The life and times of… Carl H. Wente

 

Livermore, California is a small area that is just beginning to find it’s way onto the map as a respected wealth of great vineyards, wineries, and wine makers.  Although many have still not heard about this region, surprisingly, wine has been made here as far back and even further than the 1880’s.  If you are familiar with the Livermore Wine Region, you are not surprised that this craft dates back so long ago; the proof is in the spectacular wines that light up your palette.  One man, that can be credited as one of the founding fathers of the Livermore Wine Region, and whose family name is still captured on its wine labels, is Carl H. Wente.

Carl H. Wente emigrated from Germany to the United States around 1870.  When he first arrived to the United States, he got a job working for Charles Krug in the Napa Valley.  At Charles Krug, Wente learned much about the art of winemaking and in 1883 moved to Livermore.  Wente was hired to manage a vineyard owned by a Dr. George Bernard.  Wente eventually bought out half of this business, and then a few years later, bought the remainder of the business.  Later, he bought out what was known as the Hayes Ranch.  This entire area, 3,000 acres, is still the location of the winery that we know today.

As Carl began to become more familiar with Livermore’s soil, he realized that it had great potential and was very similar to some of France’s rocky soil.  Wente was all the more determined to create a successful winery.  With this determination, he decided to purchase a wagon with several barrels of wine on it and “peddle” his wine around what was then known as the Altamont country. As Wente began to make a name for himself, he became friends with other winemakers and vineyard owners.  As the region began to develop, and more locals could see the potential in Wente’s business, he began to become a very respectable man in the community.  Wente became friends with a fellow vineyard owner, Louis Mel.  Mel assisted many young winemakers in their pursuit to fine winemaking.  Louis Mel was an important person to know at this time and in this region, due to his connections. One connection was with winemaker, Charles Wetmore, who obtained grape cuttings from the Bordeaux region in France and disbursed these to many winemakers in the Livermore region.  We still have Mel’s friend, Wetmore to thank for disbursing many of these French vines to our area.

By 1889, Carl H. Wente was shipping “two carloads of wine per day” from the Livermore depot.  His winery continued to grow and remain successful.  Wente had seven children.  Two of his children, Ernest and Herman, grew to also become winemakers and helped in the family business.  Wente wines achieved international success when they won gold medals at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  When the 1920’s hit and the prohibition came into full swing, vineyard owners had to reduce their wine making to sacramental wine and the production and selling of table grapes to the East Coast only.  Many of these winemakers and vineyard owners began to raise cattle and grain in order to make up for the huge monetary loss that was the result of the prohibition era.  Carl H. Wente, decided that after working all of those hard years with all of the passion and steadfastness that one could give, that he did not have the heart to change direction and instead decided to retire and give up the family business to his two sons.  His sons quoted as saying that the Prohibition “took the heart out of our father”.  This was not just a business, but also a passion of the upmost kind.  The boys suffered through the Prohibition Era and in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition, began to make wine again under a new label, Wente Brothers.  Because of the great example and hard working businessman that their father was, Herman and Ernest, once again began making coveted and award winning wines.  In 1937, their Sauvignon Blanc won the grand prize at the Paris International Exhibition and then again won grand prize at the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exhibition. The brothers continued in their success and have in turn handed down the business to their children.  The business continues to be successfully run by the Wente Family.

Carl H. Wente was a family man, well respected in the community.  He saw a chance to help develop a region that had not been truly discovered yet.  This man was an entrepreneur; he had faith, diligence and determination.  I’m sure that his plan to leave the successful Charles Krug winery, in Napa, was one that probably raised a lot of eyebrows and got a lot of headshakes.  Charles Krug winery could have been a secure place to continue to work, especially in light of his new marriage to his bride, Barbara.  Wente did not seem to want “security” or a traditional life.  He was determined to be part of this ever growing, ever changing craft of wine making.  His passion and desire to make beautiful wines and to continue to perfect these into wines comparable to ancient regions around the world is still the same passion that you see today in Livermore’s wine makers. Livermore winemakers are as in love with this region as Wente was and know that wonderful wines can be produced here.  A winemaker can take a lot from Carl H. Wente’s life.  Winemaking is not the fanciful, easy life that many imagine it to be.  However, it is a wonderful way of life.  As a winemaker, you are able to take the fruit of the soil and produce it into a product that adds a wonderful element to life. Winemaking may take a lot of passion, determination and sometimes a bit of failure, but in the end this steadfastness will pay off.  Carl H. Wente could not be a better example of this.

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