The 6 foot-seven inch, genius turned winemaker majored in Chemical Engineering at Stanford-where he also played basketball-before attending
UC Davis, where he completed two masters degrees, one in horticulture and one in food science, specializing in viticulture, oenology and winemaking. After graduating he worked a vintage at the Peter Michael Winery in Sonoma's Knights Valley, spent time at Australian wineries and worked a vintage with Brown Brothers in the King Valley.
Wente winery farms almost 3,000 acres of estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, and Arroyo Seco, Monterey appellations. "The diversity of the terroir leads to a diversity of flavors," Wente describes. Flocks of turkey also nibble on them too, which is part of the battle a winery with sustainable agriculture faces. Yet creative farming practices encourage bio-diversity in the vineyards, greatly minimizing the need for pest intervention. Cover crops are recycled into an organic fertilizer and soil enhancer, used to create living soils-soils that renew themselves. The chance of water pollution from runoff is also reduced by these practices, which also conserve water and energy, and control erosion.
"I make a picking decision for each vineyard," Wente says, as we chew on Merlot grapes in Crane Ridge-the gently sloping formation of hills running along the southeastern corner of Livermore Valley. "These are still a month to six weeks away from harvest." Wente's knowledge is sown to the molecular level, and his passion for making wine is just as deep. He oversees all of the winemaking operations, down to bottling and the packaging. On this hillside the Merlot will become fully ripened with exceptional depth. The 2006 Crane Ridge Merlot ($20) is 77 percent Merlot, 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 percent Barbera. It is smooth and tangy with balanced tannins, offering notes of blackberry and vanilla with a smoky finish.
Wente Vineyards was the first California winery to produce a wine labeled "Chardonnay" in 1936. Today, many of the great Chardonnay vineyards in California are planted with the Wente Clone. The 2006 Wente Riva Ridge Chardonnay ($20) is 94 percent Chardonnay, three percent Gewürztraminer and three percent Pinot Blanc. It is rich and golden in color with notes of apple, pear, vanilla, guava and butterscotch. The Wente family has been growing Chardonnay in Arroyo Seco since the 1960s, where its cool growing season and the deep gravelly soil ripen the Chardonnay, creating a natural balance of sugar and acid.
The climate of the Livermore Valley is ideal for red Bordeaux varieties. Here a long growing season develops ripe, round fruit flavors. These vines are the present generation of vines, which California wine pioneer Charles Wetmore brought from France in the 19th century. Approximately 400 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are matched to the soils and microclimates with rootstocks and clones selected for each site. The 2005 Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) is 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, seven percent Petite Verdot, five percent Merlot and three percent Barbera. The wine is deep red in color with notes of cherry, vanilla, tea and chocolate.
The only thing brighter than this winemaker-whose hunger for knowledge is never satisfied- is his future.