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Full text of "Wine making in the Livermore Valley : oral history transcript / and related material, 1969-1971"



robM/ 

University of California Berkeley 




University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 



Ernest A. Wente 
WINE MAKING IN THE LIVERMORE VALLEY 



With an Introduction by 
Maynard A. Amerlne 



An Interview Conducted by 
Ruth Teiser 



1971 by The Regents of the University of California 



Srneet i. tfnt vith his grand 8 one Phillip (left) 
and Srlc (right) and hla son Earl L. Vnt, 1954. 
Photograph by Slltabth 7andr*ark. 




All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal 
agreement between the Regents of the University of 
California and Ernest A. Wente, dated 10 December, 1970. 
The manuscript is thereby made available for research 
purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including 
the right to publish, are reserved to the Bancroft Library 
of the University of California at Berkeley. No part of the 
manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written 
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the 
University of California at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication 
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 
^86 Library, and should include identification of the 
specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the 
passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with Ernest A. Wente requires that he be notified 
of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond. 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

PREFACE i 

INTRODUCTION BY HAYNARD A. AMERINE iii 

INTERVIEW HISTORY v 

EARLY YEARS OF THE WENTE VINEYARD 1 

CARL H. WENTE AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES 8 

WINE MSN OF 1915 AND 1939 15 

PRE-PROHIBITION DAYS 23 

VINEYARD PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS 31 

WINES BEFORE PROHIBITION AND AFTER 36 

PROFITS AND LOSSES 4-1 

TECHNIQUES AND TASTES ^5 

HERMAN L. WENTE AND THE WENTE FAMILY 50 

CHANGES 56 

THE PROHIBITION PERIOD 60 

FACTORS AFFECTING THE EARLY REPEAL YEARS 63 

THE PRORATE AND BURKE CRITCHFISLD 69 

ECONOMIC TRENDS 71 

DISTRIBUTION AND SALES ?6 

RECENT ADVANCES 80 

GROWING GOOD WINE GRAPES 83 

INDEX 92 
(For Wines and Grapes see page 96) 



PBEFACE 



The California Wine Industry Oral History Series, a 
project of the Regional Oral History Office, was initiated 
in 1969* the year noted as the bicentenary of continuous 
wine making in this state. It was undertaken through the 
action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, 
and under the direction of University of California faculty 
and staff advisors at Berkeley and Davis. 

The purpose of the series is to record and preserve 
information on California grape growing and wine making 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 
parti cular 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 wine making 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 
purpose. 

Three master Indices for the entire series are being 
prepared, one of general subjects, one of wines, one of 
grapes by variety. These will be available to researchers 
at the conclusion of the series in the Regional Oral History 
Office and at the library of the Wine Institute. 



11 



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 James D. Hart, the Director 
of The Bancroft Library. 



Ruth Telser 
Project Director 
California Wine Industry 
Oral History Series 



1 March 1971 

Regional Oral History Office 
i486 The Bancroft Library 
University of California, Berkeley 



ill 



INTRODUCTION 



Ernest A, Wente was born on his father s ranch at 
Livermore in 1890. He attended local schools and the newly- 
established University Farm of the University of California 
at Davis, Prom graduation until now he has lived and farmed 
in Livermore. 

The themes of particular interest are those that concern 
his father and the pre -Prohibit ion and Prohibition period, the 
growth of Wente Bros, wines since Repeal, and his own concerns 
with the problems of producing high quality wine grapes and 
wines . 

Carl H. Wente, Ernest s father, appears here as a hard 
working and forward-looking man. The original Wente vineyard, 
from 1883, appears to have been planted, in the main, with 
good varieties. This was made into sound wine and sold in 
bulk. Ernest Wente makes the useful point that at least four 
of the wines which got prizes at the 1915 fair originally came 
from his father s winery. He also recalls some "very, very 
lovely wines" from the pre-Prohibition period. Ernest Wente s 
recollections of early Livermore and San Francisco friends of 
his family are particularly valuable. The Wentes associations 
with the Napa and Sonoma Wine Company and with Beaulieu are 
well delineated. 

The growth of Wente Bros, as a wine bottle label and not 
a bulk -wine producer started after Repeal. Ernest and his 
brother, Herman, were responsible for this development. He 
also gives his brother Herman credit for helping to organize 
the Wine Institute after Repeal. He recalls this as a slow 
growth. However, it is of Interest to note that Wente Bros, 
received one of the two Grand Prix at the Golden Gate 
International Exposition in 1939* 

Throughout Ernest Wente s memoirs there are numerous 
indications of his abiding and basic interest in farming. The 
phylloxera problem before Prohibition and the virus problem 
after 1950 are well remembered. There is much Information on 
cattle and grain growing. He is particularly clear about not 
over-cropping grapes, about the need of irrigation, about 
certified grape stocks and a number of other details of 
viticulture that escape many people. We are also indebted to 
him for revealing details of what he thinks about the quality 
of a number of varieties of grapes. 



iv 



He also gives a number of details about wine making 
which help to explain the success of Wente Bros, wines: care 
of cooperage, value of stainless steel tanks, control of 
temperature, filtration, labels, corks, etc. 

We find from these memoirs, what all those who have been 
associated with him already know, that Ernest Wente is a warm 
hunan being, proud of his associates and modest about his 
accomplishments . 



Maynard A. Amerine 

Professor, Viticulture and Enology 



January 1971 

101 Wickson Hall 

University of California at Davis 



INTERVIEW HISTORY 



The interview with Ernest A. Wente was conducted in three 
sessions on April 18, April 21, and May 13, 1969, in Mr. 
Wente *s office at the Wente Bros, winery, which is located 
among the fields and vineyards southeast of the town of 
Livermore. A quietly vigorous man of 79, Mr. Wente postponed 
one planned session because a pump had broken and he was out 
in the fields repairing it. 

In the years since Repeal, a good deal has been written 
in the trade and general press about the Wente family winery. 
A suggested interview outline based upon published articles 
and some additional manuscript material was sent to Mr. Wente 
early in April, 19&9- Although it was not followed chronologi 
cally, all the subjects in it were discussed, the sequence 
being determined in part by the interviewee s thought associa 
tions, in part by the interviewer s questions. 

The Initial transcript of the tapes, with some corrections 
by the interviewer, was sent to Mr. Wente on February 5t 1970. 
He made further corrections and a few deletions, added certain 
details, and checked over the entire text with the interviewer 
on February 24. Some further details, such as the first names 
of people mentioned, were added through correspondence during 
the final editing. 

Mr. Wente spoke thoughtfully and with directness, often 
with humor, and always with the warmth and modesty mentioned 
in Dr. Maynard A. Amerlne s introduction. 



Ruth Teiser, 
Interviewer 



27 January 1971 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 



(Interview #1 - April 18, 1969) 



EARLY YEARS OP THE WENTE VINEYARD 



Teisen You said that you were one of the first students 
at the University of California at Davis. 

Wente: Yes, actually I was the second student ever enrolled 
at Davis. 

Teiser: What year was that? 

Wente: 1908. We didn t have any buildings at all except 

Just the creamery and the old tank house. We roomed 
downtown. I stayed at the hotel and later got a 
room with Bill Grieve, one of the natives up there, 
and stayed there for a year and a half with him. 
Then they had the dormitory put up and the next 
semester I stayed in the dormitory. 

There were only five of us students the first 
semester and we had nine profs. [Laughter] The 
next semester there were 35 students but we still 
had the nine profs. So we lived with the profs and 
had a lot of chance of absorbing a lot of their 
knowledge. We actually lived downtown at the hotel, 
and we traveled around quite a bit with the 
professors. Some of them commuted from Berkeley, 
but some of them stayed right there at Davis. Three 
or four of them stayed at the hotel with us. 

Teiser : You did all your work in animal husbandry... 

Wente: And agronomy. That s all they had was agronomy and 
animal husbandry. They had no viticulture or 



Wente: horticulture department until later. But they did 
have good soils men there and exceptionally good 
animal husbandry people, and Dr. Earing*, 
veterinarian, who the veterinary building is named 
after, Haring Hall up there. He was the veterinarian 
I took work under. 

Teiser: What sort of a man was he personally? 
Wente: Dr. Haring? 

Teiser: Yes. It s hard to find personal descriptions of 
people... 

Wente: Dr. Haring was a very modest sort of a fellow, if 

you can visualize Dr. Cruess, he was on Dr. Cruess 
type a little taller, a little thinner but very 
reticent. He didn t shove himself forward. Just 
very much on the order of Bill Cruess. 

Teiser: Who else did you work with? 

Wente: Well, later on of course with the viticulture 

department and this is what you d like to know 
about, I guess, more than animal husbandry. 

Teiser: All of these things are of interest. I understand 
that you have continued an interest in animal 
husbandry, have you not? Haven t you been a cattle 
man part-time? 

Wente: Yes. I still am. Still have a couple hundred head 
of cows. And they came in mighty handy when 
Prohibition came into effect. 

Teiser: Let s go back. Let me start by asking you when you 
were born. 

Wente: Well, I was born in 1890, July the 9th, 1890. 

Teiser: Right here? 

Wente: In this 50 acre plot here. 

Teiser: So you at the time of Prohibition were... 



*Clarence M. Haring, D.V.M. 



Wcnte: I was 28. 

Telser: Let s go even further back then, If you wouldn t 

mind. I d like to know as much as you can recall, 
and as much as you know from family tradition, of 
the history of your family in the United States. 

Wente: Well, my father* came from the northern part of 

Germany. He came from the province of Hanover. He 
was an animal husbandry man rather than viticulture, 
and, oh, he left Germany along in the latter *60*s 
or ?0 s, 18?0, somewhere along in that period. Had 
a couple of half-brothers who had settled in Illinois 
or Minnesota or somewhere along in there, but he 
couldn t locate them when he got over here, so he 
drifted out to Kansas and finally landed In California 
and went up to Lake County and worked for Dr. [Charles] 
Adams in Adams Springs for a number of years. 

Teiser: What did he do there? 

Wente: Oh, a laborer. Built fences and what have you. And 
then he came down from the hill and worked for... 
Speaking of the hill, he had to go over the St. 
Helena Mountain to get back to Napa. At that time 
I guess there was only one road in and out, and it 
was a toll road too. You had to pay toll to come in, 
in that portion of Lake County anyway. 

Then he went to work for Charles Krug** and he 
worked down for Charles Krug for a few years and 
became Charles Krug s cellar boss or cellar man. 
That s where he learned enology, the making of wines. 

Teiser: He must have learned fast! 

Wente: Yes, well, those days you had to be pretty active 
and have a strong back and [be] willing to work, 
rather than have a lot of education and have every 
body else do the work for you such as we re doing 
[laughter]. It just didn t work out that way in the 
early days. 



*Carl Heinrich Wente; born August 19, 1851, died 
April 10, 193^. 

**Napa County wine grower. 



Went e : 

Teiser: 
W ente : 



Teiser: 



Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Anyway, my mother had a sister that was married 
to a Belgian by the name of Gutzwelller can you spell 
that? [spells it] and she met my father in St. 
Helena. 

What was her maiden name? 

Trautwein.* So that s the reason why I guess we were 
indoctrinated with wine [laughter]. Well she came 
from the southern part of Europe, near the Black 
Forest or in that neighborhood, a little village by 
the name of Lonsheim. And, her folks made wine and 
what have you. And so she was quite familiar with 
viticulture from that angle of it. And then, when 
they married, they came down here in 1883 and bought 
this tract of land which we re sitting on here the 
50 acres which we speak of as the "home place." 

There were two other people somehow involved in that, 
were there? 

Yes. There was a Dr. George Bernard, who originated 
this 50 acres. And C. H. Wente, my father, and Dr. 
Louis Busch, and a man by the name of [Herman] Oterson, 
they each bought a third interest and took over from 
Dr. Bernard. 

It was already planted? 

No, just part of it. Just about 20 acres was planted. 
There was no winery on the premises either. So there 
wasn t too much here. They didn t have any money so 
they had to start from scratch. 



What was the 20 acres planted to? 
of it? 



Did you ever hear 



Oh, yes. I can remember it very well what it was 
planted to. Zinfandel, principally. Some Charbono 
and some Colombard and Mataro. Are you familiar with 
all these varieties? 



Teiser: Most of them... 



Barbara Trautwein. She was born on July 9, i860, 
married Carl H. Wente in 1883, and died in Livermore 
on April 19, 



Wente: And there was some Grey Riesling which he was very 

unhappy about, singularly. And he, after a few years 
undertook to graft them over to White Riesling, and 
during the interim the Schween family in Pleasanton 
were planting some grapes, and they came and got some 
cuttings off of these Grey Re 1 si ing and planted them 
down on the Vineyard Avenue road there in Pleasanton, 
and did very well with them. And after Repeal, when 
Herman and I started to plant vines again, I went 
down to get some cuttings from Mr. Will Schween and 
he said, "Well, well, well I The old Grey Riesling 
are going back home I" That s how we got back into 
the Grey Riesling business. 

Teiser: This brings up the whole subject which I won t 

interrupt you with now but perhaps we can go back to 
it the changes in tastes in variety and types of 
wine which you must certainly have observed. So your 
father and his two partners then planted the whole 50 
acres? 

Wente: Yes, ma am. 

Teiser: And what did they put in besides... 

Wente: Oh, they put in some Semillon and some Burger and 
some Sauvignon blanc and some Colombard commonly 
called today Sauvignon vert Instead of the French 
Colombard as we know the Colombard today. There was 
some difference of opinion as to varieties in the 
early days, and we called Sauvignon vert, Colombard, 
and they had another name for the French Colombard. 
Some called it a White Riesling. 

Teiser: I wanted to ask you where the cuttings came from. 

Wente: Well, the Sauvignon here came from Mr. [Louis] Mel 
over here, who got them directly from Sauternes, 
France, from the oh, my memory isn t as good as it 
used to be. 

Teiser: Chateau d Yquem? 

Wente: Chateau d Yquem, that s right. Later on, the owner 
of Cha teau d Yquem oh, right after Repeal visited 
us here, Marquis de [Lur] Saluces. I spent several 
days with him, taking him around, and he was very 
inquisitive. Wanted to know all about winds and so 
forth and the culture of grapes and whether we had 



Wente: wind damage and why we planted straight varieties 

Instead of blending them as they do in Prance in the 
vineyards. And we gave him some samples. 

Herman brought In seven samples of continuous 
vintages of Sauvignon blanc, and he was very much 
surprised upon the evenness of these wines, how 
nearly alike they were year after year. And he 
passed the remark, he said, "You cannot do this in 
Prance. I did not say, however," he said, "that we 
do not have some vintages that are probably better 
than you are showing me, but you cannot do this in 
Prance, have them as even as you are showing me 
here." That was the Marquis de [Lur] Saluces, the 
owner of the Chateau d Yquem, the vineyards. And he 
wrote in our guest book out there, "I am glad to find 
my children doing so well in California." 

Teiser: CLaughter] Were many of the other vines that your 
father put in imported? 

Wente: Yes, along about that time, oh, 1912 or f 13, there 
was a Frenchman who was hired by the University by 
the name of Bonnet; you ve probably heard of Bonnet.* 
He was one of the best authorities (I thought, anyway) 
of varieties in California at that time. Knew his 
varieties better than anyone, and I was taking some 
work at Davis then, and he was just a greenhorn 
Frenchman. He was a rather peculiar man. He had 
sort of a nasal twang which he was very sensitive 
about. He wasn t too happy about being an instructor, 
because the fellows more or less made fun over him 
and he was pretty sensitive about it. 

However, I was his great friend since I had come 
from a vineyard family. And so he had a brother that 
was superintendant of Montpelier Nursery over in 
Montpelier, Prance, and I brought him home here to 
visit several times, and he talked my father into 
ordering some vines from Montpelier Nursery. So we 
got quite a shipment of vines from Montpelier. They 
were Ugni blanc, for one what we call Ugni blanc. 
Mr. Clarence Wetmore had the same variety and he 
called them Saint-Emlllon. They came from another 



*Leon 0. Bonnet. He was a 1909 graduate of the 
National School of Agriculture, Montpelier, Prance. 



Wente: part of France. So you can see the confusion when 

you are talking about varieties, which I referred to 
in discussing the Colombard and the Sauvlgnon vert. 

And there were a number of other varieties that 
we got, just don t come to my mind right now, which 
we got through Mr. Bonnet. 

Teiser: Did you get any varieties from Germany? 

Wente: No ma am, we did not. But they originated over in 
Alsace-Lorraine like these Grey Hlesling. They re 
actually an Alsatian variety rather than a German 
variety. No one else had bottled under the name of 
Grey Reisling except Wente, and then when [after] we 
started it, it s been used quite a lot. 

Teiser: Because it was good? 

Wente: Well, we think it is. However, as a grape varietal, 
it s not outstandingly good. It s a very staple 
variety and something that you do not tire of. It s 
not nearly as fragrant as a Sauvlgnon blanc or some 
of these other finer French varieties our Chardonnay, 
which we are bottling. But, you could drink it every 
day and not tire of it, you know, and after all, when 
you are in the business of making wine and selling 
it, you want something that the customer could use 
every day and not Just for Sundays. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Yes. 

Wente: So that s our stronghold, our Grey Hlesling, at the 
present time. Singularly, we were considered a 
sauterne district in the early days, along in the 
early days of Mr. Charles Wetmore who likened our 
Livermore Valley very much to the Bordeaux section of 
France where the saut ernes grew, and Semi lions do 
exceptionally well here in this valley the hours and 
units of the heat are Just about right. We were 
considered a sauterne district rather than a Riesling 
district, and long after Repeal we were using the 
Riesling for display at the Fair at Sacramento and 
received many prizes for it awards. 

Dr. [A. J.] Wlnkler was In here one day and he 
said, "You fellows shouldn t be growing these 
Riesling varieties, you re a little too warm here, 
you re a sauterne district rather than a Riesling 





The Wente Vineyard about 1898 (above) and in 
1934 (below) . Photographs courtesy of the 
Wine Institute and Wente Bros. 



Wente Family, 1893. Photograph courtesy of 
Wente Bros. 




The old Wente winery and family home, 1934. 
Photograph courtesy of Wente Bros. 



8 



Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente: 



district." And I passed the remark back to him. 
"Wink," I said, "we seem to do pretty well at the 
Fair, and they re selling well." And he says, "Yes, 
if you weren t such good winemakers you wouldn t do 
so well." And I said, "Well, gee, first you got to 
have the varieties." He says, "Yes, you ve learned 
to live with these varieties and you learned how to 
handle them." He says, "The whole secret, I think, 
that you re doing is picking them at the right time 
and not letting them get too much heat." 

And I think he s right in that respect. You do 
have to watch it very closely so they don t get too 
full-bodied ripe because then they will have too 
much flavor and the total acids would be low and 
they ll be rather bland rather than have the acidity 
that we like in a Riesling. 



I see. 
wines? 



Before Prohibition, you made only white 



No, I wouldn t say that. We made a lot of red wines, 
Yes, in the early days [there] was a lot of common 
varieties of red planted in the Livermore Valley. 
However, it went off as bulk wines. 

Did you make some here? 
Oh, yes. 



GAEL H. WENTE AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES 



Wente: My father made a lot of Zinfandel, Just vin 

ordinaire , and sold it by the hundreds of thousands 
of gallons. Yes, indeed. Then, of course, he 
specialized on whites, but that was by far the 
minority of his crush. His big crush was the vin 
ordinaire . of which he probably Just swapped dollars. 
He told me one time that if he could Just make two 
and one-half a ton, he was keeping his dollars 
together and keeping his men occupied so he could 
make some money off of the varietals. And it s 
probably true, too! When you ve got a group of men 
around and you re Just working on some little varietal, 



Wente: you just can t operate. You just simply have to have 
more for them to do, 

Telser: When was the winery built? When did you start making 
wine? 

Wente: Well, he started when he first came here along in 
1883, 84. He just had a little, small operation. 

Teiser: Yes. This wine business, the history of it, is 

rather unique. Most of these wineries were started 
or operated by people that did it for a hobby. This 
was not true with the Wente family. They didn t 
have any money and he had seven children to feed, 
and as he said, he had to make money out of it to 
feed the kids [laughter]. But you could think 
back or I can of the many, many operations that 
were operated by wealthy people in the early days, 
more so than there are today. However, there are 
many of them coming into it today that like to do 
this because they think it s a lot of fun. 

Teiser: I can think of Captain Gustave Niebaum, but who else? 

Wente: Well, Captain Niebaum was one of them, and in 

ULvermore here, with which I am more familiar, there 
was Julius Paul Smith who created the Olivina. 
Planted olives and vines and had a trade name of 
Olivina. And it was a very famous wine at the time. 
Mr. Smith made his millions out of Death Valley 
borax Twenty Mule Team borax and when he got enough 
so he thought he could retire, he came to Livermore 
and bought 2300 acres and started to plant grapes. 
That was one of the most famous operations in the 
state.* 

And then we had another operation neighbor of 
his by the name of [Alexander] Duvall, an old 
Frenchman. He made his money out of building rail 
roads in Peru over the Andes and came here and built 
up a chateau.** He had a regular chateau with a 
church and everything else on it, and wound up very 
sad. He had one daughter, and he tried to keep her 
very religious, and on the place that way, and she 
was very unhappy and she finally ran away and went 



*Some papers of the Olivina Winery are in the Bancroft 
Library manuscript collection 

**He named it Chateau Bellevue. 



10 



Wente: to Chicago and he vowed he d never see her again 

which he never did. Even on his deathbed. He never 
saw his daughter again. He was a determined old 
Frenchman. I can remember him very well stocky 
little old rascal I 

Teiser: Was his wine good? 

Wente: Very good, yes. And he had a good crew of men 
working for him too. Later worked for us, and 
around, and I knew them all pretty well. 

Teiser: Were Smith s wines good? 

Wente: Yes, fine. He made some champagnes that were 
exceptionally good. Haven t you ever seen the 
brochures on Olivina? By golly, I ve got them 
around here somewhere. You know, there s a young 
fellow here by the name of Gibson* who was writing 
his thesis for his doctor s degree at Davis and he 
was interested in wines and he came down here half a 
dozen times and he sat and talked with me and 
gathered history. I ve got his thesis here a copy 
of it. He really put a lot of time in on it, and 
then he made some maps of the Livermore Valley here. 
I could sit here and talk to you all day and it 
wouldn t explain half of what this map would. And 
this map here shows you the amount of vineyards that 
was here in the early days. He showed the contour, 
he shows where Cresta Blanca is, and Ruby Hill. 

Teiser: What s happened to Ruby Hill now is it operating? 

Wente: Yes, it s operating, but Ernest Perrario, who s an 
old Italian, he s right around 90 years old. And 
he works every day very hard at it. He doesn t 
make very good wines, but he operates the place. 

Now there was a lot of other quite well-to-do 
people around here. There was Dr. [Joseph] Altschul 
who created a vineyard** up there on the hill. He was 
a doctor out of Chicago that came to Livermore here 



Gibson, David J., The Development of the Livermore 
Valley Wine District, University of California, 
Davis, M.A. thesis, 1969. 

**The Vienna Vineyard. 



11 



Wente: and created a vineyard behind Cresta Blanca there. 

Telseri But your family was In It because It was the way 
your father liked, I guess, to make a living. 

Wente: Well, It was something he started to work at, and of 
course If you have a family. . . 

Telser: I suppose it gave all of you boys something to do, 
didn t it? 

Wente: I guess it did. According to his theory [laughter] 
according to his theory, why, work made life sweet. 
Now it all depends on how you work. Brother Carl* 
didn t care to go out in a field with a hoe handle, 
so he got himself a job that was different. But I 
was still hoeing weeds, and still here hoeing weeds, 
and father s theory was that boys get into trouble 
if they were idle. And work was good for the soul 
and it was good to make citizens out of you, and I 
don t know that he had a point far as that s concerned, 
All we knew was work. 

Telser: All three of you boys turned out, you might say, 

rather well. Maybe he did have a point. [Laughter] 

Wente: Oh, yes. He was kind of a hard master, a hard task 
master. Very good to us, saw that we were well 
taken care of. I can still remember when I wanted 
to go to Davis, he says, "I don t know whether the 
college deal is good for you or not." He says, "All 
I had was a third grade education. I ve raised my 
family and fed them. And Colonel Edwards* dean of 
math at the University of California, he came here 
in the 80 s and he bought 200 acres and he started 
a farm and lost it lost half of it by foreclosure 
ta the bank, and I bought it from the bank. Now he 
was dean of math and had a college education, and I 
only had a third grade education. I don t know 
whether college education is good for you or not." 



*Carl F. Wente. 

**George C. Edwards. He was for many years 
commandant of the cadets at the University in 
Berkeley as well as professor of mathematics. 



12 



Wente: Its got some sense to that too, you know. I 
maintain that an education is very valuable to you 
if you ll utilize it the right way. But if you 
just want to sit down and play, you d probably be 
better off without it. I think learning how to work 
is more important than an education, number one. 
Number two comes the education, but if you haven t 
the ambition to work all the education in the world 
can Just make you that much worse, I think. 

Teiser: Your father gradually then added to his acreage? 

Wente: Yes, yes. He added quite a little, and Prohibition 
came along and that took the heart out of him, and 
he said, "I m all through." He said, "Now you boys 
want to operate, you may." 

Teiser: How many acres did you have at the time of Prohibition? 
Wente: You mean of grapes? 
Teiser: Yes. 

Wente: You see, we were kind of dual operators. He was too. 
He still was of the same frame of mind that I was, 
that never put all your eggs in one basket. He 
said, "You might drop your basket." And Prohibition 
taught us that too there s no question about that. 
[Laughter] So, we dropped our basket as far as grapes 
are concerned but we kept on operating in livestock, 
cattle and hogs, and owned sheep and what have you, 
and raised barley, which we went right on ahead and 
did. 

Teiser: But how many acres did you have in grapes? 

Wente: About 200 acres In grapes about that time. Herman 
and I gradually, and my son Karl, we gradually 
increased this to about 800 acres here a little 
more in grapes. 

Teiser: Let me ask one thing more about your father s days. 
I believe it was the younger Louis Martini* who 
mentioned that his grandfather and grandmother were 
friends of your parents? Is that right? 

Wente: Yes. I can remember Louis grandfather** very well. 
He had a little place down here at Pleasanton on 



*Louis P. Martini. 
**A#ostino Martini. 



13 



Wente: the hill. This was along about 1912 to the time 
Prohibition went into effect. Then he started to 
sell off his equipment and was going back to Italy. 

Telser: He was making wine? 

Wente: Yes, he was making wine. However, I don f t think 

this was his entire business. He was a merchant in 
San Francisco at the commission markets, who did 
something of that order in San Francisco, and he 
came here on weekends and had this place, and later 
spent all of his time here. He was a very jovial 
little Italian. ..uh, quite different than his son. 
I m not speaking of Junior, I m speaking of Louis 
Senior, Louis [M.] Martini, who s high-powered, high 
strung. Well, my father bought his crusher when the 
old gentleman left for Europe, and Louis Just came 
back from Italy. Then he went over to Italy to the 
university, and I don t think his father was happy. 
He had big ideas, I think, and his father thought, 
"Well, gee, he d better save what he had and go back 
to the old country! " [Laughter] This is my idea. 
And so Louis was on his own, and did tremendously 
well. 

I can remember during World War II we had a 
meeting in San Francisco, and Louis and I were having 
lunch together, and Louis says, "I m worried. I m 
worried that I don t hear from my folks any more." 
He said, "All communications have been shut off and 
I ve been trying to send them money and I don t know 
whether they received it or not." And he said, "I 
wish I knew some way to contact them." Well, Paul 
Tarpey was there. You remember Paul Tarpey? Paul 
Tarpey was a wine broker and operator on vines down 
the Valley. Paul says, "Louis, have you tried the 
Church?" "Yes," he says, "I have. But," he says, 
"I don t get anywhere." Paul says, "While you re 
eating lunch, let me go out and try." So he went 
out and in about an hour he came back, and he said, 
"Louis, it s all fixed." He said, "Within two days 
you ll get all the word from your folks." And I 
said to Paul, "How d you do this?" Well, he said, 
"I knew, if you re going to reach him through the 
Church you had to be a good Catholic. I m Catholic 
but I m not a working Catholic, and I knew that I 
had to get somebody that was a working Catholic. I 



Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 

Teiser: 
Wente 



Telsert 
Wente t 



worked at the Examiner for many years and," he said, 
"I knew one of the chief man at the Examiner who s 
a good working Catholic who had all the contacts 
right to the hierarchy In Rome." And he said, "I 
went to him with the story and he Just put his 
wheels into motion." He said, "This is how it 
worked. So," he said, "I will find out for Louis 
all about his folks." And the word came back in a 
few days that his folks were all right and that he 
could send his money through the Church and reach 
his folks. 

Paul was quite a publicity man and he really 
was quite a boy. He was the first captain of the 
Stanford team that played in the Rose Bowl. 

Oh he was! 

[Laughter] He says, "While we lost, I was still the 
first captain." [Laughter] 

You mentioned Charles A. Wetmore. Do you remember 
him? 

Yeah, oh very well. Charles Wetmore was one of the 
first graduates of the University of California. 
And he was a newspaper writer, and very much interested 
in wine. And he got the appointment politically to 
go to Europe to find out about varieties and study 
viticulture. Came back and started Cresta Blanca. 
But he wasn t a very good businessman, and his brother 
Clarence [J. Wetmore] was a better businessman and 
took over and he d got some capital from [Charles E.] 
Bowen, so they called it Wetmore-Bowen. That was the 
origination of Cresta Blanca. 

What were the two men like personally the Wetmore 
brothers . 

Well, Charles was a very near-sighted man. You d 
think he d be looking out the room and he d be 
looking right straight at you. Very Jovial and 
smart as all get out. He knew chemistry and he just... 
But he loved champagne too well, I think this was one 
of his great faults. But Clarence did a tremendous 
Job on promoting Cresta Blanca. 



Teiser: What sort of a person was Clarence? 



Went e : 



Teiser: 



Wente : 



Teiser: 



15 



Clarence was also a first graduate of the University 
of California. But he married some money too, which 
helps. [Laughter] And a very nice fellow, very 
fine man. He wasn t as big in stature as Charles, 
but he was calmer and thought things out, I think, 
in a more business-like manner than Charles who was 
very jovial and liked to play a little bit. 

Charles came over here and was a great tutor to 
my father on making sauternes. He used to come over 
here and spend weeks with my father teaching him 
how to make the sweet sauternes, and the chemistry 
of wines, and so forth. That was after he was out 
of Cresta Blanca, and he didn t have much of a source 
of income. 



What happened to Cresta Blanca after? 
subsequent history of it? 



What was the 



Well, when Prohibition went into effect, Mr. Wetmore 
was well to do that is Clarence Wetmore and he had 
a salesman by the name of Johnson, who sold champagne. 
L[ucien] B. Johnson. And he ran it more or less during 
Prohibition, Just to keep it alive, and then after 
Repeal he sold it to Schenley Schenley Industries. 

What other of the early winemakers did your family 
know and you know? 



Wente : Well, I guess they knew them all. 



WINE MEN OF 1915 AND 1939 



Wente: Did you ever see the picture of the wine group at 
the 1915 Fair? Now, this is the 1915 group of 
vintners, and there s the Palace of Fine Arts. 

Teiser: This was taken July 12, 1915 at the Fair. The 
Panama Pacific International Exposition at San 
Francisco. The International Congress of Viticulture.* 

Wente: Yes. Well, this is Mr. Clarence Wetmore. 



Photograph by Cardinell-Vincent Company. 



16 



Telser: Oh, down in the first row with a boutonniere. 

Wente: And this is Mr., Mr. champagne maker down in Los 
Gatos Paul Masson. This is Mr. [Secondo] Guasti 
from way down South. 

Teiser: With a black moustache? 

Wente : Black moustache. Uh, this I ll have to Jump 

around a little bit because this was a delegate 
from one of the foreign countries, and some of 
these others were too. So I do not know them all, 
but going along here, this was Mr. [Louis] Mel. 

Teiser: With the white beard. 

Wente: With the white beard. And he was our neighbor. 

Teiser: He was a wine grower too. 

Wente s Yes. His wife was a cousin or second cousin to the 
Chateau d Yquem people. 

And, well this man s up from Napa way. These 
are all Napa boys. And this is Horatio Stoll; he 
was secretary of the Grape Association,* they called 
it then, and later it became the Wine Institute. 

Teiser: He s on the right hand end. 
Wente: Yes. He s a Sacramento boy. 

And as we come down the line here, this one was 
over from Napa way, and I ll try and take both lines 
as I come: that s brother Herman. 

Teiser: Standing up there with a black sweater on, in the 
back row. 

Wente: Yes. We go down the line here. I think this is one 
of the Rossis, [in] the black suit. One of the 
Rossis has a bow tie back there in the background. 



* California Grape Growers Association. See page 6?. 



17 



Wente : 

Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 

Teiser: 
Wente: 

Teiser: 
Wente: 



That s the fiossis.* And this is Professor [George] 
Husmann. He was head of the viticulture branch of 
the U.S. Department of Agriculture at that time. 

Black moustache and about the center middle row. 

And this is Ed [Edgar M.] Sheehan of the Sacramento 
Valley vineyard, Cordova Vineyards [at Perkins], 
He was one of the first presidents of the Wine Grape 
Growers Association. 

He s in the middle row with a kind of President 
Hoover collar on. 

Yes. This is Carl Bundschu no, Gundlach this is 
Mr. [Jacob] Gundlach and this is Mr. Bundschu over 
here. The two of them look rather alike and they 
were partners. Gundlach -Bundschu. And this fellow 
was over out of Solano County. 



The fellow with the big beard? 

Yes. Very gruff sort of a fellow, 
back there. 



And that s me, 



The very top row, second from the right. 

Prom the right. And this is Professor [Frederic T.] 
Bloletti. Little old Dr. Bioletti. 

He s at the top row to the left, with his hat in his 
hand. What was he like? Was he an excitable little 
fellow? 

He was a bluff little guy, really. [Laughter] Yeah, 
I d say he s an excitable little fellow. He was 
quite a showman like he s Just showing off there. 
Most very small men are that way, aren t they? 

This fellow here is a brother to this Husmann, 
over here where I showed you Mr. Husmann of the 
Viticulture Department. This is his brother. This 
is Fred. Now we re coming along here and I don t 



*Edmund A. and Robert D. Rossi, the twin sons of 
Pietro C. Rossi, of Italian Swiss Colony. 



18 



Wente: know this one, but this is Mr. [Emil C.] Priber. 
Teiser: Fourth from the left end, standing white beard. 

Wente: He was the president of the Napa & Sonoma Wine 
Company. And, this is Mr. [Edwin A.] Grau. 

Teiser: Next one to the left. Little white beard. 

Wente: Grau and [Edwin P.] Werner were great friends of my 
father. They created Los Amigos Vineyard over here 
at Irvington. 

Teiser: Oh, yesl 

Wente: Now, this man was working with my father with Charles 

Krug. 

Teiser: Mr. Werner? 

Wente: No. Mr. Grau. And Mr. Werner is not here. He 

wasn t able to come. Mr. Werner was superintendant 
of the Greys tone Winery in St. Helena. And Mr. 
Werner lived in that little cottage right alongside 
of the Greystone. Still there the last time I was 
up there, the little cottage, and that s where Mr. 
Werner lived, and my father used to go over and 
visit with him all the time. That s how he got 
acquainted, around St. Helena. They were great 
friends, Grau and Werner. And this is my father 
here. 

Teiser: Oh, he s standing on the left end. 
Wente: Yes. 

Teiser: He looks like your brother Carl a good deal, doesn t 
he? 

Wente: Very much. And this is Mr. [Prank A.] Busse. He 

was working for the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company as a 
superintendant and salesman. 

Teiser: Second line. 

Wente: And so when this man Priber wanted to sell Napa & 
Sonoma Wine Company, he came to my father, who had 
the money to put up, and Busse didn t have the money, 
and so the two of them entered into an agreement to 



19 



Wente: buy the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company. My father 

became president of the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company; 
then Mr. Busse ran the works. Often when Prohibition 
came, why he, my father, said to Busse, "You ve 
worked hard and we ve made a lot of money out of 
this thing. I m going to give you this inventory 
and all the wine and everything for the cost of the 
inventory, and you take the labels and everything 
and capitalize on it as best you can. 11 So that was 
the end of Napa & Sonoma as far as my father was 
concerned.* He just washed everything right out. 

And he turned around to us boys and he said, 
"Now I m going to put a price on your ranches here, 
and you get first chance to buy them if you want to 
buy them, and I ll take your notes on them but put 
them down cheap, and if you don t want to buy them 
I m going to sell to somebody else." He said, "I ve 
found out in my lifetime that I can divide a dollar 
evenly so the family has no quarrels, but I can t 
divide a piece of property evenly. There will always 
be a family feud. So," he said, "this piece of land 
is worth so much. This peice of land is worth so 
much. Now you were here with me all these years and 
you have number one choice." So I picked where I m 
living, on that piece of land. Herman picked this 
one across the street. So then we created Wente 
Brothers . ** [Laughter] 

Teiser: Oh, that s the story. I couldn t figure out why, 
when your father lived so many years longer, you 
came along and created Wente Brothers. What year was 
that? 

Wente i Well, we created Wente Brothers fictlclously we never 
incorporated or anything in 1918, right when 
Prohibition went into effect. So Herman went into 
the [World War I] service, and I stayed here and ran 
the ranches until he got back. Now, we re getting 
away from my story. Now, then, this [showing grout) 
portrait] was the 1939 fair.*** 

Teiser: [reading] "Sixth Annual Conference, Wine Industry 



*See also pages 64-65. 

**See also pages 53-55- 

***Golden Gate International Exposition. 



20 



Telser: and Related Interests, Treasure Island, June 5th, 
1939." 

Wente: As far as I know there f s only one man alive that s 
in both these pictures and that s me. Unless it s 
Ed Rossi. This is Harry Caddow. He was with the 
Wine Institute. And this is L[ucien] B. Johnson who 
bought Cresta Blanca, and Mr. [Clarence] Wetmore, 
this is he, here, in the front row. But I m back in 
here somewhere, if you can find me. But Herman was 
in it too, here. 

Teiser: He s on the left standing next to someone with a 
clerical collar. 

Wente: That was Brother one of the Jesuits. Here s 
Georges de Latour. 

Teiser: Oh yes, front row. (That reminds me to ask you 

about your association with the Beaulieu Vineyard 
during Prohibition. ) 

Wente: That s where I am. 
Teiser: Oh there you are. I see. 

Wente: Dr. [A. J.] Winkler. The other two doctors from 

Davis. I can t think of their names the one with 
very thick glasses and oh golly, I know them like 
I know. . . 

Teiser: Not Dr. Amerine? 

Wente: Amerine should be there somewhere. 

Teiser: That s a good looking group of men, isn t it? 

Wente: For a bunch of wlnos, they look pretty good, don t 
they? [Laughter] 

I m quite proud of the fact that I m the only 
one that s in both of these pictures, unless it 
would be Ed Rossi. Here s Ed Rossi, here. 

Teiser: Oh! Almost in the center, in the light suit, to 

the right of a woman. Yes. I spoke to his son the 

other day to ask how he was, because we want to 

Interview him too. He said that he was getting along 



21 



Teiser: all right and he thought in a few weeks he d be well 
enough to be Interviewed. 

Wente: Oh? He s no older than I am. 

Teiser: Well, he was hit by an automobile. In some freak 
accident.* 

Wente: You asked about de Latour and Beaulleu. We sold 

wines to Mr. de Latour for years. My father used to 
sell him wine. 

Teiser: In bulk? 

Wente: In bulk, yes. Saut ernes. We never bottled here 
before Prohibition. We bottled in Napa & Sonoma, 
but we never bottled Wente wines here. 

Teiser: There was no Wente label used? 

Wente: There was no Wente label used. My father at the 

1915 Pair, he said, "I m probably the proudest man 
here at this fair because I ve won four gold medals 
all on the white wines. I ve won four gold medals 
and none of them were in my name." [Laughter] Wine 
that he sold to Napa & Sonoma, to Beaulieu, to 
Gundlach-Bundschu, and one or two others. They all 
presented them at the fair and they all won gold 
medals. But Pops didn t have a thing to say about 
it. [Laughter] 

Teiser: I think I read somewhere that during Prohibition 
most of your wine went to... 

Wente: We had one customer during Prohibition 1918 or 20 
to Repeal and that was Beaulieu Vineyard. We made 
them their sweet sauternes for altar purposes. 
Before, my father used to sell it to them in bulk, 
in barrels, and I can remember it so well. Mr. de 
Latour was also a poor man, didn t have any money. 
He started from scratch. And he d come down here 
and he d take samples and my father said, "Well, 
Georges, there isn t much use to be showing samples 
to you. I can t sell you any more wine. You owe me 



*The interview with Edmund A. Rossi was subsequently 
held. 



22 



Wente: for two years now. And I have to pay my men. I 
can t sell you any more wine." 

"I will tell you something, Mr. Wente," he said. 
"My business Is with the Church. They are slow 
paying but they are good." So Pops would weaken 
and give Georges de Latour some wine. [Laughter] 

So when Prohibition came, and of course he was 
the only one in the state probably who was selling 
any altar wines at the time to speak of, so he had 
the big trade thenj, and we made him 30,000 
gallons of sweet Semillon or sweet sauterne each 
year, Herman and I did. Herman principally, because 
I was busy farming. And we had no trouble at all 
as far as selling and collect ing i By that time, he 
Just ran on top and they did a nice Job. 

The Beaulieu Vineyards were kind of a sad 
situation. The boy never was very strong or healthy, 
which Mr. de Latour was very, very upset over and 
very sad about. The girl took it over and she 
married. Now it s in the hands of the Sullivans, 
I think pretty much. And they re going on all right. 
They re very fine people, but they could have done 
as well as the Wentes if they had some sons to carry 
it on. Not that they didn t do as well as the Wentes, 
but they had the upper hand on the whole thing after 
Repeal because they were the label. They were right 
in the driver s seat when Repeal came. 

Teiser: And were they not fairly well financed by then? 
Wente: Oh yes, no problems at all. 

Well, it came to the point where, along about 
19 2 6- 2?, the Alcohol Tax Unit wouldn t give you a 
permit to transfer wines from one bonded winery to 
the other, if you did not use it for blending. So 
Mr. de Latour was beside himself. He couldn t buy 
our wines, without he took them up to their vineyards 
and blended them. And this you can t do with the 
sweet sauternes because they were sweetened a little 
bit and they would ferment immediately, and he was 
beside himself. And he said, "Well, you re not doing 
anything with your bond. Why don t you transfer it 
over to Beaulieu Vineyards? And then we can carry on 
and we will give it back to you after Repeal, if and 
when it comes." 



23 



Teiser: You were bonded all this time? 

Wente: We were bounded all this time. We were making bonded 
wine. We had to in order to make wine for Beaulieu 
Vineyards. And so we didn t have any other 
customers what would you do? [Laughter] So we 
became Beaulieu Vineyards Bonded Winery Number 898 
or whatever our number is, for seven or eight years. 
So then we could ship, or Beaulieu Vineyards could 
ship wines from this bonded winery directly to its 
agency all over the United States, Chicago and 
different parts; we d Just load the barrels in cars 
at his direction and send them on. So we were 
Beaulieu Vineyards for a number of years Just in the 
eyes of the tax people.* They paid us by the gallon. 

Teiser: And you Just made that one wine? 

Wente: We Just made that one wine. 

Teiser: It was not a fortified wine? 

Wente: No, ma am. 

Teiser: I thought most sacramental wines were. 

Wente: Yes, but the sweet sauternes were not. They were 

sweetened; we arrested the fermentation at about two 
degrees Balling and under 14 per cent alcohol. 



PBE-PHOHIBITION DAYS 



Teiser: Let me go back to your education and your brothers . 
Did you all have duties in the winery? 

Wente: Oh, it was kind of a family run institution, yes. 

Teiser: This 1893 picture, I think it has been reproduced a 
good many times. It is delightful with the whole 
family and the barrels and the Oriental rug! 



*See also pages 65-66. 



Wente: [Laughter] That was mother f s idea the Oriental rug. 

Teiser: You didn t keep the Oriental rug there every day? 

Wente: Oh, heavens, not 

Teiser: Would you identify these people in this... 

Wente: Ah, yes, I can identify them all. 

Teiser: Would you start on the left side? 

Wente: That s me. 

Teiser: You re on the left. 

Wente: That s Carl over here. 

Teiser: ...on the right. And then who s second from left? 

Wente: That s sister Carolyn. 

Teiser: And third from left... 

Wente: That s mother and Herman. 

Teiser: The baby is Herman? 

Wente: Herman. And father and sister May and Carl. There 

was only five of us at that time. Then sister Frieda 
and Hilma came later. 

Teiser: If it was in front of the winery, how did the barrels 
happen to be out there in such a nice arrangement? 

Wente: Well, they were kept there for shipping. We shipped 
in these puncheons then, always. 

Teiser: The ones to the right and the left. How many gallons 
would they hold? 

Wente: A hundred and eighty gallons, in that neighborhood, 
160 to 180. They were puncheons. 

Teiser: And what about the upright barrel? 

Wente: This barrel? That was the breakdown or 50 gallon 

barrel. And this was a 50 gallon barrel here. This 



25 



Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 

Wente : 
Teiser: 
Wente : 

reiser: 



Wente : 

Teiser: 
Wente : 



was the bulk shipment when my father sold the 
vintage each year to, oh, Gundlach-Bundschu, or to 
Italian Swiss Colony or what have you who bought it. 
Lachman & Jacob! was the principal buyer at that 
time. 

The principal buyer of your wine? 

They were the principal buyers, yes. Of the bulk 
wine, not the finer wines. The finer wines went to 
the small groups of bottlers such as Napa & Sonoma 
and Gundlach-Bundschu and people like that who 
bottled individually. 

Did Gundlach-Bundschu or Lachman & Jacob! make any 
of their own wines, or did they Just bottle? 

Lachman & Jacob! , no; they were just merchants. 
Gundlach too? 

They had a vineyard up at Sonoma. They did make a 
few wines, but principally bought their wines. 

You may have seen in Herb Caen s column in the San 
Francisco Chronicle that somebody unearthed some 
information about A. Finke s Widow, and there s 
been some interest in the firm. 

My father sold A. Pinke s Widow right along. We 
have some books that my father kept since he 
started, showing who he sold to and prices he got. 



Who was A. Pinke s widow? 
identity or... 



Are you aware of her 



No, that s Just a name principally, as far as I was 
concerned. I helped barrel it up a lot of times and 
made the shipment to A. Pinke s Widow, but my father 
did the traveling. In those days you had to go by 
train in the morning to San Francisco. There was a 
local train that left here about six- thirty, and 
came home about five o clock at night. That was 
the only transportation we had. We didn t have any 
automobiles. Then he bought his first automobile in 
1906. I ve been driving an automobile since 1906. 
That s quite a long time, too. I still have a 
driver s license and have never gone to the hospital 
yet on account of an automobile accident. I ve had 



26 



Wente: a few little bumps but never hurt. This is a long 
time and I guess it must total millions [of miles]; 
I don t know, I haven t any idea. 

Teiser: Your father then had to go to the city frequently? 
Wente: Yes. 

My father, as you see [in the 1893 photograph] 
had a cane. He hurt his hip. He tipped over a 
. load of hay right up on the hill here when I was 
six months old, so my mother tells me, and broke 
his hip. And up until that point why he Just worked, 
worked, worked. Had a good head but he never used 
it so much. He Just felt that he had to earn a 
living by hard work. And then when he got crippled 
up, why then, he used to tell me, "I had six kids 
to feed and I had to make a living for them. So," 
he said, "I started contracting and pruning and 
planting vines and hired a lot of men and rode 
around in a horse and buggy." Couldn t walk, so he 
rode around in a horse and buggy and superintended 
it. His wine making the same way. In those days 
you could hire good men. You couldn t do that today 
[laughter]. I can tell you that I 



[Albert Kirkman brings in books.] 
Kirk, didn t you? 



You did meet 



Teiser: No, I didn t. 

Wente: Mr. Kirkman s been with us since Repeal, along with 
the hostess , Adele [Kruger] , along with Bruno 
[Canzianl] the winemaker. They all came to work 
with Herman and me right after Repeal and they re 
still here.* 

Come over here and sit down. [Looking at 
father s account books.] Some of these old figures 
aren t so good. This is 189**-. This is a chart of 
our middle block of grapes, and this is what he 
received in pounds from it. But this book goes on 
and on and on. I ll Just give you a quick look. 
Napa-Sonoma Wine and Brandy Company. Later they 



*See page 52. 



27 



Wente: called it Napa & Sonoma Wine Company, "In 1895 

settled to satisfaction," father says here. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Must have had a hard time getting that! [Laughter} 

Wente: Well, it does say the discount, and so forth. Didn t 
amount to much as far as dollars is concerned, but 
that s just one item. I ll Just turn over that 
quickly so... There s quite a history right in this 
little old book here. "Sweet must" This [looking 
at another book] was his blend book rather than his 
sales book. This is where he made his blends. 

Teiser: Oh, made records of his blends. I see. 

Wente* And Herman and I used it many, many times, too. 

Teiser: Followed his blends? 

Wente: Yes. Napa & Sonoma Wine Company that is what he 

used in blending. He blended up six, seven thousand 
gallons for Napa & Sonoma Wine Company, haut sauterne, 
see. And this is what he used in it. It showed five 
tenths above Balling, used six cans of tannin for 
white... 

Teiser: And the grapes? 

Wente: He used sauterne that s Semlllon nd the Colombard 
and the Golden Chasselas and the Polle blanche and 
the sweet Colombard he blended in, and Neuchatel. 
And there were ^3 parts here you see, he used 15 
parts of... 

Teiser: They used to make a Golden Chasselas wine, didn t 
they? 

Wente: Yes. 

Teiser: Was it any good? 

Wente: No. The Neuchatel was a Swiss type of wine. 

This [book] is getting pretty well worn out, 
isn t it? Now we ll go to one of the other books 
and see what he sold. He wrote pretty well, don t 
you think? 



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Page from Carl H. Wente s Account Book 



28 



Telser: I should say sol Your brother Carl had a good 

bookkeeper to come up to, didn t he? Wasn t he for 
a time the bookkeeper? 

Wente: For a while, yes. 

This is Gundlach & Company here thousand 
gallons of Charbono. 

Teiser: [Reading] Arpad Haraszthy and Company in 1889. 

Wente: [W. P.] Bartlett and [George B.] Crane. I m looking 
here for Timothy Hayes that s a neighbor over here. 
H. B. Wagoner. H. B. Wagoner ran a winery downtown 
here. Pisher Packing Company. [Turning pages] 
Haraszthy, 1892. Haraszthy was supposed to receive 
most credit for bringing over these grapes from 
Europe, you know. 

Teiser: Yes, the father of Arpad was it not? 

Wente: That s what they say. I wasn t there... [Laughter] 
There s Lachman; Franz and Fuchs, l^th Street, 
Oakland. James Concannon. He sold wine to Goncannon, 
then too. Overland Transfer & Freight, Haraszthy 
again. [More page turning] A. Flnke s Widow s 
around here, somewhere, 1886. 

Teiser: Your father really had a beautiful hand. 

Wente: A very methodical man. You know, he came up the hard 
way, really. I mean he got cripped up, and then as 
time went on he became very prominent in local 
affairs, and they started a bank downtown here and 
he became president of that, too. You knew that, I 
guess? 

Teiser: Yes, I think I did and I m glad to have it on the 
tape. 

Wente: And Carl and I, as I tried to tell you, were here 
hoeing weeds one day, and Carl was sitting over by 
the fence, and I said, "Gee, we re never going to 
get any weeds hoed if you sit over there. Pops is 
going to be mad with us." And he said, "Well, I ve 
got to get a job that pays more money than this!" 
[Laughter] He got himself a job in the bank. That 
was more to his liking. 



29 



Teiser: 

Went e : 



Teiser: 

Wente: 
Teiser: 



Wente : 



Well, I guess it was a good enough choice. [Laughter] 

He did all right for himself. [Laughter] Yes, 
indeed, he did all right. 

[Turning pages of book] Here s Lachman & Jacob! now. 
Bertin & Lepori. They were a very famous company or 
outfit. Napa & Sonoma Wine Company, 1906. Italian 
Swiss Colony. Union Wine Company. The Winedale 
Company. 

My son [Karl] is somewhat on the order of my 
father, you know; he s always busy, busy, busy. He 
never quits. Ciocca-Lombardi. Here s Oterson. 
This was my father s partner, you know, that I talked 
to you about. Chauche & Bon. Alta Vista Wine 
Company. There were a lot of old firms in San 
Francisco. Chevalier & Company. Ghaix & Bernard, 
1900. William Hoelscher. Did you know the 
Hoelschers? They ran I. De Turk.* They were very 
good friends. 



I m coming near the end of my tape, 
back and continue? 



Could I come 



Well, do you think I have that much information? 

Yes, yes. I want to go back and begin, really, with 
your going to college and your brother Herman s 
education, and carry forward in some little more 
detail on that. 

Well, brother Herman went to U.C. My wife was a 
U.C. graduate. Karl s a Stanford [graduate] so we 
went to the Stanford football games when he was at 
Stanford; we didn t know which side to root for. 
[Laughter] Whether we should be true to Cal or root 
for Stanford! Now his son, by the way we received 
notice yesterday that he is accepted at Stanford 
Karl s oldest boy. So he s going to Stanford next 
year. 

I wanted Karl to go to Davis. Bight when he 
was a little fellow he used to go around with me in 
the ranch all the time. His mother tried to tell him 



*As successors to Isaac De Turk. 



30 



Wente: he d better prepare himself In high school for 

education in college: "But you ve got to make up 
your mind what you want to do." And he says, "I 
know what I want to do." He says, "I m going to be 
a farmer like my father. I ve got my mind made up 
to that already." So that s the way he went. 

Well, I tried to get him to go to Davis, then. 
No, he wanted to go to Stanford anyway. He went to 
Stanford, and when he got through I said, "Well, you 
ought to go up to Davis to take at least six months, 
and why don t you go up and see Dr. Winkler? 11 And 
Joe Concannon* was a graduate of Notre Dame , and the 
two of them were the same age. They went to high 
school here together and so they decided, on my 
pressure, that they d go up and see Dr. Winkler and 
see if they couldn t take six months of post-grad 
work in viticulture. They got up to Davis, and 
Winkler was giving them a bad time. He really gave 
them a terrible time, I guess, because he said, 
"Hell, you fellows both come here from the best 
quality wineries in the state, and you went to 
Stanford and you went to Notre Dame, and now you 
come here and you expect me to educate you in six 
months." [Laughter] And he had a point too! He 
was pretty bitter and outspoken about it. 

So, when Karl came home, I said, "Well, I 
suppose you re all set to go to Davis." He says, 
"I wouldn t go there for all the money in the world." 
He says, "The way he treated me I" [Laughter] So 
that settled going to Davis that was his post 
graduate he took it all in one dayl [Laughter] 



* Joseph Concannon, Jr. 



31 
(Interview #2 - April 21, 1969) 

VINEYARD PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS 



tfente; I d like to go back over the history of grape 
industry here in California a little bit, as I 
remember from the time my father got into it here 
iri Livermore the date I was born. Of course I 
can t remember the first immature years of my life, 
but I can remember from 1896 on quite vividly. 

We lived I mean we as children ran around 
here and worked with it and helped him with every 
thing he did. It was a family organization. And 
of course, as the vines were planted here in 
California, they all were planted on their own 
roots the vinlfers, the European varieties, and 
the phylloxera came. Of course, you can get the 
history of the phylloxera in all the record books 
what it did to California. But they grew very 
prolific here, all on virgin soil to begin with, 
and everybody and his brother planted vines and it 
wasn t too long, by the year 1900 we had a gutted 
market on grapes, and Just awfully depressed, up to 
the point where they were selling for six dollars 
per ton. And wine bulkwise I can remember my 
father taking these grapes in at six dollars per ton, 
and didn t want them because he didn t feel that he 
could make any money, but the growers all had these 
grapes and so he offered to take them in as best he 
could with what cooperage he had, and was selling 
wine for six and one-half cents again. So you see, 
there wasn t very much spread, and it went this way 

for quite a while. But phylloxera Mother Nature 

takes care of things pretty well phylloxera came 
along and thinned out all these vineyards, and they 
had to start from scratch again like they did in 
Prance, by using the American rootstock which was 
resistant to the little root louse. 

And then the vintners needed help and so the 
Department of Agriculture, the United States 
Department of Agriculture, devised the branch called 



32 



Wente: the Viticulture Department , which put in these 

experimental plots. The main one was at Oakvllle 
near Rutherford. It s still in operation by the 
University of California now, by Davis. There was 
another plot there were four in the state right 
here where we are sitting, the site of this office. 
Had over a hundred varieties of rootstock, and they 
did not do any grafting here but they did plant over 
a hundred American rootstocks here to see which 
would be the most phylloxera-resistant, and the most 
vigorous. 

Teiser: What period was this? 

Wente: This was from 190*4- til Prohibition came in in 1918, 
when it went out of existence and the Department of 
Viticulture went out at the same time. 

Teiser: Where were the other plantings? 

Wente: One was down at Fresno and the other was over at 

Lodl. Those two went out of existence earlier, but 
this one remained in until Prohibition came in, when 
the department went out. We looked at that [1915 
fair] picture and I showed you Mr. Hussman who was 
head of that department at that time. One of his 
workers and I worked with him in this plot, here as 
a boy, when I was 16 along about was George Hecke. 
He later became head of the Department of Agriculture 
here in California, if you remember back and I guess 
you can remember back when they had the foot and 
mouth infection here in California in 192^. Mr. 
Hecke was the head of the Department of Agriculture 
for the State of California at that time, when they 
killed all the cows and we were In this infected 
area here. Since it started in Contra Costa County 
we were quarantined, and all the cattle that showed 
any sign of infection of hoof and mouth were destroyed. 
The state payed for them, and Mr. Hecke at that time 
was head of the department. 

We talked the other day about me being at Davis, 
and he at that time had a piece of land at Woodland, 
and I used to ride my bicycle I had a bicycle at 
Davis I used to ride my bicycle from Davis Farm up 
to see Mr. Hecke. Used to visit back and forth with 
him. It was kind of my second home when I was at 
Davis. I used to go over to see Mr. Hecke. He has 



33 



Wente: since passed away. But he became very prominent 
during the hoof and mouth disease. He had much 
opposition to what he was doing but he eradicated 
the hoof and mouth and saved the state of California 
a great deal of misery by going out and killing all 
four-footed animals cloven hoofed animals subject 
to hoof and mouth. Hogs and deer and every thing else 
that was in the infected area. Even went over to 
the Sierras and killed all the wild deer. And he 
became very unpopular, but he did a tremendous Job. 

Teiser: And we ve never had it seriously here since? 

Wente: We ve never had a serious outbreak here since, and 
they ve watched it very closely. It s something 
that our trained technicians and veterinarians have 
never seen. It was Just by chance the county 
veterninarian in Alameda County recognized it down 
at Richmond, and it started from there. It was 
brought in from off the boats with foreign swill 
that was fed to the hogs over there, and started 
this infection, and it got pretty widespread before 
they knew what it was all about. Well, so much for 
that. Then it went on. After Repeal, we then 
became infected with viruses. 

Teiser: The vineyards. 

Wente: The vineyards, of course. And we didn t know how to 
control it, and the University at that time was our 
only place to go and they, we felt, were not doing 
too good of a Job for us, and they were doing a 
tremendous Job as far as enology was concerned as 
far as wineries were concerned but outside is where 
we were dying. And we, Wine Institute, put enough 
pressure on them til we now are getting somewhere 
to learn how to cope with the viruses. 

The viruses are now hosted by the nematode, 
which is the carrying factor of the viruses and the 
spreading factor, and the University now is doing us 
a good Job. But we were all for, at a time, trying 
to feel that perhaps we d have to go to the United 
States Department of Agriculture and ask for them to 
help us again such as they did during the phylloxera 
period. 



Teiser: When did the viruses start affecting the Industry 
generally and this vineyard? 

Wente: Oh, along when we first became aware that there 

was something wrong other than phylloxera about 15 
years ago. It s only been In the last 15 or 20 years 
that it f s grown gradually worse, up to the point 
where now we are very conscious of it and how to 
operate. 

We sterilize all ground we call it sterilization. 
We inject a detergent which kills the nematodes, as 
near as we can, before we plant. We destroy the 
nematodes which is the carrying factor of the virus 
and then we seem to get off to a better start with 
our new plantings. This only happens on the old 
second planting and third plantings. We don t have 
that much trouble with virgin ground, on new plantings 
on virgin ground. 

Teiser: Incidentally, have you done any plantings not on 
native rootstock, as I think Almaden has and some 
others? 

Wente: Yes, we have, and lost them again by phylloxera, as 
well as the virus. And now we re re-planting again. 

Teiser: Really! What area was this? 

Wente: Right in here, right across the street from here, 
and also down this other way. After Repeal, in 
order to get back in production again quickly, we 
went to their own roots rather than to spend the time 
going resistant. 

Teiser: Which means grafting? 

Wente: Which means grafting and budding or what have you, 
changing over the tops into the vinifers from the 
resistant or the American rootstock. If you 
remember the history of the phylloxera that destroyed 
all of the vines even in Europe as well as here. 

Teiser: What stock was finally used? Not Mission? 

Wente: It s a native wild rootstook principally, from 

Georgia and South Carolina and some of the southern 
states, that we are using the resistant vines from, 



35 



Wente: rather than Mission grape. That Is a European grape 
that is subject to the phylloxera. The reason for 
the wild stock this phylloxera apparently is a 
little microscopic root louse which lives underground 
and works on the cambium layer of the plant and sucks 
the life flow of the sap out of the plant and they 
eventually die. But the American rootstock has lived 
with this phylloxera for thousands of years and built 
up an immunization by tightening up its bark to the 
point where the little louse can t get in. And 
this is why we are using the American rootstock. 

Teiser: And your efforts to use the others have failed? 

Wente i Yes, and I m afraid that those that are now using 
vinifers on their own roots in new districts such 
as we are going into down at Greenfield, and are 
letting ourselves wide open to the infestation of 
phylloxera sooner or later. I Just kind of believe 
that it will hold. I ve lived with the phylloxera 
so much and I ve discussed it with Dr. Winkler at 
times, and he feels that from the economy of the 
thing that it would be well worth the first planting 
to go ahead and take that chance. But Wente did not 
do this down at Greenfield. We went resistant. 
However, we might be wrong. We might be awfully 
wrong. We might not have it. Now this phylloxera 
doesn t work in sand so much. The Lodl districts in 
the San Joaquin Valley have not had that trouble; 
it s only in these aluvial, tighter soils where the 
phylloxera lives better and has that danger. 

Teiser: And the Lodi district they plant on..? 

Wente: On their own roots. Down at Fresno they plant on 
their own roots. 

Teiser: Around the Paicenes area in San Benito County was 

where I remember hearing of the first of the recent 
plantings. Have they had any phylloxera turn up 
there? 

Wente: Well, I believe they have had in earlier days, but 
this is where Almaden at the present time is 
planting on their own roots. This is most any man s 
guess, which is smart and which isn t smart. 

Teiser: Is there a quality factor? 



Wente: Possibly so. Not if your culture is correct. When 
they re on their own roots they should be pruned 
back a little more than if they re on the wild roots. 
You have a flow of sap that probably does not 
harmonize at the opportune time. You have a falling 
of blossoms during the setting period when they re 
on the wild roots, which you will not have when 
they re on their own roots. So when planting on 
their own roots, the policy is to really prune back 
more and don t leave as many fruit buds as you would 
with the non-resistant. 

As far as quality is concerned, do not over-crop, 
and see that you get a well-ripened fruit. With the 
vinifers or the European varieties, they do not have 
the tendency to go with as deep a root system as the 
wild root, and therefore they cannot carry the crop 
through quite as easily or as good as the resistant 
vine. 



WINES BEFORE PROHIBITION AND AFTER 



Telser: This brings up a subject which I think that I started 
to ask you about last time. I don t know how aware 
you were of these things as a young man before 
Prohibition. But what about the general level of 
quality of wine in California before Prohibition as 
compared with well, say, today? 

Wente: Oh, there were some very, very lovely wines in the 
early days. There really were. There was quite a 
number of them. 

Teisen What were the really good ones? 

Wente: Well, Cresta Blanca as far as white wines were 

concerned, and as far as Wente was concerned, we 
didn t do any bottling here and my father I pointed 
that out to you the other day came home very proud 
of himself from the 1915 fair that he said, "I 
won four medals and didn t exhibit the wine," that 
he had sold to A. Finke s widow and William Hoelscher 
and those others that all got gold medals and they 



[fitt 






37 



Wente: were all Wente s wines, and he said, "I, came home 
with four medals but did not receive the medals." 

So, this is what happened there in that 
particular case, however, there were many others: 
Chauche & Bon, which turned out some awfully good 
red wines here in Livermore. And then we talked 
about the Olivina, turned out some lovely wines here 
In early days. And also the Duvalls here in 
Livermore. And you go up Napa way and there were 
many, many, many plants up there that turned out 
lovely wines that have since fallen by the wayside 
and never came back after Repeal. 

Teiser: What wine types that were notably good before 
Prohibition? 

Wente: They did not go into varletals as much. They went 
into generics rather than the varietals, and copied 
principally after the European varieties such as 
sauternes and chablls hock. Hock was quite a 
famous one at that time. 

Teiser: What was hock? 

Wente: Hock was principally a very light Rhine wine, 

principally of a Burger type of a grape, and it was 
used very much around the restaurants where there 
was considerable consumption and the price wasn t 
so high. It was a cheap Rhine wine which was very 
acceptable to the trade. Lots and lots of the 
restaurants in San Francisco used the hock, because 
after my father became associated with Napa & Sonoma 
we shipped down a lot of hock wine into Napa & 
Sonoma, which was bottled and sold around the 
restaurants. 

Teiser: Are there any other wines of that kind that we no 
longer have? 

Wente: Well, this thing changes somewhat, like women s 

hats. They go into fashion and they go out again. 
[Laughter] After Repeal we started vintages quite 
a lot, and then they went out of style more or less, 
and then we dropped a lot of our vintages and now 
we re going back into them again. And I think that 
as far as varletals are concerned, Wente started 
them when Herman was the principle factor in that. 



Wente: Along about 1936 we started out with Sauvignon blanc. 
That was the first varietal wine that I can recollect 
was bottled here in California, in 1936, was our 
Sauvignon blanc. Then we felt that had sold very 
well and we then started out with Semillon and the 
Pinots, Pinot Chardonnay and Pinot blanc, and then 
we had a Mourestel. We had a red wine which we 
sold on the Mourestal which became very popular, but 
we ve dropped it since. Then we had the Ugnl blanc 
which sold very well and was very much on the order 
of the old hock variety, light and acceptable, but 
it wasn t too long before they started to sell it 
and people didn t know how to pronounce the name. 
You know, it s spelt "Ugni" and pretty soon everybody 
called it "Ug-ny" instead of "You-ny," and they 
really wanted to know where that "Ugny" Wente wine 
was. [Laughter] So we thought we d better drop it, 
so we don t bottle any more of that "Ugny" wine. 

Teiser: I was talking to Mr. Horace no, it was Mr. Harry 
Baccigaluppl who said he thought Mr. Lanza was the 
first one to import that grape. 

Wente i Well, that s what Horace thinks. I told you the 

other day about Mr. Bonnet and his brother from the 
Montpellier Nursery, and that my father bought a 
number of varieties, and one of them was Ugnl blanc. 
And that was brought in in 1912. That was long 
before Horace Lanza ever came into the picture of 
wines. Then Horace Lanza went into it in a big way 
down south and started out, and he called it I don t 
know if he calls it Ugni blanc or not, but Mr. 
Wetmore brought some in from Europe, and they called 
it Saint-Emilion and didn t call it the Ugni blanc. 
It goes under three different names. I forget the 
other one [Trebbiano] but Saint-Emilion comes to me 
very quickly, and the Ugni blanc. Wetmore called it 
Saint-Emilion, and I ve looked at his vines a number 
of times and I m sure that they are the same variety. 

Teiser: Yes, in Dr. Amerlne and Dr. Winkler s booklet, 

California Wine Grapes* they are given as the same. 
And they weren t recommended . 



*Amerine, M.A. and Winkler, A.J., California Wine 
Grapes . University of California Agricultural 
Experiment Station Bulletin ?9*S 1963. 



39 



tfente: This is right. A lot of things can happen to even 
a poorer variety. You can make a fairly decent 
wine I don t say a good wine out of a Thompson 
Seedless if you don t overbear it, and bring it 
down so it has a chance to mature, to use it for a 
wine purpose, and not hope to get 15 or 20 tons to 
the acre out of it. But you can get four or five 
tons to the acre out of a Thompson Seedless, which 
will give you a much superior wine than you could 
make out of it with a 15 ton crop. However, I 
wouldn t recommend it, because you can do so much 
better with the Ugnl blanc, and get four or five 
tons to the acre, and you can do much better from 
the Chenin blanc than you can from the Ugni blanc 
by getting four or five tons to the acre, and you 
can do better yet by going to the Pinot blanc or 
the Pinot Chardonnay, so that it would be silly to 
try to start in with something that has a basic 
poorness to begin with to make a good quality thing 
when you know very well that you can reach up to the 
top and get something better. It s Just that simple, 
I think. However, you shouldn t condemn it entirely. 

Even the old Mission grapes that the Fathers 
brought in here went back to the history of 
viticulture. There s no doubt that Robert Livermore 
brought in grapes into the Livermore Valley here 
along in the 1830 s when he first came into Livermore 
here and planted grapes, and the old Padres brought 
them in the early days, and principally all the 
Mission varieties that were of Spanish origin. It 
has no great quality asset at all. It s Just the 
vin ordinaire. And then when we started in 
production here, we went into these better varieties. 
You can do so much better with a Zinfandel or a 
Garignane or some of these others, and then you get 
into the Pinots and the red wines, and the Pinot 
noirs and the Beaujolals, Gamay Beaujolais, you can 
do so much better than you could with the Zinfandel 
or the Mataro or the Carignane. 

Telsers Was there much wine made from Mission grapes Just 
before Prohibition? 

Wente: In the early days there was quite a little, but in 
the latter days they were pulled out very much, 
destroyed. 

Teiser: About 1900, say? 



Wente: About 1900 there was quite a lot of Mission grown. 
Yes, they are a heavy producer and a very vigorous 
grower, and you can get a lot of production of 
them. 

Teiser: Had they pretty well disappeared by 1918? 

Vfente: Yes, yes. They were used very little for wine 
purposes by that time. 

Teiser: Are any used now? 

Wente: I don t know of any that s being used at the present 
time. 

Teiser : You were saying that there were some very good wines 
produced before Prohibition. It s hard to ask you 
to even consider all California wines taken together, 
because they certainly vary, but would you say that 
the general quality of wines is higher now than it 
was then? 

Wente: No, I don t think so. I would say that then there 
was not so very much blends made down in the 
interior valley. They were all principally grown 
in the coastal valleys like Sonoma and Napa and 
Livermore and Santa Clara, and those valleys, and 
there were all wine varieties. Thompson Seedless 
was unheard of in my youth, and around 1900 somebody 
came along with the Thompson Seedless and propagated 
it and it went like wild-fire as far as the wineries 
in the [Central] Valley were concerned. And it is 
very profitable too, as far as that goes. You ve 
got a three-way route to go, whereas with wine grapes 
you ve only got one route to go. They can go for 
table or raisins or wine. And you can t do this with 
Zlnfandel and you can t do it with Pinots. 



PHOPITS AND LOSSES 



Wente: We tried some Semillons and Sauvignon blancs for 

eastern shipment when Prohibition went into effect, 
and we Just didn t get to first base. They were 
too tender, too thin skinned, and by the time they 
reached the New York market, why they were full of 
mold and they Just didn t hold up. And we didn t 
know how to pack them either. We probably didn t 
handle them correctly. But they were a mess. We 
took nothing but red ink. Wereas the old Alicante 
had a tough hide, and the home winemaker bought the 
Alicante and Thompson Seedless, which were all good 
shippers, and blended the two together and made 
himself some home-made wine. 

Teiser: Someone was telling me that he shipped Zinfandel 
grapes East during Prohibition. 

Wente: We shipped a lot of Zinfandel here, too. We learned 
how to pack them and we did quite well, but not as 
well as we did with the Al leant es. As soon as we 
could change over, we went the Alicante route, as 
fast as we could, for shipment. 

Teiser: Did you ship a good deal during Prohibition? 

Wente: We shipped a good deal, and it was amazing the amount 
of money we received for the first few years of it. 
Then we started to receive red ink along, about 1928 
when the markets were glutted and there were so many 
carloads in the eastern market. California at that 
time, as I remember rolled at least a hundred 
thousand carloads of grapes to eastern markets alone. 

Teiser: A year? 

Wente: A year. And that s a lot of grapes. If you figure 
twenty tons for the carload, that means quite a lot 
of grapes are rolling into one market. And buyers 
used to buy from us direct, and after that when the 
grapes became plentiful they would buy only on option 
markets, and it got so we were getting nothing but 
red ink. So we quit, and I stayed with my cattle 
and made an honest to goodness cow man out of me. 
[Laughter] 1 could at least sell a few of their 



Wente: hides out here in Livermore. 

Teiser: In the years before 1928 had people seen that the 

grape business was lucrative and come in and planted 
more acreage? 

Wente: That, and it also had something that no other 

industry has. Rich people came into it as a hobby 
and loved to grow grapes and so forth. 

Teiser: In the 20 s? 

Wente: Yes. It s very intriguing there s no question about 
that more than any other department of agriculture 
or anything that you can grow. I don t know of any 
body or any industry that has more people of hobby 
nature. [Laughter] 

Teiser: It sounds so easy. 

Wente: It does sound easy. [Laughter] But it is interesting 
to grow something and see what you can make out of 
it in the ultimate. It really is. It s also very 
interesting to grow out a good calf and see how well 
it will grow up and what it looks like and then to 
have it killed and see how it cuts up into sausages. 
[Laughter] It s Just about as intriguing as growing 
grapes, however. And livestock and wine making are 
where these rich people really had hobbies. 

I ve had a lot of fun but I had to eat out of 
it. Most of these fellows made their money on the 
stock market or some other way, but I didn t know 
enough to do that. I made it the hard way. [Laughter] 
I only went at it in a small way too, compared to 
some of them. 

Teiser: It looks as if it has been worth it anyway. 

Wente: Well, I m now 79 years old and I ve done very well. 

Teiser: It apparently preserves youth... 

Wente: Oh, I think that anybody that would want to preserve 
their youth, and if they have a good body to begin 
with, they can exercise enough and watch their diet 
a little bit. It doesn t make too much difference 
whether you re working in an office, or even if you re 



-ii. 



Wentei in a prison and live in an eight-foot room. I 

believe that I would have to have my exercise. I d 
Jump around and turn hand springs in that eight-foot 
room in order to get my exercise, because I know that 
I feel better when I get my exercise don t you? 

Teiser: Yes, I certainly do. 

Wente: I think this is the way the Lord made you. I guess 

that s the way it should be done, anyway. I m of that 
opinion. Just because I ve lived to be 79, it isn t 
because I ve been drinking good wine all the time. 
It s because I ve gotten enough exercise growing it, 
I think. 

Teiser: I m trying to contrast the period before Prohibition 
with the period following Prohibition, and I think 
you answered some questions. But the distribution 
of California wines was in quite a different pattern 
was it than today? 

Wente: Yes, this was very true. All commodities were. 

Lack of transportation. ..we didn t have any trucking 
facilities. Everything had to go via railroad or 
water. And those that catered to the markets were 
in the specified cities where they were selling 
their merchandise, because they couldn t truck it 
or get It over. Even those wines that we shipped 
to Oakland were bottled in Oakland and sold in 
Oakland. And my father shipped to San Francisco; 
that was bottled in San Francisco. Unless it went 
to the big distributors like Lachman & Jacoby. Then 
they again must have shipped it all over the world 
in barrels and so forth, and it was bottled in their 
respective cities where they sold it, and was catered 
to the trade. Today we re bottling it here and it 
goes in the bottle all over the world, because your 
transportation is simple and what have you, and our 
methods of doing business is different. 

You ve got to remember that life wasn t as 
simple as far as business was concerned in the early 
days. People didn t trust each other like you do 
now. We ship wine over to Australia or somewhere, 
and no sight-draft bill of lading attached to the 
bill at all. We wait until they receive their 
billing and then await their checks. 



Wente: In the early days that just wasn t true. You 
couldn t do this. You just simply had to collect 
before it was shipped. You worked on a closer 
margin, too. Things worked on a very close margin. 
I think I discussed with you the other day about my 
father talking about it. He made two and a half a 
ton on the time that he crushed the grapes until he 
delivered the wine at the depot at Livermore in 
puncheons, and he was doing all right. 

Well, today, we can t even open the winery here 
without having about a fifteen to twenty dollar 
spread to take care of the taxes and the Insurance 
and the bonds and everything else that goes with it, 
before we dare say, "Well, we re ready to crush." 

Well, he didn t have any bonds, he didn t have 
any taxes to pay, no Social Security, no unemployment 
[payments]. If a man wanted to leave, he Just pulled 
a checkbook out of his pocket and said, "O.K., Joe, 
I ll give you a check." And the man he had to account 
with was his banker, that he didn t overdraw his 
account. And if he did that the banker would stop 
him pretty quick. So that was the only bookkeeping 
he had to do. And he didn t have any income tax, no 
bond indebtedness, no tax on the wines and nothing. 
Everything was free-flowing. 

I wouldn t dare go out here in the field and 
ask one of these Mexicans to quit without he d have 
to come to the office and hand in his Social Security 
number and everything else. It d take the girl a 
half hour to make out his check. Good Lord, Just 
think of the time consumed, the cost of those things 
alone which government compels us to do. And its 
all right it s a good form of life we re living in. 
But nevertheless everything s so damned high that 
it Just brings up the cost of all things, and this 
is the way she is. 

Right now a man has a Social Security number 
and withholding and everything else that goes with 
it. It just takes a lot of time. Three people work 
in this office. One and one-half of them are working 
for the government. They re not working for Wente 
but they re on Wente s payroll, and somebody s got 
to pay for it. Then the buyer of the commodity the 
one that we have to charge for it.... I learned a 
long time ago that you had to have more come in the 



Wente: back door than goes out the front door, or pretty 
soon you close the front door. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Well, considering the amount of inflation, I wonder 
if a bottle of your wine sells for much more now 
that it did before Prohibition really. Considering 
the decreased value of money. Since you didn t 
bottle it before you don t have figures, but I wonder 
if a comparable bottle costs so much more. 

Wente: I think, if you went to dinner in San Francisco, 

Fisherman s Wharf, before Prohibition you could get 
a moderately good bottle, a fifth of wine, for about 
six bits. Today they charge you around two dollars, 
two and a half. 

Teiser: Well, considering wages, I wonder if that s such an 
increase. In the meantime perhaps your industry has 
kept Itself in efficient order and kept the price 
quite reasonable compared to the total cost of living. 

Wente: I think we probably have, but our costs well, they re 
high. 



TECHNIQUES AND TASTES 



Wente: We don t have any spoilage any more. We re so much 
better equipped than my father was in his day 
running his place so much better equipped. When I 
stop to think of how many people he had trying to 
crush these grapes by hand, and hauling the grapes 
in via horses, and handling them three, four, five 
times before they got into the crusher. And then 
he had no cooling facilities, and they had to get 
into the tank and shovel out the pomace, and all the 
pumping. Before he had electricity here he had to 
pump all the tanks by one of the old hand-pushing 
pumps and that all took manpower, and of course 
manpower in those days was cheap. But we re doing 
so much better a Job than he could possibly do, with 
this modern machinery, because of our cooling 
facilities and everything. If we watch it we don t 
have any spoilage here at all. 



Teisen According to Dr. [William V.] Cruess, there was a 

very high percentage of spoilage in the early days. 

Wentei Yes, yes this is right. And you could thank a lot 
of this [improvement] to Dr. Cruess and a few more 
of the good, smart technicians. 

Teiser: What did you do with your spoiled wine? 

Wente: Distillery. It went at half a cent a point of 

alcohol. In other words, If you had 12 per cent 
wine it was worth half a cent per point, or six 
cents a gallon, and that s about what it s worth 
today. There isn t much difference. So we watch 
very closely. We don t have anything to go to the 
distillery around. We call it D. M. distilling 
material. And so we don t have anything but the 
lees go to the distillery. 

Now, if you re in the sweet wine business, this 
is fine. Like in the interior valley, if you have 
a distillery attached to your winery. We have a 
tremendous amount of waste here. We just press our 
good white grapes we work so hard to get good 
quality press them and don t press them too hard. 
Then take the pomace out immediately and scatter it 
out. We re probably throwing away three, four, 
five dollars a ton, Just every ton we bring in here, 
Just get rid of it , whereas we could wash it and make 
some of the finest cognacs out of It. But you d 
have to have a bonded man here and a bonded distillery 
and everything that goes with it. The value would 
be so small that it wouldn t pay us. 

Now, over in the [central] valley they wash 
their pomace. They don t even press. They 
disintegrate it and send it right through the 
distillery and get what they can off of the high 
proof. And they make sweet wines out of it. 

Teiser t You make two dessert wines now? 

Wente: We make the Chateau we call it now the Chateau 

Semillon. We are dropping the Chateau Wente. We 
feel we have too many varieties. We re Just calling 
it Chateau Semillon. It s surprising. We talked 
about change of style. These wines have changed 
somewhat too. Our Chateaus were our biggest sellers 



Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente: 



Teiser: 



Wente: 



here. Now, they re way down. They re way down and 
they stand pretty static. And we make a lovely 
Chateau, Just a lovely Chateau. And it doesn t 
move. 

When were they your biggest seller? 

Oh, before Prohibition we shipped a lot of Chateau 
d Yquem. We called it Chateau d Yquem then. And 
we shipped a lot if it to Napa & Sonoma Wine Company. 
It was the principal wine that my father won the 
four prizes at the gold medals at the 1915 fair 
[laughter] of which he was so proud. He was Just 
raving about how he got more gold medals than anybody 
else. 

Well, it is not in the category of fortified wines? 



No, no. Fortified wine is over 14 per cent. We re 
still in the dry wine class. They change at 14 
per cent alcohol between the sweet wines and the dry 
wines. While we make a sweet Semillon, a sweet wine, 
we re classifed in the Alcohol Tax Unit s eyes as a 
dry wine because we re under 14 per cent. And they 
classify us as that for the reasons that it bears a 
16 cent per gallon tax under 14 per cent alcohol, 
and anything over 14 per cent bears a 32 cent tax. 
So you see they classify sweet wines as a J2 cent 
tax wine. 

A number of people have commented upon the fact that 
immediately after Repeal, Americans seemed to favor 
sweet wines, and there has been a drift to table 
wines. What did you do? 

We sold no fortified wines of any kind. But our 
method of operation here people didn t know how to 
drink wines, let s say. By and large, [during] 
Prohibition, they all drank hard liquor and highballs 
and fruit Juices and what have you. So when we tried 
to convert them into wine drinking we started them 
off with the Chateau or sweet Semillon and then to 
the haute sauteme and then to the dry sauterne, and 
pretty soon they learned to drink these dry wines. 
And they were our biggest sellers at that time, 
these sweeter ones. And now the younger people that 
come and visit us, even though they re Just in their 



Wente: teens or getting Into their maturity, Just 21 years 
old, all ask for the dry wines, which they didn t 
do In the early days. Now whether or not they have 
been taught to drink along the line, the change has 
come nevertheless, and they re asking for these dry 
dinner wines. And the market is growing so rapidly 
that I doubt the quality wineries, at the rate of 
growth it s going, will be able to supply them with 
wines . 

We re running a nursery as well as running a 
vineyard here, and we sold this year (off of this 
little certified nursery down there) 1,300,000 sticks 
to be planted vines. All the way from Washington 
down to Arizona. And, if you can try to visualize 
it, it takes ^-50 of these sticks vines to the acre. 
And you divide that into 1,300,000. That all came 
off of this one little plot of ours. And this is 
probably a very small percentage of actually what 
was planted. This is probably only five per cent of 
the plants that went in. The rest have been gotten 
somewhere else. So you can just run that through 
your mind, how many acres are going into this grape 
business. 

We re going into another depressed feeling like 
I was telling you about in the nineteen hundreds 
where we really ran into trouble the wine industry 
did, and my father did and the rest of them were 
Just beside themselves, what to do next. Everybody 
had grapes and no market for wines because it was 
just a flooded market. There was a depression on in 
the early nineties there was a depression on and 
nobody had any money. Remember, this is a luxury 
commodity and the people during the depression 
they ve got to buy food and shoes for their kids 
before they buy our wine. 

Teiser: People get used to drinking wine with their meals. 
I wonder how quickly they drop it. 

Wente: Well, If you don t have money, you re going to drop 
it, aren t you? 

Teiser: Maybe you re going to drink cheaper wine. 

Wente: Well, even then. The people who are hurt are the 

low Income people rather than the high income people. 



tfente: High income people that are really talcing care of 
themselves will be able to take care of themselves 
as far as their personal habits are concerned. But 
the low income people are always running from day to 
day. And the depression really affects them more 
than it does the high Income people, so the vln 
ordinaire maker s going to feel it probably worse 
than the quality industry. 

Teiser: In the meantime, the vin ordinaire people are trying 
to upgrade their products too, aren t they? 

Wente: This is right, and this is all right, too, as far 
as we re concerned. I think that on my trip over 
to Europe some years ago, I felt then that the 
California vin ordinaire was so superior to the 
European vin ordinaire that there was no comparison. 

Teiser: I ve Just been in Italy, drinking just the carafe wine 
most of the time, and our very inexpensive wine is 
better. 

Wente: This is right. And I don t know if it s true of the 
quality, but I know it s true of the quality that 
they send over here to the states principally. When 
you re over there you can get some awfully fine 
quality wines. But some of it s Just too bad to 
drink. I d rather have a cup of coffee. When I was 
over there, I d rather have a cup of coffee. 
[Laughter] One of the reasons for that is the poor 
handling. They d bring it in in barrels or half- 
barrels and they d siphon off of that barrel until 
it s all gone, and then it s refilled and it s not 
properly washed and the volatile acids are climbing 
because they don t take care of it properly. They 
must make some pretty good vin ordinaire wines over 
there, same as they do here. Except I think probably 
they wash their pomace too, and rework it, whereas 
we throw it away. Even large operators here don t 
wash their pomace and turn it back into plquette, as 
the Italian calls it. Our vln ordinaire people high- 
proof it and run it through the distillery and use 
it for fortifying material, and that s one of the 
reasons why we are having better vin ordinaire wines 
here. 

Any other questions I can help you with now? 
Teiser: Yes, lots I [Laughter] We are nowhere near through. 





C.H. Wente> founder of Wente Bros., 
Livermore, Alameda County, California, 
Photograph courtesy of Wine Institute. 



Ernest A. Wente and Herman Wente, 1960. 
Photograph courtesy of Wente Bros. 





Herman Wente, 1956. Photograph by 
Mercer courtesy of the Wine Institute, 



Ernest A. Wente, 1946. Photograph by 
Ronald Partridge courtesy of the Wente 
Bros. 



50 



Wente: Well, fire away! 



HEBMAN L. WENTE AND THE WENTE FAMILY 



Telser: 

Wente: 

Teiser: 
Wente: 

Teiser: 
Wente : 
Teiser: 
Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente: 

Teiser: 
Wente : 



I ll go back then now to something we were talking 
about earlier, your account of your and your brother s 
early years. What years did you go to Davis? 

I was up at Davis in 1908, before they had a regular 
class ut> there. 



Until when? 

Until 1912. I didn t go every semester, but I 
there whenever I could. 



went 



And your brother Herman, he was younger than you? 

Yes. 

And he went through the local schools here, did he? 

Yes, he went to the local high school here. I went 
two years to the local high school, and then I left 
and then I went to Davis. He finished high school 
here and went to U.C. 

I see. And he studied enology, did he? 

Oh, somewhat. He worked under I think Dr. Cruess; 
I m not positive of that, but it seems to me I can 
remember Dr. Cruess talking about having Herman in 
his class. 

And what years was he there? 

He graduated in 1915 You see the plaque over here? 
The 1915 class gave him that plaque. That s a 
picture of the 1915 class. They used to come out 
here and visit him every year, that same group. When 
Herman passed away, they sent this plaque up here. 
And so I put it up here in Herman s office. This 
was Herman s office, when I occupied that one of Karl s, 



#& fcl 



51 



Wente: We call that the "farm office," and this is the 
"winery office" here. 

Teiser: Let me read this onto the tape: "To Herman Wente, 
a loyal Californian and a staunch friend, this 
memorial is dedicated by his classmates of 1915," 
and then a list of names. The Wine Institute 
presented another plaque, did it not, which is 
outside. There are photographs of that. 

Could you outline your brother s career? I 
know it has been written about but perhaps you can 
explain it in a little different way. 

Wente: Well, of course, Herman was a more friendly type 

than I. He loved people. I love outdoors. I never 
felt as much at ease in a group of people as Herman 
did, and so he did the public relationship and the 
promotional work for us and I did the agricultural 
work, which I would rather do. So it worked out very 
nicely. Other than that I can t tell you much more 
about him except that he was probably one of the 
most popular fellows around the Bohemian Club and so 
forth, of which he was a staunch member along with 
brother Carl. And I will say this the times I was 
down there, everybody seemed to think that Herman was 
more popular than brother Carl [ laughter] and anybody 
that can hold that distinction was doing pretty well 
for himself, I thought. 

Brother Carl thinks so too. He tells about 
the time when he went back to Washington, when he 
was president of the Bank [of America] on some 
financial matters, and he went into the Treasury 
Department and was laying down his proposition before 
the group, and one of the fellows spoke up and said, 
"Are you any relation to these fellows who make this 
good wine?" [Laughter] It s usually the other way 
around. When I go up to the city, why it s, "Oh, 
are you a brother to Carl? Is your brother Carl 
Wente, president of the Bank of America?" But this 
time it was the other way around, and it pleased him 
very much. And it was done by Herman; it wasn t 
done by me. 

Teiser: Was he particularly interested in the technique of 
wine making? 



Wente: Yes, he was pretty much interested In the technique 
of wine making and also the varietal grapes to put 
into the making of the better wines, yes. And he 
watched over the blends very carefully, which we 
now do collectively. Herman used to do this pretty 
much along with Bruno. 

Bruno by the way, Bruno Canziani is our 
winemaker, along with Prank Garbini. Bruno s 
father worked with me years and years ago, and when 
Bruno graduated from high school, his father asked 
me if I could find a place for Bruno, and I said, 
"Pine." And he is here yet. He came here in 193^, 
along with Mr. Kirkman. He s my neighbor boy over 
there. And also, Adele, the hostess here. They all 
came the same year. 

Teiser: You were starting to tell me last time their names. 
Adele *s name is...? 

Wente: Kruger. 

Teiser : And Mr. Kirkman *s first name? 

Wente: Albert. He s taken charge of the office and Adele 
has taken charge of the well, she was our forelady 
when we were bottling by hand. And she took care of 
all of the girls. We had twelve girls putting labels 
on. Now we do it all machinery-wise and so we made 
her our hostess, so she s been our hostess and takes 
people around here on guided tours. 

Teiser: When did you put in automatic bottling equipment? 

Wente: Oh, semi-automatic about eight years ago. Fully 
automatic here five years ago. 

Teiser: So you took care of the field and your brother took 
care of the technology and the marketing... 

Wente: The sales. Now, I started to tell you that he took 
care of the blending and so forth, which we now do 
collectively, Karl and I and Bruno and Prank Garbini, 
and we have a young fellow starting out here who is 
going to take my place one of these days. I m 
backing away from this just as quick as I can. His 
father and I used to work together driving mules for 
my father along in 1906. And he s working here with 



53 



Wente: us, now. He s been here three years. He s a 

graduate of Fresno State. His name Is Robert Detjens. 
Very capable young man. And you re going to hear a 
lot about him as time goes on. He s going to be our 
understudy to Karl around here, as Kirk and 1 
disappear. 

Teiser: Your brother died in... 
Wente: 6l. 

Teiser: *6l.* By then your son Karl had come in and was 
well-established in the business? 

Wente: Yes. So Instead of being "Wente Brothers," it s 

"Wente and Sons." He has two sons now who we hope 
will be Wente Brothers again one of these days. So 
we were rather loath of changing our label brand 
there over from Wente Brothers. We are trying to 
Imtxress "Wente Wines." We are constantly advertising 
"Wente Wines," "Wente Wines," instead of "Wente 
Brothers." And even though he s got a pair of 
brothers coming up, we are still working on "Wente 
Wines" and maybe we ll change our corporation s 
name to Wente Wines instead of Wente Brothers. 
Whether it s smart or not, I don t know, but this is 
what we re doing at the present time we re calling 
it "Wente Wines" owned by Wente Brothers, Incorporated, 

Telser: Are there any other boys in that same generation as 

your sons sons? Did your sisters have grandchildren 
who are interested in this business at all? 

Wente: Well, I have one sister [Hilma] who is married to a 
chap by the name of [Edwin E.] Hagemann who owns 
this piece of vineyard land over here that Almadem 
is now leasing. He has a son, but he s a tomato 
farmer and vegetables, and that sort of thing. 

Teiser: Not interested in wine? 



Herman L. Wente was born November 4, 1892, at the 
family home on the winery property and died In 
Boston, while undergoing medical treatment, on April 
16, 1961. 



Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 



Wente : 



Teiser: 



He s a big operator, really. He s something like 
me, I guess. He Just can t help it but he likes 
heavy lifting. I guess that s a bad fault to have. 
[Laughter] 

So there s Just your son s two sons, really. 

Well they re the only ones who have any interest in 
this thing, anyway. You see, Herman and I owned 
this thing entirely. Brother Carl was out entirely 
when father disbanded C. H. Wente, Incorporated, 
which was the family corporation and then quit and 
divided everything up and sold us, and gave each one 
so much money, and then he valued everything down to 
a dollar basis. He was a great dollar man [Laughter] 
He said he could divide a dollar right down to the 
penny but he couldn t divide a piece of property 
down that thin. Somebody s going to be very unhappy. 
So he said, "I m going to divide it all down to 
dollars while I m alive," and I think that s about 
as sound a philosophy as a father can possibly use. 
You have no family troubles at all. If anybody felt 
that they were badly treated they had nothing to say 
about it because this is the way Pops set it up. 

He lived to see the end of Prohibition, didn t he? 

Yes, yes. He had a tremendous head on him. He really 
was quite an outstanding individual for a man of that 
education. I bear on that fact, education. Heck, 
he was about as well educated as they come, but he 
never got any further than the third grade. But he 
was constantly reading. He could recite the bible, 
by golly, verbatim, and he d Just read, read, read, 
all the time. He was pretty well educated, and he 
could talk about the chemical analysis of wines and 
he was pretty well versed on it and knew what he was 
talking about. 

Did he advise you and your brother when you took 
over? 

Oh, yes. Yes. Of course, there was nothing much to 
advise then. Prohibition came into effect then. 

That s when you went into making wines that you 
distributed through Beaulieu... 



55 



Wente: Oh, yes. But then Herman had that all pretty well 
in hand without any technical advice. 

Teiser: Did your father remain Interested in your... 

Wente: He lived right over in the old home, here. He 

remained here until he died. He kept a life interest 
in the old family home, and when he died, he left it 
for mother to have a life interest in the home. She 
lived in the house there, and we watched over her, 
and when she died we tore down the house. Bruno 
moved in it first, and then we tore it down on 
account of the fire hazard and danger to the plant. 
Rebuilt it and built it further back. 

Teiser: Was your father pleased at the way you and your 
brother handled the winery? 

Wente: Well, I think he should be, although he never was a 
very expressive man. He thinks praise was about as 
big a folly as you could possibly do, you know. 
[Laughter] You could always do better. Didn t I 
tell you he always had little phrases about little 
things, like this: 

There were two fellows climbing a hill 
and they got awfully tired, and when they 
got halfway up the hill one of them was 
crying to beat the band. When they got near 
the top, he started laughing and seemed 
to be very happy. Then when he got up on 
top he sat down and cried again. Now why 
did he sit down and cry? Because he saw 
another hill ahead of him that was higher 
than the hill he Just climbed, so don t 
ever think that you are on top at any time. 
There s always another hill ahead of you. 

[Laughter] That was his philosophy. I think it 
was pretty good, too. 

Teiser: It seems to be the way life is arranged. 

Wente: That s the way life is arranged. You think you re 
there, but you re never there, so he sat down and 
cried again. 



Letter from Herman Wente to Wine Institute in reply to a request 
for biographical information. 1941. 



Growers & Producer* 





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CHANGES 



Teiser: I once had a very interesting little conversation 
with your brother Carl, and I know that he s proud 
of the way the two of you handled the winery. He 
was kind of bragging about it. One of the things 
he mentioned that you had done so well was keep up 
your cooperage all during Prohibition. 

Wente: Well, of course, this is right. We were dead ducks 
otherwise. Most of these wineries went into a 
terrible, terrible state after Repeal, when they 
started to re-use the old wineries again. They got 
full of mold and full of acids and full of tourne, 
which is a bacteria. Host of the cooperage in 
California was full of tourne . This bacteria grew 
during the quiet period of non-usage. But we kept 
ours active and watched it very carefully so when 
Repeal came, when most of these other wineries were 
having such a tremendous amount of trouble, getting 
reorganized, using their cooperage over again a 
little carelessly, maybe, not cleaning them properly, 
and not soaking them full of water and not changing 
the water a dozen times or more and putting sulfur 
in them and what have you and, well, acids too, as far 
as that s concerned, to kill the tourne . 

They got their wines infected and when they 
were shipped to the East, why California received 
one of the worst reputations. Bum stuff. And it 
wasn t so much that the wines when they were made 
were bad, but they were in this badly infected 
cooperage and it was shipped back there and it Just 
was terrible. By the time it reached there the total 
volatile acids were high, and it was full of bacteria 
and the Eastern market wouldn t absorb it, and of 
course the European wines came in and took over. It 
took a long time to overcome that. It took a long 
time. 

Teiser: I never knew that. 

Wente: This is one of the reasons for it. Even the old 
plants took many years to get re-cooperated. Now 
they re swell. 



57 



Wente : 



Teiser: 



Wente : 



Now today we re using stainless steel cooperage. 
I probably won t live to see the day, but you 
probably will or your children, my children, grand 
children will, when most of this wooden cooperage 
will be dispensed with entirely, and with stainless 
steel there is no seepage. And they say that these 
wines need wood and oxygen. True, they do, but you 
can do it with other methods than letting them seep 
through wood. You can do it by proper handling. 
It s so much simpler and easier to make wine than it 
was when I was a boy the way my father handled it. 
Couldn t help himself. 

I can remember when we went to bed with candles 
here. We had no central heating in the house, and 
we grew eucalyptus tree wood for power. And this 
held true for cooking for the men for the heating 
of the houses. And we used coal oil lamps, and in 
the wineries we used candles. We had no electricity 
at all. We used nothing but candles throughout the 
winery. Whenever you walked around in there, you 
had to walk around with candles. 

This was 1904 when we first got electricity 
here. In 1896 my father got a gasoline engine here 
and he thought he was In heaven. He got a big 
gasoline engine. And then when he got it here he 
couldn t run the darn thing because it was so 
complicated. So he hired a little man by the name of 
West. The West family out of Stockton. He was an 
engineer and he used to come over here during vintage 
season and sit there in that chair I can remember 
him as a little kid see old Mr. West sitting there, 
just sitting there reading a book. He was keeping 
that engine running. That s all that my father 
wanted. We had a big central shaft where he took 
all his power for his presses and his pumps off of 
it with belts. 

But that was so crude and so obsolete even then. 
Now we have a motor in every piece of equipment. 
You don t have this great central power in the center. 



How did your father filter wine, 
filtering was done then? 



What kind of 



By hand. Pumped all the wine up in the tower of 
the winery by hand and let it run down through the 



Wente: filter by gravity. 

Teiser: What kind of filters did you use? 

Wente: Paper pulp. Every morning we d wash the paper pulp 
out in the filter washer. And this is about as 
crude and as dangerous of infection as it could 
possibly be, but we d keep washing and washing; 
take one hour to wash the filter. But you didn t 
do as much filtering as we do now. 

We did more clarification. By clarifying, by 
putting in tannin, by putting in gelatin, that sort 
of thing. We were constantly throwing down the 
deposits by clarification methods. We got a lot of 
these clarification methods from Europe, and I was 
reading the other day about one of their biggest 
Russian trades for their carp I believe it s carp. 
One of their fish. The air container that the fish 
has in its body so they can float. And they scraped 
these air balloons and sold it to Europe for 
clarification of their fine wines. And I was 
talking to my wife about this, and I said, "Now Bess, 
how come? 11 "Well," she said, "that s nothing but 
gelatin. It s a gelatin out of the fish." 

My wife used to teach chemistry. It s an 
Interesting thing, when we started here, Herman s 
wife kept the books in 193^ and my wife did the 
chemistry work. 

Teiser: I ve been told that in that earlier period there 
was not so much premium put upon a brilliant look 
to wine. 

Wente: That is right, too. You expected to buy a bottle 
of wine if it had a crust inside of it, why, you 
felt better about it. The deposits would go out 
to the sides of the bottle cream of tartar so 
the tartrates would settle on the outside of the 
bottle. Today we can t do this. The American is 
a very "eye" buyer. I ll put it this way: You go 
into the store, and these stores that don t display 
their merchandise well on the shelf, you Just don t 
buy it. You just go to one that does. You wouldn t 
buy a bottle of wine on the shelf today that wasn t 
clear. 



59 



Teiser: 

Went e : 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Teiser: 



Wente: 



Teiser: 



The buyer used to have to decant the wine then? 

Very carefully, yes. This Is one of the things 
that brother Herman complained always about. 
Decanting very carefully. Buy these crusted wines 
if you can get them, and be careful and decant 
them and don t shake them. Put them in a decanter, 
He had three or four of them in his home where he 
decanted his wines very carefully. 

I don t think that buyers now know about it? 

No. We re selling them here, though, of course. 
We call them "pourers" rather than "decanters." 
Put the bottle on the shelf in that little 
decanter and you can tip It then and pour it out 
very carefully. 



Even if it s not necessary now. 
you do some clarification? 



[Laughter] Now 



Oh, yes, we do some clarification now, but nothing 
like we used to. We have better clarification 
material too, and we have machinery that works. 
We have these big filters that we mix up our 
f literate. Our filtering and our caring for wines 
is so much better. It s a pleasure to work with 
it compared to the other. 

Another thing: our economic situation. Still 
in my father s day you had to work with a close 
margin in everything you did. So us fellows that 
worked on the ranch here, on a nice day like this, 
we d be out plowing the vineyards. If it rained, 
we came in and started to pump wine and filter 
wines, and we didn t keep a crew of men the way we 
are doing here in the winery today. 

I d like to ask you next time something about the 
Prohibition period and Hepeal. 



6o 



(Interview #3 - May 13, 1969) 



THE PROHIBITION PERIOD 



Teiser: It s hard to get information at this late date on 
the Prohibition period and on how wine got into 
illegal channels. Were there people in the 
industry, of respectability, who were on the 
borderline of bootlegging? 

Wente: Well, there were some doing it, and we did not. 
I ll be frank about it: we did not. I was 
brought up our family was brought up to obey the 
law. And therefore, when Prohibition came, our 
father said, "This is not for me. I m quitting. 
So you fellows can do as you feel like with the 
ranches." But he impressed it on us that we were 
to stay legitimate and we did. I went to farming, 
as I told you. 

Teiser: What I really was perhaps leading up to was: was 
it possible for people who made wine to find that 
when the wine got beyond their control it went 
into illegal channels? Did this happen, and was 
it a difficulty for a wine grower not to control 
his output in this way? 

Wente: Oh, this happened more on the Eastern markets which 
we didn t know too much about. I think I told you 
that we sold to Beaulieu Vineyards, and then he 
shipped it on to those agencies in Chicago and 
undoubtedly a lot of that got into illegal channels. 
I don t know. I don t know whether Mr. de Latour 
knew whether or not it did as long as he got 
clearance from the government and was given an O.K. 
I can t see that he could be responsible. It s no 
more responsible than the man who is growing barley 
and sells his barley, and he doesn t believe in 
alcohol beverages, and the barley is sold to the 
brewery. And they make beer out of it. Well, how 
are you going to stop the poor old farmer who really 
and truly doesn t want his product to go into alcohol 



61 



Wente: and yet it s being sold and used for that purpose 

in spite of him and all he may do and expect to do. 

This has happened with us with the grape* We 
sold lots of grapes Just a ton here and a ton 
there to the Italians who I am quite sure made 
more than their allowable 200 gallons, and that was 
none of my business. 

Teiser: Yes, this is what I wondered how far the grape 

grower and winemaker could control it and even felt 
it necessary. . . 

Wente: How are you going to control anything, no more than 
you can control peoples* habits? How are you going 
to stop people from sniffing glue? HOW are you 
going to stop people from smoking marijuana when 
anybody anybody can get a few seeds of hemp and 
grow marijuana and smoke it. I don t know how 
you re going to stop it. This LSD, that s something 
else again. That s a chemical compound that s put 
together. Now I guess somehow you probably could 
control that. But I don t see how you re going to 
control marijuana when anybody with any intelligence 
knows what it is. I ve got it growing in my bird 
seed yard there the marijuana seed, hemp seed and 
the leaves growing there, and we think nothing of 
it. We Just walk right by it. Now, if I wanted to 
culture it, there would be no problem. I could get 
some more seed and Just grow marijuana in my back 
yard. Really, this is true. I don t see how you 
can stop people from buying grapes and making alcohol, 
with natural fermentation. Whether it s been treated 
with sugar they can do this with most any fruits. 

I fail to see how the government can actually 
expect of course when you get into distilling 
material, this is different now. This is when you 
come really down to running a still. Then the 
government should probably step in. But I fail to 
see how it could possibly control people s habits. 

Teiser: It didn t. 

Wente: It didn t, no. And, I think, maybe all our morale 
respect for law has broken down, partly from this 
laxity during that period. Don t you think so 
yourself? 



62 



Teiser: I suppose. 

Wente: Coining back to grapes again. We sold grapes to the 
scavenger boys in San Francisco through the 
warehouse company who sold them their hay. They 
would ask where they could get grapes and I would 
go down and make arrangements to sell them grapes 
and deliver them on a Friday to these four or five 
different houses, and they would work over these 
grapes, and that was quite an outlet for us for 
our cheaper varieties. We couldn t sell the fancy 
varieties like the Semillon or the Sauvignon blancs 
to these people. These were Italians who loved 
red wine and we sold Zinfandel, Carignane and that 
sort of variety. 

Then we put an ad in the French paper in San 
Francisco that we had the Semillon grapes for sale, 
so much per ton, F.O.B. Livermore, and we sold any 
number of tons to French people we got through the 
little advertisement in the French newspaper. We 
contacted one a butcher, who was a very prominent 
Frenchman in the French colony in San Francisco. 
And he sold [for] us more white grapes around San 
Francisco, but he had no way of delivering them so 
we finally offered to deliver them. So we delivered 
grapes all around San Francisco and even sold them 
barrels. And then they went from there. 

Teiser: So, there were plenty of people just making their 
family allowance? 

Wente: Why sure. Because they were allowed 200 gallons, 
you know, and they were making that allowance. 

So, that was during Prohibition. Now, how d 
we get back into this thing again? This is what 
you d like to know? Well, it was inevitable. I 
think anyone with a little common sense along about 
the latter part of the twenties 28, 29, and 30 
could see that sooner or later this thing was going 
to come back because people were sick and tired of 
the bootlegging that was going on. The alcoholism 
was getting worse. Skid How was running wild in 
San Francisco. And I think the morale of the people 
was getting lower and lower and finally Roosevelt 
ran on a platform and this is the principal thing 
that elected him, too, I think, more than the 



63 



Wente: Depression poor Mr. Hoover took the attitude that 
it was a noble experiment. He was by far a more 
capable president than any man we ever had, and 
yet he d fool around and try to carry on this "noble 
experiment." But then, we prepared ourselves and 
got our cooperage together, and we had quite an 
inventory of wine which we were allowed to make 
before Repeal came. 

Teiser: When you could start making wine again? 

Wente: We could make it as long as we were under bond. We 
were allowed to make as much as we felt like, but 
we couldn t sell it. We were all under bond. If 
you had a legitimate buyer and there were some 
legitimate buyers, you know we didn t have any. 
But [Louis M.] Martini, he operated out of Selma 
then, down below Fresno, and he had all the Upper 
State New York people with legitimate buyers for 
his products. But we didn t have any just Mr. 
de Latour, and I think we went over that the last 
time we talked. 



FACTORS AFFECTING THE EARLY REPEAL YEARS 



Teiser: So by the time Repeal came along, you had built up 
some stocks of aged wines? 

Wente: Yes. 

Teiser: Did you and your brother decide you were going to 
market it, you were going to do this and do that, 
or did you feel your way along as the situation 
changed? 

Wente: Well, we were still in the Depression. Everything 
was depressed and people didn t have money to buy 
wines, let s face it. So we didn t sell a great 
deal and besides that, why, California wines in the 
East had an awful bad reputation. I think we went 
over that the last time. Why, I think we discussed 
that the cooperage being spoiled, by lying empty so 
long and the tourne , the bacteria growth that came 



Wente: into it, and by Improper treating the cooperage 
became infected and the wines were bad and the 
yeast was just bad, most of it.* 

Teiser: Did you at first sell some wines in bulk? 

Wente: Oh yes, we sold quite a little in bulk. We sold a 
lot to Cresta Blanca and Mr. LCucien] B. Johnson. 
We discussed Cresta Blanca, did we not the ownership 
of it changed from Wetmore to the Johnsons, and 
LCucien] B. Johnson bought considerable amount of 
wines. And we sold wine to Beaulieu and a lot of 
people who had a reputation bottlers. And we sold 
some back to Mr. [Prank A.] Busse, who was my 
father s former partner. If you remember we discussed 
what became of the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company. My 
father was president of the Napa & Sonoma Wine 
Company. 

I might just refresh our memory about that. 
Along about the early nineteen hundreds we were 
malting sauternes my father was. And he had a good 
outlet with the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company which 
was run at that time by Mr. [Emil C.] Priber. Mr. 
Priber was a rather elderly gentleman and he had 
Mr. Busse working for him as his superintendant . 
And, Mr. Priber wanted to sell his interest in Napa 
& Sonoma Wine Company so my father bought it, and 
he took in Mr. Busse and one or two other salesmen 
as stockholders and part owners, but father retained 
51 per cent of the stock and became president of 
the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company. So we called it 
Napa and Sonoma and Livermore on the labels. We 
didn t feature Wente at all Just Napa & Sonoma Wine 
Company. 

Teiser: Let me make sure I understood you. Did the label 

read then for a time: "Napa and Sonoma and Livermore? 11 

Wente: We featured Napa & Sonoma Wine Company; Napa, Sonoma 
and Livermore as the three locations. We didn t 
change the name of the company. And it was my 
father s request that they did this, that they 
wanted to feature Livermore, but they were doing so 



*See also page 56. 



65 



Wente: well with Napa & Sonoma Wine Company, and so it was 
not a mandatory deal. Anyhow, Mr. Busse remained 
manager for the Napa & Sonoma Wine Company until 
Prohibition came and my father I think we went over 
that my father said, "Now, look, we ve made a lot 
of money out of this, Prank. I m going to sell you 
this inventory at cost, give you time enough to sell 
it before the deadline of Prohibition goes into 
effect. You keep the labels and trade rights and 
everything that Napa & Sonoma may have, and it s 
yours. All I m asking for is the money out of the 
inventory." 

So, when Repeal came, why Mr. Busse came back 
to Herman and I and wanted us to go back into it 
again. And we elected to eventually get started 
into Wente Brothers and start bottling and labeling 
under our own name rather than Napa & Sonoma. We 
sold him some wines, however. 

Teiser: Had they been operating during Prohibition? 

Wente: No, they didn t. 

Teiser: Had they held over any stocks? 

Wente: Nothing. They had to start in all fresh with 
cooperage and tanks and what have you. 

Teiser: Did you bottle and label under your own name Just 
after Repeal? 

Wente: We started in 1934. We started not Immediately 

after Repeal. We were under Mr. de Latour s bond yet, 
I think we went into that, did we? 

Teiser: Somewhat. 

Wente: Well, it was the Alcohol Tax Unit people, along 

about 1926, said to Mr. de Latour, "You re buying 
these finished wines from Wente. You re not using 
them for blending and it s against the law. You 
cannot buy it as a blending material." 

So Mr. de Latour was beside himself what to do. 
He said, "We have to discontinue buying your wines; 
we can t use them for blending because they re a 



66 



Wente: finished product. Will you consider turning your 
bond over to Beaulieu Vineyards and calling them 
"Beaulieu Vineyards 11?" 

So Herman and I discussed that at great length 
and we finally decided we would, with the proviso 
that if Repeal came he would immediately return our 
bond to us. 

Well, Mr. de Latour was rather reluctant to do 
this in a hurry. He wanted to hold onto us as long 
as he could and he asked us to go in partnership 
with him and operate it as a part of Beaulieu 
Vineyards, which we declined to do. 

We felt that we go on our own, and so we did. 
It took a long time to get established. During 
that period, wines were so bad through the East 
that California shipped, and had a bad reputation. 
It took quite a long while to overcome it. 

Even your authorities like Frank Schoonmaker, 
who criticized wines in general and California wines 
very severely, we sent him a few cases of wine and 
told him (it was our first contact with Prank 
Schoonmaker) that he was mistaken if he called all 
California wines bad, that California did make a few 
good wines and we were herewith sending him some via 
express, and taste them. And he was very much 
surprised, and he came on out here, and that is how 
we became acquainted with Frank Schoonmaker, 

Teiser: Maybe that was the beginning of the California 

material in American Wines,* that he and Tom Marvel 
wrote. 

Wente: That s right. He and Marvel were partners at that 
time, and also in the distribution of wines. Frank 
Schoonmaker & Company, Tom Marvel had an interest 
in it. 

Teiser: That book must have done a great deal for the general 
status of California wines. 



*New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 



67 



Wente: It changed the atmosphere quite a little. It really 
did. He had for a salesman, [Alexis] Li chine. He 
was one of Schoonmaker s salesmen. He went out on 
his own. 

Teiser: That s interesting that you should have had that 
part in the general building up of the reputation 
of California wine. 

Wente: This is right. And then of course John Daniel [Jr.] 
and Herman worked very faithfully towards forming 
the Wine Institute. My father and the early timers. 
Mr. Ed Sheean. He was from Sacramento; he was 
president of what they called the California Grape 
Growers Association that was formed to enlighten 
people what Prohibition would do to the vineyards. 
My father was the treasurer and was instrumental in 
raising the money to fight Prohibition. This dates 
way back to 1906 or 08 and 10 when we had the 
possibilities of the country going dry. It was 
constantly being fought. And they had speakers on 
the road talking on the evils of Prohibition, what 
it would do, and they had signs made and I think I 
have a picture of it yet here somewhere. We had a 
sign on the vineyard there: "Prohibition will 
destroy these vineyards." [It was] painted on a 
big sign, and [they] set this all over the country. 

And they spent a lot of time and money, and 
Horatio Stoll was their secretary. He was a native 
of Sacramento and his father owned a harness shop 
in Sacramento. Mr. Sheehan what s the name of that 
vineyard east of Sacramento? He was the super intendant 
of that. Out towards Mills. Right in the foothills. 
Cordova Vineyards. Those hills there, they grew a 
lot of grapes in there, and now it s all city. Mr. 
Sheehan was president of the Association. My father 
was treasurer. Horatio Stoll was the secretary. 
And Horatio Stoll put out a little publication. He 
didn t call it California Vines at that time.* Later 
he changed it over to California Wines and Vines and 
then he sold it and retired. It was Horatio Stoll 
who started Wines and Vines. It was from the nucleus 
of the California Grape Growers Association. 



*Horatio P. Stoll started the California Grape Grower 
in 1919. 



68 



Wente: Herman, Mr. [A. H.] Morrow, John Daniel and a 
few others formed the Wine Institute. And it was 
rather difficult for them because the big source 
of income was derived from the amount of gallonage 
you produced. And these little wineries like 
Inglenook and Wente were Just a small factor. 

Teiser: Well, didn t Mr. Morrow represent a fair number of 
gallons at the time? 

Wente: Yes. However, his organization* was a co-op and 
not an individual operator. The larger wineries 
Just let Herman and John Daniel take over as much 
as possible, capitalized on the little quality 
wineries. All the big advertisements were built 
right around the nucleus of Cresta Blanca and 
Inglenook and Krug and what have you. It was less 
than ten wineries that received most of the 
advertising, and they didn t pay in one tenth of 
the money. But it grew. 

Teiser: You were thoroughly convinced of the need for such 
an association I guess? 

Wente: Oh yes, sure, because it was an educational program 
principally. People had forgotten about wines. 
They really had. They were used to bootleg stuff 
and all this sort of thing and they didn t know 
anything about wines. The love for wines died 
principally with the older people. And I think 
it s come back remarkably well in the last few 
years. 

Teiser: I wonder if some of the interest in wine didn t 
come from the young people who since the time of 
World War II were travelling in Europe and 
drinking it there. 

Wente: The war veterans First World War veterans learned 
how to drink wine over there. They really got all 
the best wines they possibly could over there. 
They learned all the outlets of all the better wines 
over there, and they got away from the vin ordinaire 
and they got to be quite wine connoisseurs . And it 



*Pruit Industries, Ltd. 



69 



Wente: was a big factor also. But it didn t turn, even 
then, like it has in these last few years. Why, 
I don f t know. Why is it that these young people 
are coming here visiting us? They Just come here 
in flocks and droves. Some of them hippie types, 
but most of them are not. Most of them are Just 
good wine lovers, nice people. Getting away from 
the hard liquors. 

Teiser: When did you start, then, bottling your own wines? 
Wente: 193*4- . 

Teiser: And did you start with Just a few and increase the 
amount that you bottled? 

Wente: Sure. That was all we could do. Didn t have much 
money, but we had a lot of wine. [laughter] And 
Mr. Wetmore said, "Don t get disheartened. You can 
figure it will take 20 years at least to build up a 
good, reputable, honest-to-goodness label. In two 
years you can knock it to pot, but it will take you 
20 years to build it up, so go slow. Take it easy 
and work at it and work at it, and see if you can 
keep the quality in the glass." 

So Herman and I worked along in that direction. 
Herman spent a great deal of his time with the Wine 
Institute doing the promotional work, in educational 
work, copywriting with Caddow and his group of people 
that they had at the Wine Institute. Leon Adams did 
quite a Job at that time, which was rather sad in 
the end, but he really did a lot of work for them. 
He s a little strong opinionated, you know. [Laughter] 



THE PRORATE AND BURKE CRITCHPIELD 



Teiser: I don t suppose you were in any position where you 
needed involvement in the prorate program. 

Wente: We had very little to do with prorate, except this: 
the Bank of America was a big factor. The Bank of 



70 



irfente: America had Mr. Crltchfleld* as a vice-president. 
Burke Critchfield was an agronomy professor In the 
state of Minnesota, I guess at the University of 
Minnesota, and the Bank of America hired him as a 
vice-president for their agriculture. So he came 
out here and this big factor of surplus grapes came 
up. Bank of America was very heavily involved. 

My brother Carl was instrumental in hiring 
Mr. Critchfield, along with A. P. [Glannini]. They 
realized that they had to do something to save their 
investments or loans to the vineyards, so then they 
asked the government to create the prorate. They 
would loan Mr. Critchfield to the prorate administra 
tion to put this thing over, which they did. 

But Mr. Critchfield never went back to the bank 
again after that. He s a great friend of mine. I 
visit him all the time. He s living in St. Helena 
now. He s retired. I am amazed that the man s 
alive. He worked so hard on the prorate deal that 
he Just was running around in circles. He didn t 
even know his name. This is a fact. 

He had meetings in Fresno, he had meetings all 
over and these fellows organized, getting these 
growers together, and he had a meeting at the Fresno 
Hotel and so he flew down to Fresno and he got in a 
cab to go the the hotel and he was so fatigued and 
his mind was so fatigued that he didn t know his 
name. So he couldn t tell the cab driver. He knew 
he had some kind of a meeting somewhere, so he said, 
"Well, drive me around. I ll gather my senses in 
a little bit." And they drove around two hours in 
the cab before he could remember what he came to 
Fresno for. So he missed the meeting. And he s 
alive yet. He has one of these trip-hammer minds, 
you know. 

Teiser: I know that people considered him an important 
factor In the industry. 

Wentet Yes, he really has a lot of ingenuity and a lot of 
ambition. After you talk to him a minute you ll 



*Burke Critchfield was subsequently Interviewed 
in this series. 



71 



Wente: understand what I am trying to say. He s the kind 

of a fellow "I ve got an idea." He d come over and 
punch you "I ve got an idea." His ideas were way 
ahead of me, so fast he frightens you. 



ECONOMIC THBNDS 



Teiser: 



Wente t 



The other critical time in the wine industry was in 
the early sixties when they established the set- 
aside, was it not? 

This I don t know. Oh, yes, you mean here the I960 
set-aside. Yes, but it wasn t but what the industry 
could work it out itself. It was then a case of 
balancing. You know, any business, I don t care 
what it is, it s got to be balanced. Because if 
you load up your house beyond its ability to hold, 
you can t take in any more. Now this is what you 
go through with any agriculture. 

This is the sad part about agriculture. They 
grow crops. Maybe they have balance against them. 
Maybe they haven t enough crops to satisfy the 
demand. Then prices go sky high. The next year 
you plant so doggoned much wheat that it runs out 
of your ears. Now the automobile people, they can 
just manufacture so many automobiles, turn the key: 
we can t sell any more, and this it it. No spoilage. 
People that are working in it are out of a Job but 
we in agriculture, we haven t any control over it. 
We ve tried awfully hard, through the Farm Bureau 
and through the government to control. I remember 
raising hogs. I raised hogs for three and one-half 
cents a pound. I raised barley for 32 cents and 
worked hard to do it. I mean not like you re doing 
today; you get on these self-propelled harvesters 
and you can go right along and have a radio going. 
We did it with a pitchfork in the hard way. And the 
thing that always griped me, it would Just take the 
heart out of you, after you ve worked so hard for 
it and then you could only sell it for 35 cents. 
And the merchant that was buying it from you would 
sell you the sacks for 15 cents to contain one hundred 



Wente: 



Telser: 



Wente : 



Teiser: 
Wente: 

Telser: 
Wente: 



pounds of barley. Well, that was all right, but on 
top of that he d deduct three-quarters of a pound 
of your barley because the weight of your sack was 
three-quarters of a pound, and this took the heart 
out of me. I didn t mind paying the 15 cents, but 
when he took the three-quarters of a pound for the 
weight of the sack for which I paid 15 cents for... 
this was irony [laughter]. 

Well, the grape business, grape growing has safety 
valves in a sense, in raisins on the one hand and 
brandy on the other. That makes it a little 
different, doesn t it, from grain? 

Yes, somewhat. But one thing about wine, you can 
put it in the tank and it isn t going to spoil 
immediately. Now growing vegetables, you re just 
out of luck. You have a few weeks you go into cold 
storage and you ve got to go out again, but if we 
can put it in the tank and we do have a glutted 
market, maybe the holdover til next year will not 
be so malicious and the holdover will balance off. 
Now this is fine when you re growing a commodity 
like that, provided you re tied in with a manufacturer 
that s running a winery or processing plant. But 
just to grow fruit for a cannery and not have any 
interest in the cannery, I don t want any part of 
it. Just to grow grapes for a winery, I don t 
believe I d be very much interested in it. I d 
rather ride around the hills on a saddle horse and 
not have people to pay wages to. 

A marginal wlnemaker can t hold his wine, can he? 

No, he s got to move on. He s got to be out taking 
care of the next crop. 



Has that caused a good deal of attrition? 
lots of wineries gone out of business? 



Have 



Well, probably so. They ve gone into this co-op 
deal more and more. Maybe that s good. I don t 
know. To my way of thinking, a co-op is a first step 
in socialism. And socialism is a first step to 
communism. When I was a boy, socialism was a bad 
word. Today it s not such a bad word. You become 
socialist, then you become indoctrinated a little 
bit with communism. It doesn t sound half as bad 



73 



Wente: to me as it did some years ago, does it to you? 
Teiser: No, and cooperative doesn t sound at all bad to me. 

Wente: This is a first step, this transition of revolution 
of handling commodities. 

Teiser: There s government financing available for 

cooperatives, isn t there, that s not available 
to you for instance? 

Wente: Yes, tax-wise it s a big break. They are not 

getting the break they were here eight or ten years 
ago. They were getting a terrific break eight or 
ten years ago. Today they are paying somewhat of 
a tax load, but not as much as an independent I 
don t think. 

Teiser: The cooperatives have been more the large not the 
fine wine producers, haven t they? 

rfente: Well, no. Well, the Italian Swiss Colony are the 
co-op that s formed California Vintners, whatever 
they call themselves, that s taken over Inglenook... 

Teiser: United Vintners? 

Wente: United Vintners is the word I was trying to find. 
They ve taken over Inglenook as their brand. But 
the large distilleries have taken over Cresta 
Blanca, Schenley s has. And National Distillers 
has now taken over Almaden, and Paul Masson has 
gone with the other distillers, and so we re sitting 
out here kind of on the limb. We don t know whether 
we ll go with the distilleries. ..[laughter]. 

Teiser: Well, there was a period when the large distilleries 
bought wineries and then they sold them, wasn t 
that it? 

Wente: This was again you re coming back to the early days 
when grain was scarce and the distillers were 
denied the right to use corn for alcohol, or any 
cereal for alcohol, so they immediately came out to 
California and bought all of the wine Inventory 
within three months. They bought 50 per cent of 
California wine inventory, and they held it to 
convert over to neutral spirits for them. Then grain, 



Wente: after a year or so, was released again for distilling 
material. They were not too happy with the spirits 
of grapes for their whiskeys and so they started to 
bottle wines or sold the wineries. The National 
Distilleries owned the Italian Swiss Colony at one 
time and they sold it, and now they are back in and 
bought Almaden. 

Teiser: Well, I guess there s a whole trend toward these 
bigger and bigger combinations. 

Wente: Yes. Now this is not only in people or organizations 
that are processing food, this is happening with 
everything. I don f t know whether it s good or bad 
for the country. I ve always felt there comes a 
time in everyone s life when they like something of 
their own. It might Just be an automobile or a 
pencil or something else, but It s mine, and I think 
we have a happier citizenship with a little country 
corner grocery store than we do with a large 
distributing store such as Safeway today, where all 
you can hope to be is a manager of one of the stores, 
and this holds true with banks, this holds true it 
won t be long with the wine industry and distillers 
and what have you. We re all getting so that we 
just well, it s a form of communism, isn t it? 
Later the government will take them. 

Teiser: Well, I hadn t looked forward that far. 

Wente: I think this is what you ll eventually see. I won t 
see it, but my grandchildren probably will. They ll 
be operating this place for government. Now you 
take a Ford plant, for instance; they created the 
Ford Foundation and then hold the voting stock of 
the Ford plant for another family s lifetime, but 
sooner or later they ll lose it. And this is what s 
going to happen to Wente Brothers; this is what is 
going to happen to the rest of them as time goes on. 

Teiser: So far, has there been any experience in the 

California wine industry in which a small winery, 
when it was bought by a large company, has continued 
making really excellent wines? 

Wente: Well, there was a good demonstration of it out here 
at Cresta Blanca. Over the last 30 years they were 
making excellent wines. Management comes in from 



75 



Wente: the sales side of it and they had good men, they 
had good wine people. They had Harold Berg and 
people like that that are really excellent. But 
they take the heart out of them. The management s 
back in New York, and they get a wire that Sauvignon 
blanc is good, ship us a carload. Well, hell s 
bells, you ve only got one little tank of it, and 
how are you going to do it? Well, the next wire 
comes: you re fired, you can t produce; well, we ll 
give it to somebody that can. And so this is the 
way this thing works. 

Now, Harold had a terrific interest in that 
place. He Just would have loved to have stayed 
there and made good wines. But, gee, they knock 
the props right out from under you, and the next 
thing you know you re here out in the street. All 
your love for wines doesn t do you a bit of good. 
If you haven t got a personal interest in this thing, 
you can t keep on making good wines. You ve got to 
have a personal interest in it, I think. 

Teiser: People say, and this ties in with what you ve Just 

said, that Eastern distillery people don t understand 
wine making at all, but maybe some of them will learn, 

Wente: Well, people can go to school and learn how to do it. 
Sure, this is what Harold Berg did, and then he got 
himself a job with Cresta Blanoa, and he had hoped 
that he would make good wines, which he did, and 
the result is he s back at the university* and quite 
satisfied with his position and we re all very happy 
to see him there as far as that s concerned because 
we think he s a good man. He was an awfully good 
man out here too. But, gee whiz, you Just can t do 
a damned thing when management tells you ve got to 
ship me two carloads of 196? Sauvignon blanc and 
you only made one carload. 



*As Professor of Enology, University of California, 
Davis. 



76 



DISTRIBUTION AND SALES 



Teiser: This leads us into something else that I ve been 

interested in. The system of distribution for wine, 
now I suppose in your father s day it was direct 
from the winery? 

Wente: Oh, we had large wholesalers. California Wine 

Association, of which Mr. Morrow was the chemist. 

Teiser: Did you sell wine to the California Wine Association? 

Wente: Yes. And Lachman [A] Jacoby. And a lot of the 

bigger there were any number of large distributors 
of wines in San Francisco. 

Teiser: But you had no firm commitment with any of them, 
you just sold them as any other customers? 

Wente: Just like you do your cattle today. Sell to Armour, 
Swift s, or.... I guess I told you my father always 
had little sayings about [things that] always had a 
little moral to them. I tell Karl I have little 
moral stories, too. One of the ones I like to tell 
Karl is: it s got to operate; if it doesn t 
operate, why you ve got to do something about it. 
I said, it s no different than the Swede working 
down the street, and he was drunk and the Salvation 
Army fellow came along and tried to convert him and 
told him to work for Jesus, work for Jesus, and the 
Swede finally got tired of it and he said, "Well, 
I m working for Johnny Thompson. Johnny Thompson 
pay me a dollar an hour. Jesus pay me $1.25 and I 
work for Jesus." 

So that s the way this thing works. We re way 
wrong with our whole set-up in this world, valueing 
things. There ought to be units of labor, or units 
of something that values should be placed on instead 
of the dollar. You know you d quit your job 
tomorrow and go over to another job if you can get 
ten cents more somewhere else. This is the way it 
works. That is, if you have stability and everything 
else that goes with it. I know I we were talking 
about sales. I sell to California Wine Association. 



77 



Wente: California Wine Association pays me a half cent 
more than Lachman & Jacob! , I sell to California 
Wine Association. If Lachman & Jacobl pays me a 
half cent more than California Wine Association, I 
sell to them. So this is a cold, cold world. It s 
all based around that damned dollar. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Since Repeal, the distribution system has entirely 
changed, has it not? 

Wente: You mean with wines? Yes. A lot of that enters 

into our transportation system is different. The 
city has moved to the country. Before the country 
always moved to the city. Nobody in the country did 
anything without it was dictated from the policy of 
the city. They had no way of moving their wines in, 
only on railroads. You wouldn t bottle out here in 
the country; couldn t get the glass out, and what 
have you. Now we have these rapid transits and we 
have these good highways and these immense big trucks 
that come right out here. We don t have to be on a 
railroad siding. While before, a winery was no good 
unless it was on a railroad siding. Today, why it 
doesn t mean anything. We can take the railroad and 
bring it to the winery. 

We re having trouble right now. This sounds 
kind of again Jumping, but it s taking too long for 
us to get our product to New York. See, we ship 
with Martini or Korbel or three or four wineries 
when the customer can t use a whole carload of Wente 
so he takes half a carload of Martini. Well, we 
start a car at Martini s and it stops here for 
loading. It takes a week, pretty near, to get that 
car down here, and then it fools around here and 
is switched around again, and it takes two to three 
weeks to get a car to New York this way, when piggy 
back it ought to go through in five days. We re 
working on that right now, to see if we can t get 
piggy-back service. We had a carload that was lost. 
We loaded a full carload of Wente wines here three 
weeks ago, and we demanded heating service in it 
because the carload before got caught with some 
damage with cold, so the heating was on and nobody 
watched over it and the damned car burned up and so 
we lost it that way, and the other one before we lost 
it with cold stability. 



78 



Teiser: So, piggy -back you think is the answer? 

Wente: Well, it goes through fast. Nobody cares any more. 
It used to be the railroads watched over you, too. 
Golly,, you could come out here as an immigrant girl 
from Europe and they d put a tag on you and the 
conductor would watch over you and see that you 
were delivered. My mother came that way from 
Germany. She had a tag tied to her, and when she 
got on the train, the conductor watched over her 
and saw that she was delivered to her uncle out in 
Oakland. She used to talk about this. 

Teiser: When you ship this way with the other wineries, are 
you still selling direct from the winery to the 
wholesaler? 

Wente: We, Wente Brothers and Martini have primary 

distributors. We have two. We have Parrott & 
Company west of the Rockies. We have "21" Brands 
east of the Rockies. They are our primary distributors, 
They service the wholesaler. 

Teiser: And with these you have definite long-range 

arrangements? It isn t like selling either to 
Lachman & Jacobl or... 

Wente: These are all finished products, with our labels on. 
When we sold to Lachman & Jacob! or to Ciocca- 
Lombardi, it lost all its identity and we bottled 
under their label. It didn t have any name on it 
at all. It was so much wheat in a sack. 

Teiser: So this kind of distribution came in with your 
bottling your own? 

Wente: Right. And this is what Mr. Wetmore said, It would 
take you 20 years to build up a brand. Versus two 
years to destroy it. That s Just exactly what 
Schenley did with Cresta Blanca. 

Teiser: Do you have a contractual arrangement with "21" 
Brands? You re tied to them pretty much? 

Wente: Not necessarily tied to them. We have more or less 
of an agreement. 

Teiser: Is this not the pattern of the good winemakers? 



79 



Wente: No. We will say that some of the wineries, 

Concannon s for instance, they are selling to 
wholesalers; they do not have primary distributors. 
They sell to a wholesaler in Los Angeles... [and 
others elsewhere]. But everything that we ship 
from here we bill to Parrot t & Company or we bill 
"21" Brands. Even though it s delivered here in 
Livermore. The liquor distributor here in Livermore 
comes out and picks it up, but it s billed to 
Parrot t & Company; Parrot t & Company bills them. I 
can go fishing and I don t need to worry about 
collections. This little distributor could go 
broke and this would set you back quite a lot. They 
do our advertising, what little advertising we do 
some ourselves but they take care of principally 
all the servicing of the wholesalers and advertising 
and see that they are properly handled. 

Teiser: How did you have your present label made? 

Wente: Well, that s a long story. We worked on that with 
Schoonmaker some first, and then we worked on it 
with different artists, and then we worked on it 
some. We worked through Schmidt Lithograph. Their 
artists worked on some of our labels. 

Teiser: So you Just worked and worked at it? 
Wente: That s about it. 

Teiser: It s a very attractive label. Isn t there a 
different color on the... 

Wente: You know, I like some of our old labels the best. 
But even the cases, we changed the color of the 
outside. Again, people like a change for some 
reason or other. This is a funny thing, you know. 
Now this Wente Blanc de blanc wine. Out of 
curiosity everybody s trying it, and if we didn t 
do this we d probably start falling backward. You re 
competing against yourself, but that s a lot of fun 
too. It s the old, old thought: if you stand still 
you soon start to go backward. And I guess that s 
true. That s what they told us when we went to 
school. 



80 



BECENT ADVANCES 



Teiser: Going further into these different changes, are 
wines aged longer now than they were? 

Wente: No. Our white wines a shorter period. The red 

wines, yes; we re aging longer in glass than we did. 
We age them in wood up to where we think they ve 
reached their peak, then we put them in glass and 
let them lay in glass for a few years. But our 
white wines, we like to get them off young and fresh. 
I think it s proving too that this can be done. 
This old, old theory that wine gets better with age 
is being exploded awfully fast. This holds true 
with only some varieties, like the Cabernet Sauvignon 
and Pinot noir, but you also have a lot of spoilage 
by holding them over. You have bum corks and what 
have you, and leaky bottles here and there, and your 
loss is great. The corks we re getting today aren t 
as good as they used to be. 

Teiser: I was about to ask you about the corks before 
Prohibition and now. 

Wente: We ve worked and worked and worked on this thing. 
We had good corks right after Repeal. 

Teiser: Where were they coming from? 

Wente: Prom Prance and Portugal and Algeria. And then we 
were getting much better corks than they were over 
in Europe. We were in better financial position. 
But as Germany got stronger and France got stronger 
financially, they got the selection of the good 
corks. We didn t get them, and so we kind of sat 
around and wondered what to do next. We paid as 
high as two cents and three cents a cork that was 
supposed to be extra first, and then we Just decided 
we d either have to go screw caps or something else 
so we came to this polyethylene deal. 

Teiser: You are coming to that now? 

Wente: No. This was ten years ago. We did come to this 
[showing a plastic cork], and we wanted it so you 



81 



Wente: could put a corkscrew In it and pull It like a cork 
screw. You see this is designed so that you put it 
in and it comes level and you wouldn t notice the 
difference but what it s a cork. We started out 
with five rings at first, and we came down to nine 
rings finally, and then we thought we had it made. 
We spent a thousand dollars on the mold and what 
have you, and then we started to bottle a few cases 
here, and every time a cork salesman came in we 
said, "This will probably be your last order for us 
because you re giving us such Junky corks that we 
can t afford to use them any more. We re going into 
polyethylene." Then they d say, "Give us a try 
once more, give us a try once more." So we got 
better corks then for a while. So there s a 
thousand-dollar cork! 

Teiser: Was it practical? 

Wente: Yes, it will work. 

Teiser: Can you get a corkscrew into it? 

Wente: Yes. Prom here. 

Teiser: Oh, in this end. 

Wente: Yes, this compresses as it goes into the bottle. 
We ve got some wines that have been laying out 
there ten years [with the elastic corks] and still 
all right. 

Teiser: Maybe you have an ace -in- the -hole then. 

Wente: Well, you know, competition is the life of trade. 

Teiser: There are some corks that are liminated, are there? 

Wente: Yes, that s champagnes. We don t use them. 

Teiser: I ve even seen something that looked like pressed 
cork board, made of little granules of cork. 

Wente: Well, sure. Cork is one of your principal materials 
for insulation. Before they ground up glass, all 
your refrigerators were cork and all your insulated 
cold rooms were done with cork. 



82 



Teiser: It seems to me I ve seen some of that material used 
In wine corks. 

Wente: Well, there s nothing wrong, I don t think. We ll 
eventually come to screw caps. 

Teiser: It ll make It a lot easier for a woman to open a 
bottle. 

Wente: Amazing. We re selling quite a lot of wines now at 
the airlines. And the American Airlines demands 
screw caps so the stewardess doesn t have to pull 
corks. And besides that she s got the closure right 
with her all the time. If she doesn t use up the 
bottle, she just closes it up for the next flight 
and it doesn t spoil on her so rapidly. 

Teiser: How about aging it? Can you age wine... 

Wente: Well, no. This is the sad part of it. You have 
to have corks pretty much for these red wines. 
With the younger white wines it works out very well. 
This Le Blanc de blanc has never been in wood. I 
guess I told you this. What we re selling now, 
Le Blanc de blanc, was made last October. With the 
proper installation, we ve learned that we can make 
these wines, keep the flavor of the grape, if we 
can handle them young. We d lost it before, because 
we had to stabilize it in wood and lay it away, and 
by that time we d lose some of the flavors, and now 
this Le Blanc de blanc will go right out of the 
steel tanks into glass tanks into the bottle through 
two or three filterations of careful filtrations 
to take out the yeast and then we stabilize it in a 
cold room cold tank. 

Teiser: That is an advance in technology that I suppose no 
one would have believed 30 years ago. 

Wente: That s right. Thirty years ago if you were an old 
wine connoisseur, you wouldn t even taste it; you d 
say it can t be any good if it s that young. But 
here we are with our tax structure getting worse 
and worse, and they are just squeezing, squeezing, 
to get you higher and higher, and I don t know 
where things are going to go. It s got to come 
from somewhere. Now we ve got to put our costs, 
whether it s taxes or corks or what have you, back 



83 



tfente: 



Teiser: 



Wente: 



to the consumer. The consumer has to pay this or 
we ve got to go out of business. And so it s a 
vicious circle you re living under today. 

As you point out, though, the young people are 
interested in dry wines and so they must be 
willing to pay for them. 



Well everybody seems to have a lot of money. 
Personally I wonder where we re going to go. 
can t live and borrow all your life. 



You 



GROWING GOOD WINE GRAPES 



Teiser: 



Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente: 



Teiser: 
Wente : 



Are your yields, your per-acre yields, higher than 
they were? 

We re doing a better Job oulturing grapes outside, 
too, than we were. We have better equipment. We 
don t have as good help as we did, but we have 
everything else much better; we have better tractors 
and cultivators and spray materials. I had the spray 
man here today. We were talking about sulphuring, 
and we re using liquid sulphur instead of the dust. 
You can put it on so much easier and so much evener. 
As he pointed out to me, he said, "You know this 
spray rig that you paid three thousand dollars for, 
it s earned itself five times in the last two years 
by your sulphur control." This is what he said now. 

Do you believe it? 

I don t know. Yes I do in a sense. I know that 
it s been a good Investment. I d hate to put it 
quite the way he puts it, that it s earned itself 
five times over. 

Do you fertilize the land in any different way than 
you did in your father s day? 

Not too much, no. We do a better Job of moisture 
control than father did. However, we are also 
depleting some of the minerals, metals, out of the 



Wente: soil, the food contents. We do grow some cover 

crops, used for plowing under. We do put in some 
nitrogen each year. We try to keep the balance to 
food value in our soils because, after all, this 
is very important. In order to make anything good 
you ve got to have well ripened fruit. It can t be 
starved for moisture and it shouldn t be starved 
for the principal plant foods like nitrogen, 
phosphoric acid, and so forth. 

Teiser: Did your father irrigate? 

Wente: We didn t have any water to irrigate with. 

Teiser: When did you start irrigating here? 

Wente: Oh, we started along in the thirties, and then we 
found that our vines were going backward, and then 
we analyzed the water and took it to the university 
and had it analyzed, and they all said that it was 
all right, didn t have any salt, no more than the 
tolerant amount. 

Teiser: Did the university help solve the water problem? 

Wente: No. It was boron. No, the university didn t know 
what boron was. And our wells were high in boron 
content here, so we had to go out we spent a fortune 
here on well drilling and what have you. Just put 
down a hole and find it was high in boron and pull 
out, and put down another one and get over into 
another field and finally we got two pretty fair 
wells. Then we watered from there. Now we re 
getting water out of the tri-county water aqueduct. 

Teiser: I see that you re using overhead sprinkers out here 
now. When did you start? 

Wente: Just as soon as these sprinkers were available, we 
went to the overhead sprinkler system. You can t 
flood irrigate this gravelly land, because it s so 
uneven, and on the spots of gravel the water will 
disappear immediately, and the other spots won t 
receive any, so you get a good even distribution 
with the overhead sprinkling system. 

Teiser: What did you use before? 



85 



Wente: Well, we furrowed and ran the water in the furrow 

and it wasn t very satisfactory. Now we re putting 
in a sprinkling line over in Monterey County. 
We re putting in ?600 sprinklers, permanent installa 
tion. Fifty-six miles of underground pipe, and 260 
acres . 

Teiser: These are these same kind of overhead sprinklers? 

Wente: Yes, but these are portable ones that you see here. 
The other will be underground, the lines will be 
underground. 

Teiser: Have you tried fogging for heat and cold protection? 

Wente: Yes, seriously thought of frost protection, but not 
for heat protection. Yes, we ve given that a great 
deal of thought. We haven t enough water here. 
We d like to do that here. Down there we don t need 
it. We re out of the frost belt. 

Teiser: I m about to be out of tape. I have just a little 
more to ask on what you re talking about and going 
outside this valley. Could I go out and get another 
tape and Just ask you a few more questions? Or are 
you running out of time? 

Wente: No, not exactly. How long will it take? 

Teiser: Can I have twenty minutes more? I wanted to ask you, 
you said irrigated land did not grow good grapes, 
or something of the sort... 

Wente: I d like to explain this, to the best of my ability. 
We were starved at times for moisture. If we had 
a good wet season, around 15 to 2^f Inches of rain, 
we could have a nice, well-rounded, ripened fruit, 
if we didn t crop them too heavily. 

Then, when we got eight inches of rain or less, 
we had a shrivelled-up, dried-up fruit which was 
high in acid and didn t have any sugar because it 
didn t have a chance to mature. But we irrigated 
to bring moisture content up so that we d have 18 
to 26 inches of water per acre and we could then 
grow a nice, well-rounded fruit. And this is what 
we are trying to do. 



86 



Wente: Now, you can go to the extreme by irrigating 
too much and putting on a foot of water per acre 
like they do in the San Joaquin Valley, down in the 
lower end where they grow table grapes, to get them 
a size to get the raisin grapes, ten, 15 or 20 tons 
to the acre, so that they could make it profitable. 

Well, we re not after tonnage, not heavy 
tonnage, of course. We re after well-rounded, 
ripened fruit that has a good balance and sugar-acid 
ratio, and from that we can make good wines. And if 
we have the well-rounded, ripened fruit, why we ll 
have a variation in seasons. Some seasons will be 
better than others. The way we re operating here 
now, we re putting on a certain amount of moisture, 
why we can control everything pretty well. 

Have I explained myself? 

Teiser: Yes. I noticed that some of the vines were on wires. 
Is this something that you are doing now. . . 

Wente: Yes we put them on wires because we re equipped 

now with equipment that goes in and out in between 
the rows so our cultivation is all done one way. 
Before we had to cross-cultivate to take out between 
the vines. But now hydraulic rams on the tractors 
have in and out plows. They Just go right up to the 
vine, and then the trigger hits the vine and with 
that the plow hops out and as the trigger passes the 
vine, the plow hops in again, right behind the vine. 
It s a very interesting niece of machinery. 

It s quite well designed and it s worth looking 
at sometime. You ought to take some pictures to 
see this come along the row, and it s plowing in the 
next row to you. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Does putting the vines on wires improve the grapes? 

Wente: You can spread the fruit out and you can expose them 
to better leafage coverage. It has a lot of 
advantages. You can bring them up a little higher, 
which gives you better ventilation underneath which 
gives you frost protection and also mildew protection. 
When the leaves drag to the ground and close off air 
circulation; your mildew sperms grow very rapidly 
in the closed area. If they have an air circulation 



87 



Wente: you have better mildew control. And you also have 
better frost control if you have air circulation. 
So we like to keep them up about 42 inches above 
the ground. 

Teiser: Are they picked more quickly when they re on wires? 

Wente: Yes, pickers like them too. The "mama ladies" can 
go along and pick these grapes very easily when 
they re up three feet in the air rather than to 
stoop over. It s quite an advantage to a. picker. 
It really is. 

Teiser: When did this start? 

Wente: Well, it s nothing new. We ve done this there are 
two methods on the wires. We use what they call 
the "cordon" method; that s taking the old wood and 
putting it along the wire and then you leave the 
spurs off of that. Or you can use the "cane" method, 
which they are using with the Thompson Seedless, 
and put new wood on the wire each year. We put the 
old wood on the wire and leave it there, then we 
prune the new wood off of the old wood. 

Teiser: Does it make it easier to prune, then? 

Wente: It makes it easier to prune. It makes it easier to 
sucker. It makes an easier culture all the way 
through, and gives us this added protection which I 
was speaking of frost protection and circulation 
of air for mildew control. 

Teiser: Everything has advanced a little, hasn t it? 

Wente: Yes, we re getting smarter all the time, really. 

We don t know how much capacity we have or how far 
we can go. [Laughter] I can remember when we went 
out here and worked all day with one old mule out in 
the vineyard, and then we got up to two mules, and 
then got up to four mules. Then my father said, 
"You sell those mules and buy a tractor and you ll 
go broke." So I sold the mules and bought the 
tractor, and I worked and worked and worked. And 
Pop was always saying, "I told you" every time the 
tractor would break down. This was when tractors 
were in their infancy and you had to be a mechanic 
with it, you know. You tried and tried to get it 



88 



Wente: to work. And finally they made and sold us better 
tractors . 

Now they re so fine that they are really a 
pleasure to operate. They re expensive though. 
Gosh sake, the big tractors that we re using now. 
We re paying sixteen, eighteen thousand dollars 
apiece for them. 

When I was a boy, if you have sixteen or eighteen 
thousand dollars you could retire. You wouldn t have 
to work any more. Now you spend it on one lousy 
tractor, and you ve got dozens of them around. I 
wonder sometimes how crazy one can get? [Laughter] 
This is what goes through your mind. Gee whiz, if I 
sold all these tractors, I could go fishing all the 
time and I wouldn t need to worry about mechanics or 
anything else. 

Teiser: When did you decide to go outside of this valley for 
the first time? 

Wente: Oh, we ve given this considerable thought for the 
last twelve years, when Livermore started to grow 
and the atomic research came in here and the 
evaluations of the land became high, and it looked 
like we only had a few years maybe only five years 
or life here, potential life, before we were taxed 
too high beyond our ability to get it off the 
ground. Anything that goes beyond we talk about 
the dollar again pretty vicious circle. If you 
can t make it you re going to lose it so we felt 
that we d better go somewhere, and so we decided we d 
look around the country. We went to Healdsburg and 
the Mother Lode country which we were talking about 
earlier, where Mr. Sheean was superintendant up there 
in Sacramento. I looked them all over. Napa and 
all over. 

And then we went down and looked at this country 
down toward Hollister where Almaden is, and went 
on over to the Salinas Valley and saw the advantages 
there because they have the earth that has the 
calcium formation in it and the rocks and everything 
else that went with it, and so we felt that this was 
Just the thing for our white grapes. So we bought 
this piece of property down there. 



89 



Teiser: Do you expect to buy more outside of the area? 

Wente: Not until we re crowded out of here in Livermore. 
When we re crowded out of here in Livermore, then 
we ll buy some more in that immediate neighborhood, 
we think. 

Teiser: What year did you buy that? 
Wente: In 1962, 1963. 

Teiser: I think you said you had some other crops planted 
there now. 

Wente: Not now. We got it all into grapes. Here is a 

picture of the location. That s when we were first 
putting it in. The one up above shows last year s 
green leaves. Well, this gives you a topographical 
view of it here, this canyon and behind, here, and 
showing the Arroyo Seco. 

Teiser: How has it proved out, so far? 
Wente: Well, we re very much elated over it. 
Teiser: Is the quality comparable to this? 

Wente: We think so. A little different flavor. We ll 

give you a little change-over, you know, a little 
at a time (I m speaking of the connoisseurs) and 
we ll blend the two together for a few years, 
because they have a little different flavor, and 
you re used to Livermore flavor now, and now we re 
giving you the Blanc de blanc which Is half from 
down there and half from Livermore. Maybe in two 
years from now, the Le Blanc de blanc will come 
three-quarters from down there, and then five years 
from now it will all come from down there and you ll 
never know the difference. It s something you know, 
like, you start with low heeled shoes and pretty 
soon you know you re up on high heeled shoes. 
[Laughter] 

Teiser: Lifting the calf... 

Wente: Lifting the calf over the fence. 

Teiser: Are they different in ways that you can analyze? 



90 



Wente: Yes. I don t think it s as high in albumenates 
down there as we are here in Livermore. We re 
exceptionally high in albumens here in Livernore, 
for some reason or other. It s nitrogen here I 
think that gives us the albumens the flavor over 
here in Livermore. We are, ourselves, a little 
high in nitrogen. However, we have some of this 
calcium lime formation down there which the French 
maintain is the ideal soil for champagne growing. 
This is what they have in Hheims, Prance. This 
ground looks very much like the Bheims, Prance, 
district. 

Oh, I think it s O.K., really, or I wouldn t 
have done it. You take and throw a half a million 
dollars into a piece of property and put it into 
grapes and wires and labor and what have you, and 
you say, "Well, gee whiz, five hundred thousand 
dollars at seven per cent its thirty-five thousand 
dollars a year and half of that Uncle Sam will take 
for taxes and so that leaves me sixteen thousand. 
I can fish all the year around for that," 

Teiser: This ties in with another thing I was wondering 

about. Can you grow other varieties of grapes over 
there than you can here and have you tried it? 

Wente: We ve tried everything down there that we re 

growing here. We don t know which ones yet, which 
varleites, we favor the most. I think probably 
it s a little cooler down there and I think we can 
do a better job on the red wines down there than we 
can here. However, time will tell. I m going to 
give it to you slowing a mixture. One quarter 
first, then a half and then three quarters. CLaughter] 

Teiser: The general question I was going to ask was: How 
have you decided over the years which grape grows 
best in which area? This seems to me almost like 
interpreting music on the violin like a virtuoso 
performance. 

Wente: Well, very much the same. It s a trial and error, 
and you keep practicing, practicing, practicing. 
This is about the whole thing. You make a cake, 
for instance, you try and try and try. You get a 
little more of a perfectionist with every cake you 
bake. If you really work at it and eliminate all 



91 



Wente: your errors and pick up all your perfectionists, 

you 1 re bound to get better. It s like playing the 
piano. Eventually you can play without the music. 
And with the tasting of these wines, we try and try. 
We pick them at certain stages. Then we take the 
tests. The sugar content the Balling test on them. 
We ll take the total acid test and other tests that 
go with it, and when we find we got a sugar-acid 
ratio why this is it. It s Just that simple. 

Teiser: Have you discarded many varieties? 

Wente: Oh, sure. There are some of the commoner varieties 
that came up here in the early days and we Just 
oh, the country s full of them. You can go through 
the history of Livermore here, and it s pitiful 
some of the varieties that were planted here. They 
had grapes running out of their ears. Big heavy 
bearers like the old Mission, gosh, a big old clumsy 
vine that grew lots of grapes and no character. 
Today, Mataro and many of these others. We are not 
even attempting to grow them down there. We are 
picking up the Zlnfandel again, though, and then 
planting it down there, to try it. We ve got some 
Cabernet Sauvignon we are going to try down there. 
As far as Cabernet Sauvignon here in Livermore, it s 
Just too hot for it up here. We ve never had any 
success making a Cabernet here in Livermore, too 
great a success, although the Concannons do quite 
well. We never have. 

We ve done very well with our Pinot Nolr and 
the Beaujolais here in Livermore, but we can do 
better down there. I know darn well we can because 
it s cooler down there. We have that little limestone 
with us down there, too. 

Teiser: Will you continue trying new things here, too? 

Wente: Well, you always try something new all the time, 
don t you? 



92 



INDEX - Srnest A. 7ente 



Adams, Or. Charles 3 
Adams , I. eon 69 
Almaden 7inery 73, 7 ! 4 
Alta Vista /ine Company 29 
Altschul, Dr. Joseph 10-11 
Arserine, Dr. Kaynard A. 20, 38 

Saccigaluppi , Harry 38 

BanK of America 69 

Sartlett, V. P. 28 

Beaulleu Vineyard 20-23, 5^, 60, 66 

Berg, Earold 75 

Bernard, Or. Geors-e 4- 

3ertiu & Lepori 29 

Bioletti, Professor Frederic T. 17 

Bonnet, Leon 0. 6-7, 38 

Bowen, Charles E. ! 

Eundschu, Carl 17 

Busch, Or. Louis *! 

nusse, Frank A. 6^-65 

Caddow, Harry 20, 69 

California Grape Grower 67 

California Grape Growers Association 16, 67 

California Uine Association 76 

Canziani, Bruno 26, 52 

Chaix 5- Bernard 29 

Chateau Bellevue 9 

Chateau d*Yquem 5t 6t 16 

Chauche & Bon 29, 37 

Chevalier & Company 29 

Ciocca- Lombard i 29, 78 

Concannon, James 28 

Concannon, Joseph Jr. (Joe) 30 

Concannon Winery 79, 91 

Cordova Vineyards 17, 67 

Crane, George B. 28 

Cresta Blanca winery 10-11, 1^-15, 20, 36, 64, 68, 73-75. 78 

Critchfield, Burke 69-70 

Cruess, Dr. William V. (Bill) 2, 4-6, 50 



93 



Daniel, John Jr. 67-68 

deLatour, Georees 20-22, 63, 65-66 

jetjeus, Rob-ert 53 

De Turk, I. 29 

^uvall, Alexander 9-10, 37 



Edwards, Col. George C. 11 



Ferrer! o, Ernest 10 

Plnkes tfidow, A. 25, 23, 36 

Fisher Packing Company 28 

Franz and Fuchs 28 

Fruit Industries, Ltd. 63 



Garbini, Frank 52 

Ciannini, A. P. ?0 

Gibson, David J. 10 

Golden Gate International Exposition 19-20 

Grau, f^d^in A. 18 

Greystone Vinery 18 

Grieve, Bill 1 

Guasti, Secondo 16 

Gundlach, Jacob 1? 

Gundlach-Bundschu Co. 1?, 21, 25, 28 



Haocemann, Sdwin 3. 53 

Hasremann, Krs . Sdwin <?. (Hilraa Wente) 24, 53 

Haras z thy, Arpal and Company 28 

Harwis, Dr. Clarence ft. 2 

Hayes, Timothy 28 

Ilecke, George 32 

Hoelscher, William 29, 36 

Husinann, Fred 1? 

Husraann, Professor George 1?, 32 

Inc^lenook Winery 68, 73 

Italian Swiss Colony 25, 29, 73-74 



Johnson, Lucien B. 15, 20, 64 



Kirkman, Albert 26, 52 
Krug, Charles 3. 18 
Krug Winery 68 
Kruger, Adele 26, 52 



Lachman & Jacotii 25, 28-29, 43, 76, 78 

Lansa, Horace 0. 38 

Lichlne, Alexis 6? 

Livermore, Robert 39 

Los Ami^os Vineyard 18 

Lur Saluces, Marquis de 5-6 



Martini, Aprostino 12-13 

Fartini, Louis K. 13-14, 63, 78 

Kartini, Louis P. 12 

Karvel, Tom 66 

I as son, Paul (Winery) 16, 73 

Mel, Louis 5, 16 

Montpelier Nursery (France) 6, 38 

Morrow, A. R. 68, 76 



Napa and Sonoma Wine Company 18-19, 21, 27, 29, 37, 47, 

64-65 

Na pa- Sonoma Wine and Brandy Company 26 
National Distillers 73-?4 
Niebaum, Captain Gustave 9 



Olivina Winery 9-10, 37 
Oterson, Herman 4, 29 
Overland Transfer & Freight 28 



Panama Pacific International Exposition 15-18 

Parrott & Company 78-79 

phylloxera 31-35 

Friber, Smll C. 18, 64 

Prohibition 60-63 and passim 

Prorate 69-70 



Rossi, Edmund A. 16-17, 20-21 

Rossi, Pietro C. 17 

Rossi, Robert D. 16-17 

Ruby Kill Winery 10 



95 



Schenley Industries 15, 73, 78 
Schmidt Lithograph Co. 79 
Schoonmaker, Frank 66, 79 
Schween, Will 5 
Sheehan, Edgar K. (Sd) 17, 67 
Smith, Julius Paul 9-10 
Stoll, Horatio 16, 67 

Tarpey, Paul 13-14 

tourne 56, 63 

Trautwein, Barbara See Vente, Barbara Trautwein 

"21" Brands 73-79 

Union Wine Company 29 

United Vintners 73 

University of California at Davis 1-2, 6, 50 

Vienna Vineyard 10 

Viticulture Department, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 31-32 

Wagoner, H.B. 28 

Wente, Barbara Trautwein (Krs. Carl H. ) 4 t 24, 78 

Wente, Carl F. 11, 18, 24, 28, 51, 54, 56, 70 

Wente, Carl Heinrich 3-5, 8-0, 11-13. 18-19, 21-22, 24-28, 

31, 36-37, 38, 4<, 47, 54-55, 57, 64-65, 67, 76, 83, 87 
Wente, Carolyn 24 
Wente, Krs. Ernest A. (Bess) 58 
Wente, Frieda 24 
Wente, Herman L. 5-6, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 37, 

50-55, 59, 66-69 
Wente, Mrs. Herman L. 58 
Wente, Hilma See Hagemann, Mrs. Edwin E. 
Wente, Karl L. 12, 29-30, 52-53 
Wente , May 24 
Werner, Edwin P. 18 
Wetmore, Charles 7, 14-15, 69, 78 
Wetraore, Clarence 6, 14-15, 20 
Wetmore- 3owen Co. 14 
Winedale Company 29 
Wine Grape Growers Association 17 
Wine Institute 16, 20, 33, 68-69 
Wines and Vines 67 
Winkler, Dr. A. J. 7, 20, 30, 38 



96 



Wines Mentioned in the Interview 



Blanc de blanc, 79, 83, 89 

Cabernet Sauvignon, 80 
Charbono, 28 
Chardonnay, 7 
Chateau d Yquem, 47 
Chateau Semillon, 46-47 
Colombard, 27 

Polle blanche, 27 

Golden Chasselas, 27 
Grey Riesling, 7 

Hook, 37 
Mourestal, 38 
Neuchatel, 27 

Pinot blanc, 38 
Pinot Chardonnay, 38 
Pinot noir, 80 

Riesling, 7-8 

Sauterne, 7, 21-23, 4-7, 64 
Sauvignon blanc, 7, 38, 75 
Semillon, 22, 38, 

Ugni blanc, 38 
Zinfandel, 8 



Grape Varieties Mentioned in the Interview 



Alicante, 4l 

Beaujolais, 91 
Burger, 5 37 

Cabernet Sauvignon 
Cabrignane, 49, 62 
Charbono , 4 



97 



Chenin blanc, 39 
Colombard, 4, 5, 7, 27 

French colombard, 5 

Camay Beaujolals, 39 
Grey Blesllng, 5, 7 

Mataro, 4, 39, 91 
Mission, 35, 39-^0, 91 

Pinot blanc, 39 
Pinot Chardonnay, 39 
Plnot nolr, 39, 91 

Riesling, 7-8 

Salnt-Emillon, 6, 38 
Sauvignon blano, 5, ^1, 62 
Sauvignon vert, 5, 7 
Summon, 5, 7, fcl, 62 

Thompson Seedless, 39-41, 87 
Ugni blanc, 6, 38-39 
White filesling, 5 
Zlnfandel, 4, 39-^1, 62, 91 



Ruth Teiser 

Born in Portland, Oregon; came to the Bay Area 

in 1932 and has lived here ever since. 

Stanford, 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 

since 1943. 



1 1856