For the fourth and fifth generation of the Wente family, a casual harvest dinner under an olive grove among their Livermore grape-laden vines was the right way to celebrate the milestone.
Harvest parties for winery workers, families and friends are a tradition in every corner of the winegrowing universe. This year Wente Vineyards first held a harvest meal for their employees. Then in early September the winery invited the public to purchase tickets for a relaxed evening at a long, artfully set table in the same rural locale.
Fourth generation winegrower and Chairman of the Board Carolyn Wente kicked off the dinner with brief remarks. She noted that the olive grove was planted by pioneer Livermore vintner Louis Mel in the late 19th century. Mel built a winery in 1884 at the site of Murrieta’s Well, now owned by Wente.
Wente wondered about what life was like for Mel and his family at harvest time. I surmised that the Mels built a fire, placed some big cuts of beef and a pot of beans over it, and then feasted with the workers.
I found several aspects of the harvest dinner notable. Wente talked about the hard work and perseverance the family has manifested over the 140 years to keep the business going. Rather than rattle off a list of accomplishments, she emphasized the family’s continued passion for the day-to-day work in the vineyard, cellar, marketplace and tasting lounge. Carolyn then introduced the family, starting with her brother Eric, Chairman of the Board Emeritus who built the export business.
She called her brother Phil “the farmer” who has kept his eye on the vineyards.
Phil was the winegrower I interviewed while working on my first wine article for the Pleasanton Weekly. Though I was new to wine writing with little background on the industry, Phil treated me with respect and interest throughout the conversation and was generous with his time and knowledge.
The article was about the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration in September 2000. Phil was eager to talk about the growth in the number of wineries—17 then compared to 50+ in 2023—and quality of wine in Livermore Valley. He was keen to mention the important preservation of agricultural land in the valley but downplayed the important role he played in the successful adoption of the South Livermore Plan of 1993.
At the anniversary dinner, I greeted Phil and his daughter Aly who is now Vice President of Marketing and Customer Experience.
Another notable aspect of the dinner was the long communal table with the Wente family sitting among the guests. Given the celebratory atmosphere, there were several toasts. I sat next to Phil’s daughter Jordan and her husband. Jordan serves as Brand Manager for Murrieta’s Well
John Marchand, Mayor of Livermore, summarized the family’s contributions to the Tri-Valley and state. Among the family’s most important contributions is the spread of the Wente Chardonnay vines nurtured in Livermore found in 75 percent of California’s vineyards.
Also notable was the harvest menu offered to guests. Local farm-fresh items such as white peaches and Wente olive oil intermingled with global touches. With five wines open at the bar, one could find something to pair with the hors d’oeuvres such as Korean spiced smoked salmon and avocado toast. My favorite pairing was the Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc paired with grilled Brentwood corn and king crab. After Wagyu beef or a vegetarian terrine, dessert was a chocolate tart with Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon.
Despite so much history at Wente Vineyards, one always learns something new about the winery. Many young professionals travel abroad to “stage” or learn new traditions around winemaking. But at the dinner, Carolyn told me that decades before it was commonplace, her father, Karl L. Wente, welcomed young winemakers to Livermore to share Wente innovations and learn from them.
At the end of the evening, fifth generation Chief Winemaker and COO Karl D. Wente and his wife took their son Jack for a ride through the vines. Surrounded by vineyards, Jack appeared to join the family tradition of staying close to their Tri-Valley roots.