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Wente Vineyards, 100 years of Chardonnay and counting

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The Wente family has been synonymous with California winemaking for well over a century. Starting way back in 1883, Carl H. Wente, a first-generation immigrant from Germany, purchased 48 acres in the Livermore Valley, situated southeast of San Francisco. Although grapes were first planted in the valley as early as 1846, Wente is credited as leading a planting boom, along with John Concannon (of Concannon Vineyards).

By 1912, Carl’s son, Ernest, had joined the family business and decided to focus his efforts on Chardonnay. In addition to coaxing his father into importing Chardonnay cuttings from France, he also planted Chardonnay from nearby Pleasanton, obtained from Col. Theodore Gier. Over the next three to four decades, Ernest carefully selected the best vines from these initial cuttings, eventually creating the Wente clone of Chardonnay.

Ostensibly pleased with their results, the Wente family released America’s first varietally-labeled Chardonnay in 1936, paving the way for Chardonnay’s growth and popularity in the U.S. With much of California’s 100,000 acres originating from the Wente clone, the Wente family has earned the moniker of “California’s First Family of Chardonnay.” Their dedication to this variety as well as to winemaking in general was rewarded in 2011 when Wente Family Estates was named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Today, 130 years after Carl’s arrival, Wente Vineyards is the country's oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery and is presently led by the fourth and fifth generation Wentes: Eric, Philip, Carolyn, Christine and Karl.

Maintaining its tradition, Wente Family Estates continues to produce Chardonnay and currently crafts four different Chardonnay wines: Morning Fog Chardonnay, Riva Ranch Chardonnay, Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay and The Nth Degree Chardonnay. This latter wine is only available to Club members, while the Small Lot wine may be purchased online. The two others are more widely available.

And, despite the family’s devotion to Chardonnay, they also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a number of other varieties, which are only made in small lot quantities.

Morning Fog Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay (CA), USA, $15.00
From Wente’s Vineyard Selection series, this wine offers vanilla, apple and floral notes on the nose. Its full-bodied palate is dry with medium acidity and very round mouth feel. Flavors of red apple, vanilla and woody notes persist throughout the finish.

Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey (CA), USA, $22.00
The Riva Ranch Chardonnay is produced from a dedicated Heritage Block in the cooler climate region of Monterey where the family has been growing grapes since the 1960s. Having spent 8 months aged in oak, the wine presents with aromas of nuts, oak, vanilla and apples, which are well integrated and balanced on the palate and joined by high acidity and full body.

Reliz Creek Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Seco, Monterey (CA), USA, $28.00
Another Heritage Block wine, the Reliz Creek is named for the creek that runs through the Arroyo Seco estate vineyards. Aromas of black cherry, earth and vanilla greet the nose and persist on the palate. The wine has high acidity, medium body and low tannins.

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