
I don't know too much of it. Working in grade school, high
school, and college, by and large the farm area was the easiest
to work in because there was a lot of stuff that you could add
on during that time. Like during the summer we did a lot of
tractor driving, but you didn't need the tractor drivers a lot
of the rest of the year anyway, so it was sort of a nice
addition that we could cover a lot of ground in the summer
driving a tractor. But when you're running the winery and the
bottling lines and stuff on an ongoing basis, there didn't turn
out to be as much need, really, or space and flexibility, so I
think it wound up that the best way to deal with things was
Coming back from school, having studied more heavily the
winemaking side and chemistry background, it seemed like the
natural thing to start into the production activities. I was
doing that fairly steadily, really without all that much change
in what I was doing from when I started to when he died. At
that point there was a fairly radical change in what I was doing
compared to the three years after 1 came back from Davis. It
was really about two and a half years, from September of 1974 to
January of 1977. During those three harvests, '74, '75, '76, we
were just making the wine, getting the wine through the whole
program and into the bottle, onto the loading dock, and keeping
all that area running.
In that period, who set the criteria?
Who tasted, for one
Then as now it was a tasting committee for a lot of things.
Each year at the end of harvest we'd review all the wines that
we had made. You'd have the vineyard managers, the winemaking
and production people. For example, at that time it would have
been Cecil Aguirre, who was running our vineyards in Livermore;
Ralph Riva, who was then running our vineyards in Greenfield- -if
Ralph happened to be up during a given tasting, myself, Dad, Bob
Detjens, our plant engineer, and then depending who else was
around. There might have been other people, including Granddad;
he came to almost all the tastings.
Your grandfather participated in the tastings?
Yes, virtually always he did. After Philip was out of school he
started participating in the tastings. So there was a group
participating in them. If there was any sort of final decision
that needed to be made that wasn't a consensus, at that point
Dad was making the decisions. He had the ultimate view of what
he wanted to achieve, so if was a matter of choosing between
this or that, that was typically his decision and went from
Teiser: Could you perceive what your father was looking for? What were
his goals for the winery, for the wines, for production?
E. Wente: Between him and Grandfather, they were intent on expanding the
size of the business- -things like the acquisition of the
property in Greenfield. They were looking ahead and having some
concern at that time about how long they might actually be able
to have a significant farming and winery operation in Livermore,
so in the early sixties, about 1961 and 1962, they had started
purchasing property down in Greenfield and started to develop
that into vineyard. By the 1970s, it looked like the situation
in Livermore was a little bit more stable. There was never any
discussion at the point when I was out of school about moving
out of Livermore. We were looking at how we could expand. In
point of fact, we were just starting into a fairly major
expansion, where we were seeing our sales grow fairly
significantly. We were in a fairly big expansion mode for
production activities, and we were trying to focus on being able
to make top-quality wine, the major focus on white wine. Still
the major portion of our business is white wine.
In the middle sixties, stainless steel was just coming on
as being available and useful for tanks and jacketed fermenters.
We had some of the first jacketed fermenters that Valley Foundry
built. I can remember in the late fifties and early sixties
still having a lot of the grapes delivered in lug boxes and
dumping the lug boxes into the crushers. So in the sixties
there was a lot of change in the winery and change from
equipment that had been there for quite some time.
By 1974, coming back from school, we had some major rehab
and revamping of things. I remember in the early sixties
helping during the summer to tear down the old winery building- -
an "inside" job, if you will. We tore down the old redwood
winery building and built the first of our tilt-up barrel rooms.
In 1975 and 1976 we demolished the last of what was to me the
older winery. The buildings had been built in the thirties,
actually not any of the old 1883 -vintage buildings- -and
building it all back up with the concrete tilt-up that we have
now. That whole process had been started in the early sixties
and was being carried through to the current configuration of
the winery and buildings. We basically finished building it out
in about 1980 or 1981.
Your father's death was pretty much in the middle of that
expansion, then. Did you know what he was planning?
E. Wente: Well, the basic flow of business was fairly obvious. At the
time, in the seventies, our major products were Grey Riesling
and Le Blanc de Blancs--the Chenin Blanc. That was where the
wine popularity was at the time . We had been making Sauvignon
Blanc and Chardonnay varietal wines since Repeal. We were
probably the first producers and shippers of varietal Sauvignon
Blanc and Chardonnay after Repeal. They continued throughout,
and today particularly Chardonnay is a major part of our line.
The old-style California wineries used to have huge product
lines. If you'd see all the products on the shelf, you could
have two foot of shelf for all the products. You'd have
chablis, burgundy, ros6, and then Chenin Blanc, Grey Riesling,
Johannisberg Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir,
Zinfandel, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon,
Chateau Wente, Late Harvest Riesling, and in the late forties
and early fifties we were making some Ugni Blanc. We had lots
of different things that we were doing. Over the years we've
been bringing the size of the product line down and focusing
more, but in the mid- seventies we were on a fairly heavy
expansion program as our sales of all of our wines were growing
quite rapidly at that point.
Teiser: I was remembering Ugni Blanc because I read recently about a
planting of Trebbiano toscano in the Livermore Valley. It's the
same thing, isn't it?
E. Wente: Yes. Ugni blanc or Trebbiano are the same grape varieties.
[Planted by] Ivan Tamas . As far as I know it was the first
shipment of a Trebbiano label.
Teiser: Getting back to your varieties, I don't suppose it was a
problem, because you were used to it, but in a winery producing
so many wines, and bottling and warehousing- -
Teiser: Was it a big job to keep that many wines going?
E. Wente: The classic answer is yes and no. When I got back from school,
the systems were already in place on most of that, and everybody
was pretty well organized on how we were doing it. Clearly
there were a few items that were big, big volume items, and a
lot of other items were a lot smaller in size. At that time our
business was virtually all U.S. business and virtually all
through one sales channel into the U.S., so it was a little bit
simpler than business is today.
Teiser: Parrott & Co.?
E. Wente: Yes. This morning one of the reasons why I was a little bit
late is that we had just gotten an inquiry for an export
project, and we're trying to figure out how we can get the
pricing and the delivery and everything lined up. We're seeing
more and more of our business today in odd lots- -not odd lots,
but it's in more individually planned and executed wines. Let's
say that Sauvignon Blanc --right now by our terminology it would
be our estate -grown Sauvignon Blanc blend, but for Canada it
requires a CSPC number on it; CSPC is the Product Code
terminology for Canada. For Finland it requires different
labeling on the outside of the case; for selling to the U.S.
military it requires a different shipping program. All of these
things make it more difficult today. There are many, many more
transactions today to get the job done than there were in the
mid-seventies and early eighties. I would phrase it that life
was simpler then than it is now.
Teiser: Even though you have fewer wines?
E. Wente: Even though we have fewer wines. At that time you had ten wines
but smaller lots, and you bottled the whole quantity when it was
ready to bottle. Then you put it in the warehouse, and then you
shipped against it. When that was gone and the next vintage
came up, you bottled the whole quantity again, put it in the
warehouse, and you shipped against it. Today we're trying to
judge how much wine we should not bottle, in case we get orders
that we have to do something different with, or how much we
should bottle with no labels on it and keep it in the warehouse
and then pick it up and label it for the order. All of these
things get to be more time-consuming, more hassle, and more
expensive than the mid- seventies , "This week we're going to run
all the Sauvignon Blancs and Semillons for the year. Let's
bottle it all and put it in the warehouse. The next week we're
going to do half of the Johannisberg Riesling blend, bottle it,
and put it in the warehouse. The next week we're going to do
ros6." It was a simpler production scheduling situation then,
and the efficiencies for operation because of that were better
than they are now.
Teiser: You have simplified your wine list. How do you decide what to
make and what not to make, what to drop and what to keep?
E. Wente: Several different sources of input. First, you can say there
are the things we choose to make because we like to make them.
As a wine man, as a wine family, and as a winemaker there are
certain things that you say have always been the core of our
business, or these are the statement or image that we are trying
Also, one of Grandfather's favorite sayings from time to
time was, "Eating is habit forming, a habit that's very hard to
break." Therefore you need to make things that people want to
buy. You go out and ask what is in the marketplace that people
are interested in, what they are buying. Right now, today,
Chardonnay, Cabernet, and White Zinfandel in the varietal wines
are clearly the most popular. In the mid-1970s, Riesling and
Chenin Blanc were the most popular. So you may trend some of
your production towards what are the more successful and popular
items at the time, but basically, throughout the history of
Wente Bros., we have been a coastal vineyard and wine production
organization. We're trying to produce what we think are some of
the best qualities of wines that can be made in California,
according to our opinion of type and style. We're trying to use
the best grapes and do the best job in the vineyards that we
can, and then do the best job in the winery that we can for the
That's been our focus, and within that focus you say, "What
is it that looks like I can sell more of this year? Should I be
trending up in my Chardonnay, or should I be trending down in my
Chenin Blanc," which is right now the case. Or, in the mid-
seventies, "Should I be trending up in Chenin Blanc and
basically keeping my Chardonnay sales static because there isn't
as much demand for the Chardonnay?" Those are some of the
things that you take more of a marketing hat (or telescope) to
look at, rather than the production hat (or telescope).
Then you get certain things that there can be discussions
about, something like Pinot Blanc: what really is Pinot Blanc
right now? It's not totally clear whether what Davis and the
industry in California identified twenty years ago as Pinot
Blanc and what they would say is Pinot Blanc today are
potentially two different things, so you say that maybe Pinot
Blanc is not something you want to be in right at the moment.
If they change the name and therefore your vineyard becomes
something that is not what you were marketing, is that something
you want to put a lot of effort into? The answer is probably
no; the risk is too high versus the turnaround.
Camay Beaujolais is an example. What is Camay Beaujolais?
At one point Camay Beaujolais was recognized in California as a
grape variety. Now it's a clone of Pinot noir. What's real
Camay? Camay was the name of a grape variety, the Christian
Brothers Napa rose taken off of the Napa Camay. There are a lot
of different things that might change in the product line as the
basic wine market matures and changes focus.
Do you make wines with proprietary names now?
No. We don't really have anything that I would say is a totally
proprietary name, vis a vis- -I think one of the old-time famous
ones was Paul Masson's Emerald Dry. We don't have any totally
proprietary names. We have one that is not quite proprietary,
but depending on where you are, if you ask somebody in
California what Le Blanc de Blancs is, they will probably say
it's a wine from Wente Bros. If you ask somebody in France what
it is, they would probably say it was a white wine. Le Blanc de
Blancs is probably our version of a proprietary brand right now,
but that name is not proprietary to us.
There is no Chateau Wente any more?
No more Chateau.
Otherwise you use varietal names?
Yes. In the United States right now, we're not even shipping
any red or white table wine or, by old parlance, chablis or
burgundy. We don't sell any chablis or burgundy in the U.S.
Right now we're selling only varietal wines, and we've got still
seven or eight: Grey Riesling; Le Blanc de Blancs, which
actually qualifies as varietal Chenin Blanc; White Zinfandel;
Johannisberg Riesling; Sauvignon Blanc; Chardonnay; Cabernet;
Seraillon; Gewurztraminer ; Zinfandel; a
Riesling; and then our sparkling wine.
late -harvest white
So we still have
fairly large portfolio; we're not just a Chardonnay and Cabernet
That would be pretty risky to be wouldn't it?
Yes. I think there are times when it can be very good. If you
take White Zinfandel, when it's very hot, that's great, but then
you need to start broadening your base if you're going to have
life after White Zinfandel. Sutter Home is an example of
somebody who is working very hard at that and I think can be
fairly successful at broadening their base from being simply
Teiser: Are you experimenting with any others?
E. Wente: We're not experimenting with any new grape varieties at the
moment. Our vineyards are planted to the traditional grape
varieties: Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon blanc , Semillon,
still some Ugni blanc, some Chenin blanc, Grey Riesling, Pinot
noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet franc, Pinot blanc- -as we
recognize it to be Pinot blanc- -Gewurztraminer, White Riesling.
I think we have some Colombard here. That's probably about it.
That's a fair number of grape varieties as it is.
Teiser: The vineyards in Monterey County have given you flexibility,
E. Wente: Yes. Two things happened. Because you have vintages in two
different areas, it's the classic situation of not having all
your eggs in one basket, so you don't wind up with frost here or
down there, for example, wiping out all your crops for the year.
It typically doesn't rain the same amount, or you are not
necessarily impacted by rain damage the same way. Also, because
it is a little bit cooler region down there than it is here, you
have differtrt times of harvesting, even if you have the same
grape varieties. That gives you the ability to stagger your
crush a little bit; you get a chance to string out the period of
time. It's not like it all happens to you one day or in one
Then because it's cooler down there it gives us an
opportunity to grow certain grape varieties there and do very
well with them that we really couldn't do so well with here in
E. Wente: The White Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling, Gewurztraminer,
Pinot noir. Likewise, we think there are certain grape
varieties that do much better in Livermore than down there:
Sauvignon blanc, S6millon, Cabernet, Merlot. Chardonnay does
very well in both places. You typically get a little bit
bigger, richer wine from Livermore, and you get a little more
classic chablis style and I mean that in a comparison to French
chablis, white burgundy- -higher acid, crisp wine out of
Greenfield. It gives us lots of flexibility, lots of
opportunities between the two areas.
Teiser: Have you thought of expanding into any other areas ever?
E. Wente: Not seriously. From 1974 to now we've expanding our
landholdings fairly substantially. I think you probably heard
about that from Philip. In 1977 we expanded our vineyard
holdings by 100 acres down in Greenfield, and in 1977 we also
expanded our vineyard land up here by 100 acres . In 1981 we
expanded our vineyard acreage up here by another 600 acres in
one acquisition, and when we acquired the old Cresta Blanca
winery it was a total of 315 acres, about 140 of which was
plantable to vineyard. So we've added on a significant amount
of acreage, in effect well over 1,000 acres since I've been back
Teiser: Let me take you back to 1977, the year your father died. You
and Philip jumped right into responsibilities, didn't you? I
know that your father had been ill earlier, but was his death
E. Wente: Definitely not expected, basically a total surprise to us.
Philip was at that time doing a lot of the vineyard management,
and I was doing the production management. One of the things
that worked in reasonably good stead was that from 1973 to 1977
our bookkeeping system hadn't changed at all, so I knew the
basic inner workings of the bookkeeping system. Not that it was
a major deal, but just in terms of how the bills flow through,
how the checks get paid, where the money comes in and how it
goes out. I understood the basics of that.
I think one of the things that was a real lesson is that a
good system and good people can do a lot of things . We had a
good group of people and still do; a lot of the same people are
still here from 1977, now in 1991. We had a good group of
people, and everybody was good at what they were doing and were
able to continue to be good at what they were doing.
One of the valuable things definitely was that our
grandfather was still alive, somebody who had a lot of
perspective, a lot of experience, who at that time did not want
to be a daily line management operating officer but who would
come over every day and still tell you what he thought about
what should go on. He'd have his opinions and we'd have ours,
and it was a good sounding board and a good reference. You'd
come in with some new idea that you thought was great and
revolutionary, and he'd say, "Well, go ahead and try it, boys,
but I don't really think it's going to work." "Why not?" "I
tried that in 1910, and it didn't work then, so I'm not sure
it's going to work now. Has anything significantly changed
between then and now that makes you think it's going to work
when it didn't work for me?" There was a certain amount of
I remember that your grandfather insisted that the plantings in
Monterey County be on A x R #1 . What has happened?
E. Wente: They're still there.
Teiser: No phylloxera there?
E. Wente: We have not found any phylloxera. There's no known phylloxera
in any of our vineyards in Monterey. There is phylloxera here,
and there are nematodes here. As opposed to Napa, with the
major phylloxera problem, right now for Livermore nematode is
probably as big a problem for us if not a larger problem than
phylloxera. Because of that, we have in the last few years done
a lot of vineyard planting in Livermore where it's even on its
own roots, because we've been biding our time, waiting for the
roots tock programs to pay off with a roots tock that would have
some nematode resistance as well as some phylloxera resistance.
Let's say that tolerance is a better word, because I don't think
you're ever going to find anything that's absolutely resistant.
Like it used to be that they said "waterproof watches, and now
they say "water resistant to one hundred feet." It's probably
that this will be phylloxera- resistant to five hundred
phylloxera per cubic meter of soil, because I don't think you're
ever going to get this rootstock to be absolutely, totally
impervious to something.
It looks like the University has gotten some things
together where there's some fairly good rootstock programs
coming on. Also I think people are looking back at a lot of
rootstocks that have been around for a long, long time that
hadn't been examined that carefully because everybody pretty
much got into the A x R //I programs .
Teiser: Is there hope that there will be a rootstock that is also
E. Wente: There's some hope. I think nematode right now is going to have
to be controlled by farming practice more than rootstock. By
and large if you get more vigorous rootstock it's going to do
you better [against nematode], but you may not want that for
Teiser: Do you have nematode in Monterey County?
E. Wente : Not in discernible amounts. I think there are some there, but
where we are really having problems is here in Liveraore.
Nematode and phylloxera here in Livermore are big problems, but
you learn to live with them. You get vineyards that turn over a
little bit faster than you might like to have them, but you get
yourself planned out right for it. It's just part of being a
Teiser: Let's come up to your sparkling wine cellars,
Who decided to go
E. Wente: I think we all had thoughts for a long time that a natural
outgrowth of the still-wine business, a natural outgrowth of our
vineyards in Monterey, would be sparkling wine. Furthermore,
our marketing system at that time was not representing any
sparkling wine from California or, actually, any sparkling wine
at all. So it could offer somewhat of a fit as well in terms of
being able to get it through and into the marketplace. The
first vintage of sparkling wine that we commercially marketed
was the 1980s , but we had made a couple of trial runs as early
Teiser: Your father had done some experimenting with sparkling wines,
had he not?
E. Wente: He may very well have, but I'm not that aware of what he had
done in that area.
Teiser: Did he have sparkling wine in mind when he went into Monterey
E. Wente: That I couldn't answer. My impression is that my father and my
grandfather went into Monterey County because they thought they
had an area there that would behave quite a bit like Livermore.
It wound up being a little bit cooler and gave them
opportunities to do other things that they hadn't had the
ability to do in Livermore.
Teiser: What route do your trucks use in getting from there to here?
E. Wente: They go 101.
Teiser: Where do they cut over?
E. Wente: Right now they go out to 580, down 580 to the 680 interchange,
down 680 to south San Jose where it hits 101, down 101 all the
way to the Greenfield exit, and right out Elm Avenue to the
vineyard. It's a two- or three -hour drive in a truck. Because
we have the press facility down there, typically for the grapes
in our vineyards we're hauling juice, so we already have control
over it. If there's a little traffic or something, you're not
sitting there baking it.
Teiser: Back to your sparkling wine production, when you first went into
it you were making it in your winery here- -in the estate winery?
E. Wente: Yes. We had everything here, and some of our initial
experiences were that we were having a hard time communicating
that we were serious about being in the sparkling wine business,
because everybody just saw Wente Bros, as "Wente Bros., the
still-wine operation here." You could point to the wine aging
in the warehouse, "There it is, the bottles all stacked up," but
it really wasn't making a statement to anybody. Our original
plan was to start putting up a sparkling wine cellar down in
Monterey at our vineyard there, because we wanted to give a
separate concept and identity to it, and also because we were
thinking in terms of less hauling things around.
We ultimately came to the conclusion that we would be
better served by having it here, for several reasons. One, we
weren't recreating the wheel twice in terms of production
facilities; two, we really got into looking at the freight rates
on things. The best point at which to haul grapes is as juice
in this area, because otherwise we would be hauling the
champagne bottles down there and it would get to be a bigger
Teiser: You'd have to do warehousing down there.
E. Wente: Yes, the whole thing. Right now, between our sparkling wine
cellar and our main cellar here, we're getting the grapes from
Monterey and doing the juicing of the grapes in Monterey. We're
bringing the juice to the main cellar, where we do the
fermentation and the finishing, and then we take the finished
wine to the sparkling wine cellar, where we bottle it and age it
and do the riddling. Right now we're still disgorging here, but
the long-term goal is to move the disgorging line down to Cresta
Teiser: Was this a factor in your purchase of the Cresta Blanca
E. Wente: No. We bought the Cresta Blanca property basically for the
property. We own all of the property, except for where it abuts
the Department of Water Resource for the Del Valle dam, and the
Sachau family owns some property that abuts Cresta Blanca. We
own virtually all the property surrounding Cresta Blanca except
on the hillside behind it. We felt at that point that we would
have an opportunity for some good vineyard land, the hill land
would tie right in with our cattle ranch, and the whole thing
made a neat fit.
Actually, it was unfortunate that it had all these
buildings on the place. Schenley, after closing it up in 1965,
had let it run down rather badly. I guess if you're not going
to do anything with it, and it's in a holding pattern and you're
not going to spend any money, that's an understandable
consequence. But it was in very, very poor condition when we
took over, and we didn't know how much of it, in point of fact,
we were actually going to be able to keep. It took us a couple
of years to sort through everything, decide what was real and
what wasn't real in the place. It was a mess.
Teiser: I remember speaking to someone at Schenley about it in the late
seventies, and he said, "We're not doing anything. The
vineyards aren't bearing; nothing's going on."
E. Wente: The grass and thistle were five feet high in the vineyards. I
mean, you had to be careful driving a tractor through the first
time, because there might have been a piece of equipment or
something in the grass that you didn't know was there. The
roofs all leaked, and some of them had just plain rotted and
fallen in- -natural skylighting. Old equipment that was just not
useful at all. We spent a long time tearing things out, hauling
them away, getting it all cleaned up, and then we started into
the consideration that this might actually make a real nice
place because of the tunnels, the main production building, the
office. This would make a real nice place for our sparkling
wine operation. It would give it a separate identity, be close
enough to manage, makes a useful fit with the buildings that are
here and the assets that are in place.
So we started in putting it together for our sparkling wine
facility, and also we were looking for an over-all facility to
be able to make a higher -impact statement about Wente Bros, to
the public and to try and set a tone and an image that would be
stronger than what we were then setting with the facility here.
This (the main cellars) facility, as I think a good production
facility is likely to, tends to look more like one.
Teiser: Is the Cresta Blanca label being used by Guild Vineries &
Distilleries at all?
E. Wente: I don't see any of it, but they tell me that it is, and they
tell me that they are reasonably successful with it in Japan.
Teiser: Do you wish you had it?
E. Wente: It would be nice to have, yes. We would like very much to have
it, but when you get into the economics of what they think they
might want for it, versus what we think we could do with it,
versus what the real impact of it is --it's one of these things
where it's probably more sentimental than what you would
actually do with it if you had it.
Teiser: In your sparkling wine production, have you experimented with
different yeasts and brandies and so on?
E. Wente: A little bit. Not extensively. We tried a couple of different
yeasts; I think we went through six or seven different yeasts.
We spent a lot of time researching what people were and were not
having success with before running our own trials on it, and
then we pretty well settled down to- -I don't know the exact name
of the strain, but it's an Epernay I or II. We've played a
little bit with the blend percentages each year: it's Pinot
noir, it's Chardonnay, it's Pinot blanc. Those percentages will
change from year to year, but those are the basic grape
varieties for it. We've been experimenting with length of time
in tirage. Right now we want to get back into being able to do
some experimentation with how we handle the wine prior to the
tirage bottling of it. We see that it is the single biggest
place to make major style changes or create additional
complexity and perhaps a little bit more interest in it.
Teiser: Do you make just one style of sparkling wine?
E. Wente: We market one style; we market a brut. We have had in the past
some Blanc de Noir that we've marketed, and right now we have
basically available through our tasting room what you might call
an LD, a late disgorged 1982 vintage that we just disgorged, so
it's been a long time on the yeast.
Teiser: I should say. How did it turn out?
E. Wente: It's quite nice. We're quite pleased with how it's turned out.
We see that we have a lot more that we could learn about the
fine-tuning of the sparkling wine business. The basic "How can
I get a good quality product out?" I feel very comfortable with.
To make improvements- -to go from 80 to 90 percent is easier than
to go from 90 to 95 percent, which is easier than going from 95
to 100 percent. The more you try and fine-tune, each little
movement takes increasing effort. At this time we are right at
a plateau where we need to make some decisions on how we see
things to move ahead and try to make it up the next hurdle in
terms of what we would like to see for our style and quality.
Teiser: What percentage of your production is sparkling wine?
E. Wente: Actually, sparkling wine is a very small percentage of our total
business. [uses calculator] It's about 2 to 3 percent.
Teiser: But it's more significant than that from the point of view of
E. Wente: Yes and no. From the point of view of prestige, probably where
the impact is the extent to which people are visiting our
sparkling wine cellar and seeing Wente Bros, sparkling wine, and
that makes a high impact. If you were to ask your average wine
buyer in Chicago, Illinois, I would bet you that they probably
don't know, even after all the time and effort that we put into
it, that we make sparkling wine.
Teiser: Do you promote it?
E. Wente: We've done a lot. We've done different marketing and
advertising strategies and public relations strategies on it.
The sparkling wine business is getting more and more difficult,
Teiser: The total is down, isn't it?
E. Wente: And the number of competitors is up. A lot of the competitors
have extremely deep pockets, I would phrase it, and also
probably have a stronger commitment to the sparkling wine
business than we would, realistically. If you ask what the
number one thing is for Wente Bros., it is still wine, our
traditional Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grey Riesling, Cabernet
business. For us, sparkling wine was and is and (never say ever
or never) is probably going to be secondary to the still wine
Changes Since 1980
Teiser: Your general growth, in addition to the acreage, has been up in
E. Wente: Actually, our total shipments of case goods are less than half
right now what they were in 1980.
Teiser: How did that happen?
E. Wente: Well, we've changed our style and focus of what we are doing.
It's the classic thing of there being less than ten wineries in
the Napa Valley in 1965, and how many are there today? Over two
hundred, I think. What we're seeing is that, given the current
wine market, what we want is a different positioning within that
market from what we had in 1980. In the late seventies and
early eighties in California, for example, Grey Riesling was
everywhere. Every wine list of every fish restaurant in San
Francisco had Grey Riesling on it. That was automatic, just
about the first thing they put on the wine list. Grey Riesling
right now is not that popular an item.
Teiser: What do you think happened?
E. Wente: I think it's the concept of Chardonnay and Cabernet as being the
top wine types, and then the concept, "If I'm really going to be
a wine drinker, I'm going to drink the best, so I'm going to
drink Chardonnay and Cabernet." I think that, plus the so-
called "fighting varietal" routine on Chardonnay and Cabernet.
Basically, to make good Grey Riesling costs a fair amount of
money if you're going to grow the grapes in good areas. Right
now our Grey Riesling and our Le Blanc de Blancs, based on
grapes coming from our own vineyards, are in the stores at the
same price as a lot of the fighting varietal Chardonnays . At
that point, if you have a choice between Wente Bros, and
somebody else, you might say, "I really like Wente Bros.," but
then there's Wente Bros. Grey Riesling, and there's somebody
else's Chardonnay at the same price. So you say, "Chardonnay is
where it's really at, so I'm going to take the Chardonnay
because I'm more comfortable with the fact that I have
Chardonnay on the label than I am Grey Riesling, unless I know
The Grey Riesling franchise is an aging franchise, and the
new drinkers are doing a typical thing: "If my father drank
Grey Riesling, then I'm probably going to drink something else
anyway." It's that type of marketing syndrome- -"My father drove
a Chevrolet, so I'm going to drive a Ford" --is probably more
true than not, however you want to choose it, for the average
consumer. Our dollars of business are better today; our dollars
of business have grown. Our sales are less than half, but our
dollars of business are more. Today our total dollars that are
Wente dollars are greater than in 1980.
Teiser: That's a neat trick.
E. Wente: It's both the way the business is going, and it's inflation and
everything else. But that's been our focus, and our focus today
is to broaden our base of business as well. Our fiscal year is
from July 1 to August 31, and for the fiscal year just coming
up- -I'm just trying to get everything lined up and organized for
it, so I'm very familiar with the numbers --we 're targeting about
a third of our total business as export, which in 1980 was maybe
2 or 3 percent. This year ('90- '91) a third of our business is
going to be export as well, or maybe a little less- -27 percent
or something like that. So we've been making a major effort at
getting into the export business solidly and successfully and
profitably, and we're achieving that.
Our restaurant business [at the sparkling wine cellars] is
growing to where the restaurant is now basically able to stand
alone, as opposed to saying it is a marketing activity for the
company. We have a successful restaurant business, and our
tasting rooms, concert series, and all the retail things are
pretty good stand-alone activities. We're actually now net
sellers of grapes, as well; we're farmers as well as winemakers
and have a very profitable farming activity that we're into.
Then we have our U.S. Parrott & Co. sales operations.
Teiser: When did your exports start going up?
E. Wente: They have really gone up dramatically in the last three to four
years, but I started working on exports in 1978 as a serious
commitment of my time. I spent a long time building
relationships and contacts around the world to get into a larger
export position, and just in the last three or four years we're
starting to see the results of that.
Teiser: Have you traveled a lot?
E. Wente: I have, and I continue to. We now have an export director, John
Schwartz, who has been with us for two years and who travels a
lot, and we're hiring this summer an assistant export director
who will probably travel a lot as well.
Teiser: Does Philip travel much?
E. Wente: Philip travels quite a bit. He's more involved in the U.S.
Teiser: It's very effective, isn't it, having family people travel?
E. Vente: Yes, it's one of the most effective tools that we have in a lot
Teiser: I imagine you'll send Carolyn to Mars one day.
E. Wente: Yes, once they get the route finalized and have a good, reliable
service, we'll be there. [laughter]
Teiser: Are the expenses of export much higher than selling in the
E. Wente: No. At this point [telephone interruption] the travel is more
expensive, for the most part, than in the U.S., although not all
that much so. This last spring you could get a $458 round- trip
ticket to London, If you were buying a full-on, coach-class
ticket so you could change your mind about where you were going
on the way to New York and back, and you didn't have the stay-
over -the -weekend routine, it was $900. A London hotel isn't
really any more expensive than a New York hotel. In certain
respects it's more expensive on travel, but overall it's not all
that much more expensive.
Our actual marketing costs per case right now are less in
our export markets than they are in the U.S. markets. For us
the U.S. market is more competitive than what we have to spend
to achieve results, but at the same time the U.S. market is so
much larger for us. In the export market we're just starting
into all these countries where we do small volumes , and on a
small volume you don't need the same amount of marketing
Teiser: Have you been in the government export program?
E. Wente: Yes, we've been in the government export program ever since it
Teiser: Is that a help?
E. Wente: Yes, it is, very much so. It doesn't always line up with what
you would like to spend money on; their rules and documentation
requirements sometimes make it less than as effective as it
could be. On the other hand, I can see that if you don't have
some set of rules and some way to organize it and manage it, the
opportunities to not use it correctly are also large, so there's
always a trade-off.
Teiser: What are the main countries that you export to now?
E. Wente: We're in forty countries. The big markets for us, starting in
Europe, are Switzerland, Sweden, U.K., Canada- -Canada is our
single biggest, but that's pretty much true for most people. In
fact, U.S. and Canadian trade is so large anyway. Japan is a
big market for us, and then there is just a whole host of
Teiser: You're going into Russia now?
E. Wente: Yes. We sell about [uses calculator] a hundred cases a month
right now to Russia.
Teiser: What about the European Economic Community? Are you taking
advantage of the future of--?
E. Wente: Nineteen ninety- two?
Teiser: Yes. Is that going to help?
E. Wente: I don't know that I have enough knowledge about all of the
activities for '92.
E. Wente: To start with, I think the effective date is supposed to be
January 1, 1993. It's not clear to me why they are calling it
'92. My opinion from personal observations is that this 1992 is
not going to have as big an impact as people are putting it up
to have. I don't see how they're going to get everything in
place in time. I think it's going to be a lot longer build-up
than that in order to really do all the things that they're
saying. I don't see, for example, Her Majesty's customs and
excise totally giving over to the Community's customs and
excise. I don't see how all the countries are going to
immediately match up some of their import duties, get rid of
them, collect more money in other places. The very nature of
the banking discussions in terms of a central bank- -are we all
going to deal in ecus, or are we still going to have pounds and
francs and lira and Deutschemarks?
Also, my personal opinion at this point is that the Vest
Germans, if anybody can do it in terms of the reunification
deal, are probably the most ideal candidates of any country in
the world to undertake a project like that. But I'm not sure
they have enough money to really do the job, and the fact that
they're going to have turned so inward for quite some time is
not, I think, going to make '92 go forward as rapidly as it
might otherwise. All the pressures of Eastern Europe--! see
lots of opportunities in Europe, but I don't see that there are
going to be major benefits from this '92, nor do I see that
there are going to be major hindrances. I think it's going to
be more business as usual.
Teiser: Are there also lots of opportunities in the Pacific basin?
E. Wente: Yes. They present different sets of opportunities and different
sets of problems. Europe has a much stronger wine-drinking
history and culture and, right now, average per-capita
consumption. So the education about wine itself isn't so great;
it's mainly about California, about Wente Bros., and why we
should have some of the business. In the Far East it's (1)
getting wine in general to be a greater part of the culture, and
(2) it's getting our share of (1). In Europe, (1) is already
It's more competitive in Europe in terms of everybody
making their own wines, and they have hundreds if not thousands
of years of commercial relationships about wine, and in the Far
East that's not true. In the Far East, the United States, and
California in particular, enjoys a very good image and
reputation. Actually, worldwide, California- -and San
Francisco- -enjoys a very good reputation and image. In the
U.S., particularly the Midwest and the East, California doesn't
enjoy the same type of strong, positive image, I don't think,
and certainly in this day and age San Francisco is getting to be
less and less a strong, positive image around the United States.
When you say "San Francisco" when you are traveling someplace
outside of the country, people's eyes light up, and they're
excited about it. In the U.S., hopefully their eyes don't roll
back in their heads. It's just not as strong an image.
There are a lot of opportunities in the Far East as
countries begin to open up and they begin to be more successful.
Thailand, for example- -we' re just starting to do pretty good
business, and Thailand is just right now starting into an
economic boom. South Korea is just starting to open up, and
we're starting to do some pretty good business. Likewise in
Mexico, which has been closed for a long time, we're starting to
do some business. There are lots of opportunities.
Teiser: Let me talk about your wife, Arel. When did you marry her, and
what has she been doing about wine?
E. Wente: June 30, 1973, we were married. I'm checking my watch; it's
still three days until our anniversary. [laughs]
Teiser: What was her maiden name?
E . Wente : Sudduth .
Teiser: She has taken an active part in the winery?
E. Wente: She is very active in public relations activities. She's a very
good speaker about wine and is very well received. She has had
a lot of fun and some very good experiences in the different
areas where she has had opportunities to speak. She basically
speaks at all the local clubs, whether it's Rotary Club or you
name it, if there is a request for someone from Wente Bros, to
do that. She deals with the local cable TV station for a
variety of things. She teaches a wine class at our sparkling
wine cellar on a regular basis. She's been teaching wine
classes also for the local community park and rec district
classes and that type of thing. She's been a speaker for a
number of cruise lines. She does a lot of things like the
winemaker's dinner we had last night for Spottswoode at our
restaurant, where she was the mistress of ceremonies. There are
a lot of things that she is involved in.
Teiser: Did you meet her at Stanford?
E. Wente: Yes, I did. We met when we were freshmen at Stanford.
Wine Industry and Public Activities
Teiser: You yourself have worked with wine industry organizations. What
have you done?
E. Wente: For ten years I was chairman of the health and social issues
committee of Wine Institute. I've been a member of the board of
directors of the Wine Institute at different times. I've
participated in American Society for Enology and Viticulture
(ASEV) . I participated in different local organizations. One
time I was fairly active in the Monterey Winegrowers'
organization. At this point, personally I'm not, but ten years
ago I was. I was active in the Livermore Valley Winegrowers at
one point, and now Carolyn is active in Livermore and John
Woolley, our public relations director, is active in Monterey.
There are probably other things that aren't popping to mind.
Teiser: Are you involved in any other wine organizations?
E. Wente: I belong to the Knights of the Vine and things like that.
Teiser: Are those social organizations valuable?
E. Wente: They're good fun, and it's interesting to get other people's
opinions and ideas on wines and to have a number of people
tasting the same wine at once, offering comments on it, and to
be exposed to something other than, you might say, home cooking.
Teiser: Do you ever call in people from outside to taste with you?
E. Wente: Occasionally. Typically we don't. By and large on the
production side of it we're focusing on what we think we want
our wines to taste like. What we will do a lot of times is have
tastings of a number of other brands versus ours. Maybe we'll
get other people in when we do a blind tasting like that and
have a review of how everything has come out, take comments on
it, and decide how we feel we're doing versus that.
Teiser: Do you get any feedback from your tasting room?
E. Wente: Yes. We get feedback on a whole lot of issues, whether it's
wine quality, wine style, wine price, local politics, noise at
harvest, "Can I help at harvest?" The various events, whether
it's art in the vineyard, a harvest celebration, a fall
tasting- -we do a lot of different things.
Teiser: Yes, you have a lot of events, don't you? This is quite a
change in the wine industry as a whole, isn't it?
E. Wente: I think there are several things. Let's take ourselves in
particular: one, clearly you want to be visible and be in a
position of a strong development for a brand name. Two, you
want to be visible and an active part of your community, whether
running local bicycle races or lOks [foot races] or things like
that --things that give people enjoyment and ability to be out
and active . Then in this day and age I think we need to take
every opportunity to communicate the positive aspects of who we
are and what we do. Basically, nobody else is going to do that
Aims for the Future
I have on my outline to ask you about the aims for the future of
Wente Bros., but I think you have explained them pretty well.
Right now our aim for the future is that we want to be in the
wine and grape farming businesses. We like what we do, and we
want to be successful at it. We realize that there's going to
wind up being a certain amount of flexibility. If we were
talking again in ten years, what would our product line be and
what would be the principal items on it? I'm not sure they
would be the same ones they are today. Some of it is liable to
change. There are going to be certain things that were there
thirty years ago, that were there twenty years ago, that were
there ten years ago, that are here today, and will be there in
ten years .
Then we want to be top, top-quality winemakers. Those are
our basic goals in life. After that we'll see how well we can
succeed with them.
Do you have future generations in mind?
ahead with that?
Are you able to look
That's a question of "never say ever or never." My wife and I
have two kids, our daughter, Christine, who is fifteen, and our
son, Karl, who is fourteen. Philip has two kids, a daughter,
Jordan, and a daughter, Alicia. I guess Jordan's about five,
and Alicia is one or two months oldvery new. So you never say
ever or never to what they're going to do until they're actually
out of school and say, "Yes, I want to work here. I definitely
want to do it. This is something I like doing as opposed to
something I feel like you're making me do." There's probably no
point in making somebody do something they don't want to do;
you're not really going to be successful at it. Hopefully our
kids will have an interest. They express an interest right now,
but I don't think they really think about it so much as it's
just a part of their life: this is what we do.
You know from your experience that growing up in a wine family
does have impact.
E. Wente: Yes. The good things about it are that if you are familiar with
it and get a focus on it, it's not like, "What do I want to
study in school? Then what am I going to do when I get out of
school? Am I going to move to New York? I've always wanted to
be a financier," or, "I've always wanted to run charter boats in
the Seychelle Islands," or whatever it is.
Teiser: I should think you have a good statistical chance--.
E. Wente: At this point, one would hope, yes.
Teiser: You've spoken cogently, and I'm very grateful to you. This is
an awfully well-rounded interview with the three of you and your
mother; it certainly brings out the continuity.
Thank you very much.
INTERVIEW WITH JEAN R. WENTE
Date of Interview: April 11, 1991
tape 1, side a 2
tape 1, side b 11
tape 2, side a 20
tape 2, side b 28
tape 3, side a 36
tape 3, side b not recorded
INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN WENTE
Date of Interview: April 25, 1991
tape 1, side a 41
tape 1, side b 48
tape 2, side a 55
tape 2, side b 63
tape 3, side a 67
tape 3, side b not recorded
INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP WENTE
Date of Interview: June 3, 1991
tape 1, side a 71
tape 1, side b 79
tape 2, side a 87
tape 2, side b 95
tape 3, side a 104
tape 3, side b 114
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC WENTE
Date of Interview: June 17, 1991
tape 1, side a 122
tape 1, side b 131
tape 2, side a 137
tape 2, side b 146
INDEX- -Wente Family Winery
Adams, Leon, 7
Aguirre, Cecil, 8, 19, 21, 25, 63,
Akioshi, Min, 126
Alley, Curtis J. , 82
Almaden Vineyards, 26, 77, 79, 90,
American Diabetes Association, 68
American Institute of Wine & Food,
American Society for Enology and
Amerine, Maynard A., vi-vii, 12,
82, 103 "
Antinori, Piero, 120
Arroyo Seco Ranch, 95. See also
Wente Bros . , vineyards .
Balzer, Robert, 6
Bank of America,
and Wente Bros, winery, 44
wine industry forecast, 78
Bariteau, Jack, 109
Bartholomew, Antonia, 7
Bartholomew, Frank H. , 7
Beaulieu Vineyard, 77, 96
Belle View Winery, 74
Benoist, Louis, 90
Berg, Harold W. , 126
Beyer Ranch, 93
Bioletti, Frederic T. , 7
Brown, Edmund G. (Jerry), Jr., 119
Brown -Forman company, 80
Buena Vista winery, 7
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms [BATF] , appellation
regulations, 23, 57-58, 61, 79-
California Winegrowers Association,
Canziani, Bruno, 25, 27, 63, 74
Chalone Vineyard, 25-26, 79
Chateau St. Jean, 63, 96
Chateau Souverain, 7
Chateau d'Yquem, 14
Chavez, Arturo, 41, 74
Chisholm Ryder company, 19
Christian Brothers winery, 134
Christmas Wine Trails , 65
climate, and grape growing, 22-23
Concannon Vineyard, 49, 72, 107,
Cook, James A. , 82
Corti, Darrell, 55-56
Cresta Blanca winery, 52, 56, 71,
93-95, 104-105, 108, 109, 136,
Cruess, William V. , 7
Culbertson, John, 67
Dames de Escoffier, Les, 67
Daniel, John, Jr., 89
Delta Mendota canal, 18
Detjens, Robert, 17, 74, 85-86, 129
DiPietro, Lawrence, 60, 63, 75
Domaine Chandon, 52, 59, 96
Far Niente winery, 77
Fenestra winery, 109
Foundation Plant Service,
Gallagher, John, 89, 90
Gallo, E. & J. winery, 117-118
Gopher Gulch winery, 7
California Department of Food and
Agriculture study of, 98
diseases and pests of, 100-103,
field crushing of, 24
frost protection for, 18
harvesting of, mechanical, 19-
genetic engineering of, 102-103
pruning of, mechanical, 20, 100
rootstock varieties of, 100-102,
and soil types, 22-23, 99, 101
Guild Wineries & Distilleries, 141
Guymon, James F. , 127
Hagemann, Hilma (Mrs. Edwin E.), 9,
Hagemann vineyard, 108-109
Heimoff, Steve, 68
Hiaring, Philip, 119
Howe , J im , 7
Hunter, Bruce, 75
Inglenook winery, 77
irrigation techniques, 18-19
J. G. Boswell Company, 2
Jekel winery, 79, 80
Jordon winery, 77
Joslin, Willy, 63, 74
Kirkman, Elbert, 63, 74
Knights of the Vine, Brotherhood of,
Kornell, Hanns, 90
Korbel, Tony, 14-1
Korbel, F. & Bros., winery, 60, 96
Kornell winery, 96
Krug, Charles, Winery, 73
Kunkee, Ralph E. , 82, 83
La tour, Louis, 83
development of, 48, 112-113
Lawrence Livennore National
plant pests and diseases in,
See also Wente Bros . , Livermore
Livermore Valley Art Association,
Livermore Valley Harvest
Livermore Valley Winegrowers
Association, 64, 149
Logan, Robert, 102
Lorimer, Rod, 34
Martini, Carolyn, 50-51
Martini, Louis M. , 14
Martini, Louis M. , winery, 14, 50,
Martini, Louis P., 89, 90-92
Martini, Michael, 50
Masson, Paul, winery, 77, 79, 134
Mayacamas Vineyards , 7
McCrae, Eleanor, 7
McCrae, Fred, 7
Mel, Louis, 41, 55, 56, 122
Mel ranch, 41-42, 71
Mel house, 3, 122
Menzies family, 50, 84, 89
methods champenoise, 60, 86, 95-96
Migilore Ranch, 93
Mirassou winery, 77, 79, 96
Mondavi, Robert, 90, 120
Mondavi, Robert, winery, 77
Monterey County, vineyard expansion,
See also Wente Bros . , vineyards ,
Monterey Vineyard winery, 79
Monterey Winegrowers Organization,
Nelson, Klayton E., 81
Niclaus Sierra Development Company,
Nightingale, Myron, 94
Olmo, Harold P., 82-83, 118
Ough, Cornelius, 82
Parrott & Co., 46, 50, 62, 75, 84,
89-90, 92, 132, 144
Peters, Pete, 17
phylloxera, 100-102, 137
Piper Sonoma winery, 96
Raboli, Lionel, 93
Raboli vineyard, 92-93, 113
Repeal, 117, 131
Riva, Ralph, 74, 129
Robert Lamb Hart, 106, 108
Roberts, Keith, 74
Robinson, Louis T. , 2
Ruby Hill winery, 108-109
Sachau family, 140
Santa Rosa Stainless Steel, 112
Schenley Distillers, 52, 93, 94,
Schoonmaker, Frank, 13, 14, 90
Schramsberg Vineyard, 59, 96-97
Schwartz, John, 60-61, 144
Sciabica, Dan and Sons, 56
Sciabica, Nick, 56
Scotto, Monica, 67
Sebastiani winery, 96
Signature Properties, 109
Silvear, Will, 25-26
S imon , Andr , 6
Singleton, Vernon L. , 82
soil, importance of, 22-23, 99, 101
Sonoma Cutrer winery, 77
Stanford University Friends of
Stewart, Glenzella, 7
Stewart, J. Leland, 7
Stony Hill Vineyard, 7
Sutter Home winery, 134
Tamas , Ivan, 131
taxation on vineyards, 21-22, 78
Taylor, Jack, 7
Taylor, Mary, 7
Taylor California Cellars, 79
True winery, 109
Tubbs, Frieda, 11
Tubbs, George, 11
Twenty -One Brands, 90
United Press, 7
University of California at
Berkeley, earthquake research,
University of California at Davis,
enology and viticulture
departments , certified mother
Foundation for Plant Materials,
and genetic engineering, 102
rootstock program, 101-102, 137
staff and curriculum, 6, 7, 10,
12, 82-83, 119-120, 126-127
Upright company, 19
Valley Foundry, 17, 86, 112, 130
Ventana winery, 79
Ventling, Gary, 62, 63
Vintech Corporation, 80
viticultural technology, changes in,
16-21, 24,84-87, 99-100, 130
Wagner vineyard, 42
Washington Performing Arts Society,
water conservation, 119
Webb, A. Dinsmoor, 82
Wente, Alicia, 150
Wente, Arel Sudduth, (Mrs. Philip),
and public relations, 31, 148
Wente, Carolyn, 5, 23, 26, 28-32,
37, 38, 41-69, 87-88, 95, 97,
career at Crocker Bank, 44-45
childhood and school years, 41-
and community organizations, 67-
decision to join winery, 45-47
early work in winery, 42-43
and industry -related
organizations, 67, 149
as marketing manager, 31, 38,
43, 45-46, 48-57
advertising program, 57
1983 centennial, 49-50
conference center, 51
work with Wine Institute, 66-67
Wine Ambassadors, 67
Wente, Carl, 11-12, 44
Wente, Carl Heinrich, 16, 27, 30,
Wente, Mrs. Carl Heinrich, as winery
lab analyst, 43
Wente, Christine, 27, 150
Wente, Edith, (Mrs. Herman), 6, 11-
12, 27, 28
Wente, Eric, 8, 17, 20, 23, 26-32,
37, 42-48, 53, 60-63, 65, 67-69,
75, 76, 81, 86-89, 95, 97, 115,
as winery bookkeeper, 125-126,
early chores on ranch and in
vineyard, 123, 125, 128
and equipment development, 17,
Wcnte, Eric (cont.)
export activities, 60-61, 144-
first experience at winery, 128-
in charge of the winery, 43, 47,
interest in champagne, 26
and public relations, 53
wife and children, 27, 69, 150
and wine industry activities,
work with Wine Institute, 67,
youth and education, 122-127
Stanford overseas program,
Wente, Ernest, 8-12, 14-15, 18-19,
25-27, 37, 42-44, 56, 59, 63, 65-
66, 72-74, 76, 77, 81, 88-90, 99,
120, 122-124, 129, 130, 133, 136-
as cattle rancher, 8, 42, 65-
66, 72-73, 123
and canal construction, 18-19
and Livermore history, 26
as mentor, 15, 88-90, 136
vineyard and winery activities,
27, 59, 63, 90, 99, 129, 130,
Wente, Herman, 5-8, 11-15, 17, 25-
27, 29, 30, 39, 43, 47, 59, 76,
88-90, 100, 122
and public relations, 5-6, 14-
and vintage dating, 13-14
and varietal labeling, 13-14, 59
vision for wine industry, 6-7
wine quality, interest in, 6-7
as winemaker , 8
Wente, Jean, (Mrs. Karl), 1-39, 43,
44, 53, 61-63, 69, 89
community activities, 33-35
involvement in winery, 36-37
marriage, 3-4, 11, 12
parents and early years, 2-4
and public relations, 31
on Wente Bros, board, 27-28
Wente, Jess, 11-12
Wente, Jordon, 150
Wente, Karl D. , 27, 150
Wente, Karl L. , 3-6, 8-12, 15-22,
24-27, 29-32, 36-39, 41-44, 47,
59, 63, 67, 69, 73, 74, 76, 81,
82, 84-91, 93, 100, 115, 120,
122-124, 126, 128-131, 136, 138
and certified nursery, 24-25
and community activities, 29-32
as consultant, 39
decision to enter family
employees, care for, 24
European wine tour, 11-12
and expansion into Monterey
goals, long-range, 36-37
interest in champagne, 26
illness and death, 30, 36-37,
44, 47, 69, 74, 76, 87-89, 93,
129, 131, 136
and marketing techniques, 30-31
and technological advances, 18-
viticulture techniques , 24
war service, 11
youth and education, 10-11
Wente, Philip, 8, 20-21, 26,
28-32, 37, 42-46, 48-49, 52-53,
61-63, 65, 67-69, 71-120, 122,
123, 129, 136, 150
decision to join winery, 75-76,
equipment development, 20-21
first jobs at winery, 84-85
and marketing activities, 30-
31, 52-53, 145
viticulture, early interest in,
wife and children, 31, 148, 122,
work in Wine Institute, 67, 115
youth and education, 71-73, 75-
Wente Bros, winery,
and Bank of America, 44
and bulk wine business, 27
Wente Bros, winery (cont.)
community activities, 64-65, 97,
earthquake damage, 1989, 111-
employees, 53, 61-65, 73-75,
estate winery status of, 14, 23,
27, 112-113, 139
executive committee, 61-63, 75
expansion, 52, 56, 71, 93-97,
104-105, 108, 109, 130-136,
Cresta Blanca property, 52,
56, 71, 93-95, 104-105,
108, 109, 136, 139-141.
See also Wente Bros. ,
export program, 60-61, 88, 132,
government export program,
and European Economic
labeling differences, 132
long-range, 6-7, 13-15, 19-
26, 30, 36-37, 39, 47-61,
66, 76, 84, 85, 88, 91-92,
97, 105-113, 119-120, 130,
diseases and pests of, 100-
103, 114-115, 137-138
phylloxera, 100-102, 137
nurseries for, 99, 113-114
experimental work, 113-
rootstocks used, 100-102,
varieties grown and used,
marketing and public relations,
30-31, 48-56, 88-93, 108, 138,
142, 144-145, 148-150
conference center, 51, 52,
distribution network, 91
with Louis P. Martini, 89-
with Parrott & Co., 46, 50,
62, 75, 84, 89-90, 92, 132,
public participation programs,
Art in the Vineyard, 65
Christmas Wine Trails, 65
Livermore Valley Harvest
summer music series, 64,
restaurant, 52-56, 95,
tasting room, 51, 52, 149
pricing structure, 59, 91, 104
product line choices, 133-136,
proprietary names, 134
as sellers of grapes, 112-113,
in seventies, 77, 131-133, 136
sparkling wine production, 51,
52, 59-60, 64, 86-87, 95-97,
108, 134, 138-142
grape varieties in, 141
marketing of, 142
methods champenoise , 60, 86,
technology and equipment
development, 16-21, 24, 84-
87, 99-100, 130
fermenters, jacketed, 130
frost reservoir system, 85
grape handling, 19-20, 86
grape pressing, 86-87
harvesting, mechanical, 24,
84, 86, 99-100
pruning, mechanical, 20, 100
tanks, steel, 130
vineyard practices, 18-20, 99-
row spacing, 99
Livermore, 18-21, 48, 49, 58,
61, 66, 71-72, 74, 87, 92,
93, 94, 97, 101-103, 105-
111, 114-115, 130, 135,
Wentc Bros, winery, vineyards,
development plans for, 49,
66, 71-72, 105-111
Crane Ridge development,
Monterey County, 21-26, 58,
78, 86-87, 90, 93, 95, 99-
104, 112-113, 130, 135,
Arroyo Seco, 19-20, 24-
25, ' 61, 74, 79, 86, 90,
taxation on, 21, 22, 78
development of, 112-113
nursery, 48, 99, 113-114
wine tasting committee, 129-130
Wente Land and Cattle Company, 54-
beef cattle, 54-55
olive trees, 55-56
Wetmore, Charles, 56
Wetmore Ranch, 94
Wilcox, Donna, 49, 64
Williamson Act, 22, 106
appellations, 57-59, 61, 105
bottling techniques, 42
consumer tastes for, 143-144
vintage dating of, 13-14
labeling, 13, 23
Wine Advisory Board, 29, 30
Wine and Food Society of San
Francisco, 13, 29
and American society, 79
expansion in 1970s, 77-80
funding for medical research,
and generic marketing, 117-118
and marketing, 14, 30, 47, 117-
and public relations, 30
Wine Institute, 7, 12, 29, 64, 66-
67, 102, 115-118, 149
California Wine Commission 115-
and marketing orders, 115-116
promotional activities, 117
Wine Institute (cont.)
public policy, 116-117
Wine Spectator. 54, 68
wineries, small versus large, 116,
Winkler, Albert J., 12, 82, 99, 103
women, in the wine business, 43
Woodward, Georgine , 51, 64
Woolley, John, 149
Zaninovich, Marko, 82
Grapes mentioned in interview:
Cabernet Sauvignon, 48, 101, 113,
Chardonnay, 23, 48, 60, 96-98, 101,
103-104, 114, 118, 134, 135, 141
Chenin blanc, 97, 104, 135
Gewurztraminer, 104, 135
Grenache , 113
Grey Riesling, 97, 103-104, 135
Melon de Bourgogne, 98
Merlot, 92, 135
Napa Camay, 134
Petite Sirah, 98
Pinot blanc, 60, 98, 113, 135, 141
Pinot gris, 113
Pinot noir, 60, 86, 96, 104, 113,
118, 134, 135, 141
Riesling, 134, 135
Ruby Cabernet, 118
Sauvignon blanc, 14, 48, 97-99,
114, 134, 135
S&nillon, 14, 97, 98, 114, 135
Sirah, 98, 113
Trebbiano toscano, 131
Ugni blanc, 131, 135
Wines mentioned in interview:
Le Blanc de Blancs, 47, 59, 89, 97,
131, 134, 143
Blanc de Noir, 141
burgundy, 13, 92, 131, 134
Cabernet Sauvignon, 47, 50, 77, 92,
99, 113, 131, 133, 134, 142, 143
chablis, 13, 47, 89, 131, 134
Chardonnay, 47, 48, 50, 59, 77, 88,
90-92, 97-99, 103, 131, 133,142,
Chenin Blanc, 58, 131, 133
French Muscadelle, 118
Fume Blanc, 77
Camay Beaujolais, 134
Gewurztraminer, 80, 92, 104, 134
Grey Riesling, 47, 59, 89, 97, 103-
104, 131, 134, 142, 143
Petite Sirah, 92, 131
Pinot Blanc, 92, 103, 131, 133
Pinot Noir, 47, 90-92, 99, 131
Pinot Grigio, 113
Riesling, 80, 88, 90-92, 98, 131-
Ruby Cabernet, 118
sauterne, 14, 92
Sauvignon Blanc, 13-14, 47, 48, 58,
88, 90, 92, 97-99, 103, 131, 132,
Semillon, 13-14, 47, 58, 88, 90-
92, 97-98, 131, 132, 134
Ugni Blanc, 131
White Zinfandel, 98, 133, 134
Zinfandel, 92, 131, 134
Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area
in 1932 and has lived here ever since.
Stanford University, B.A. , M.A. in English;
further graduate work in Western history.
Newspaper and magazine writer in San Francisco
since 1943, writing on local history and
business and social life of the Bay Area.
Book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle .
Co-author of Winemaking in California, a history,
An interviewer -editor in the Regional Oral
History Office since 1965.