Today we celebrate National Chardonnay Day with California’s First Family of Chardonnay, Wente Vineyards. Now in its fifth generation of winemakers, the Wente family began in 1836, when Carl H. Wente purchased 48 acres of vineyard land in Livermore Valley, California, and built a winery.
Chardonnay is synonymous with California, and so many wine growers and producers will proudly tell you that their Chardonnay is a Wente clone. But what exactly does that mean? Why is it that so many Chardonnay producers call their grape a Wente?
The Wente Clone
In 1812, while attending the University of California at Davis, second generation winegrower Ernest Wente imports Chardonnay from a nursery in Montpelier, France. He and his U.C. Davis Professor Leon Bonnet, convince G.H. Wente to order a number of varieties from the nursery. Included are Pinot Chardonnay and Ugni Blanc which formed the basis of what is now called the “Wente” clone of Chardonnay.
As you may recall in viticulture (or wine grape growing), a “clone” refers to a vine grown from a single plant through root cuttings, rather than seeds. Each propagated vine is theorized to be a clone, that is, an exact copy of the original plant. Ernest’s experiments with the imported Chardonnay varietals led to the Wente ‘clone.’
In 1918, Ernest and Herman continued operations and formed Wente Bros. With repeal of the misguided Volstead Act (Prohibition) in 1933, Herman and Ernest released the nation’s first varietally labeled wines with Chardonnay and in 1960 Guide Michelin recognized Wente Chardonnay as the best in California! In 1963 Wente created a nursery to supply other vineyards with vine cuttings and rootstock, expanding into Arroyo Seco, Monterey.
Oldest Continuously operated Family Owned Winery
Wente Vineyards has had many changes over the past 132 years. Opening one of California’s first Tasting Rooms in 1966; spearheading creation of the Livermore Valley AVA in 1982; opening The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in 1986; The Course at Wente Vineyards, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Greg Norman in 1989 to name a few. In 2010, Wente Family Estates received the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing designation, and the next year named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. In 2012, Wente Family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Wente Clone of Chardonnay and in 2013 celebrated 130 years as the country’s oldest continuously operated family owned winery and continued expansion in the Livermore Valley as well as in Monterey appellations. They now grow 861 acres of Chardonnay in the Livermore Valley and Arroyo Seco AVAs.
We’ll be celebrating National Chardonnay Day with our own Wente Vineyards selections:
2013 Morning Fog Chardonnay – Named for the banks of coastal fog that blanket the Livermore Valley and moderate the climate, Morning Fog Chardonnay is 50% fermented in neutral French, American and Eastern European oak, and 50% stainless steel tanks. It’s 98% Chardonnay, with 2% Gewürztraminer. Alcohol by volume (ABV) is 13.5%. Suggested Retail Price (SRP) $15
Pairing Suggestion: The Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay is a lovely complement to Brie cheese and buttery crackers. (pictured above)
2013 Riva Ranch Chardonnay – A single vineyard designate, Riva Ranch is named after the property in Arroyo Seco, Monterey where the Wente family has been growing Chardonnay since the 1960s. It is 90% oak barrel fermented with the remaining 10% in stainless steel. 97% Chardonnay, and 3% Gewürztraminer. 13% ABV, SRP is $22
Pairing Suggestion: We enjoyed the oaked Riva Ranch Chardonnay with a Roasted Free-Range chicken.
2014 Eric’s Chardonnay, Small Lot – Made by 5th generation winemaker Karl D. Wente, this wine is one of Limited Edition, 100% Chardonnay, and is unoaked; a favored style of Fourth Generation Winegrower Etic Wente. Only 1,100 cases produced, it was aged four months in stainless steel tanks. 13.4% ABV from the Family Estate in Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay. SRP is $25.
Pairing Suggestion:The unoaked Eric’s Chardonnay is a great wine to pair with seared sea scallops in a brown-butter cream sauce with lemon and capers.
Host Your Own National Chardonnay Celebration
Pick up your own bottle of Wente Vineyards Chardonnay, Wente Vineyards is available nationwide, and exported to over 70 countries. Download your tasting kit and chardonnay pairing suggestions at wentevineyards.com/chardonnay. You’re also invited to share your photos and videos through social media tagging #WenteChard and #Chardonnay Day.
Also check out The concerts at Wente Vineyards. This summer’s line-up includes Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional, Lyle Lovett and his LARGE BAND (one of my personal favorites), Pat Benatar with John Waite, Sheryl Crow, Steve Martin, Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick, Christina Perri and Colbie Caillat with Special Guest Rachel Platten for the “Girls Night Out, Boys Can Come Too Tour” and the incomparable Smokey Robinson. Purchase tickets and find out more here.