Wednesdays with Winemakers – Karl Wente
Why did you become a vintner/winemaker?
The opportunity was there. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in undergrad but I knew if I went to graduate school, I’d figure it out. At University of California at Davis, I fell in love with plant physiology, and the continuum of taking soil through the grapevine, tasting the growing flavors and textures that ultimately make the wine what people enjoy with their friends and family at the table.
If you weren’t a vintner/winemaker what would you be and why?
That’s a tough question since I love what I do as a winemaker. But I think I would probably be doing something in the field of food supply to provide food to our nation’s children.
What is your greatest strength as a vintner/winemaker?
My family and what they have done over our 132 year history. I’m proud of the 3,000 estate grown sustainably farmed vineyards we have at Wente Vineyards.
What is your biggest weakness as a vintner/winemaker?
I’m very passionate with what I do. And sometimes that passion can turn into a desire for perfection. In winemaking, I’m constantly reminded to be flexible as Mother Nature may have a mind of her own. Every vintage is never the same.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
I accidentally used a centrifugal pump on fermenting white juice which turned the 5000 gallon tank into a giant champagne bottle. I was distracted by the Giants winning the championship game that year. I was in Australia at the time.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being happy – I’m blessed to be doing what I do in a place that I love.
What was your scariest vintage to date?
The 2011 vintage because of the abnormal abundance of summertime and fall rains. It’s also the vintage I’m proud of because despite the circumstances, we were able to produce a pretty good vintage of wines across our portfolio.
What is your favorite word or saying?
Execution is the chariot of genius.
What is your most prized possession?
My heart and soul.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I paint my toenails! The color may vary each week but they are always in color.
What song best sums you up?
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan. The meaning behind the song is that you find eternity in truth, courage, righteousness, justice, kindness, honesty and love. You dare to be all you can be by starting right and working up to the stars from a strong foundation so that nothing impedes your progress towards that end of being all that you can be.
What is your favorite memory?
My best friend James, whom I’ve been friends with for 19 years, said his vows to his fiancé at my house. It was a great memory.
Which of the 5 senses is your strongest?
I aspire for my sixth sense to be the strongest.
What is your biggest motivation?
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
If I couldn’t choose a Wente wine, I suppose I’d pick a wine from Stellenbosch, an up-and-coming region today. And it’s simply a beautiful part of South Africa.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
The happiness of the drinker.
Name 3 individuals you would like to have dinner with.
My grandfather Karl Wente, Dante, and Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi.)
Who is your winemaking hero?
I have had the privilege to grow up in the Livermore Valley and learn from previous generations of winemakers who have made my family winery what it is today. They are my winemaking heroes. And it’s that legacy that inspires me and drives me forward to create better wines every harvest.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
As a winemaker, I really focus on the flavors of a wine. In fact, I have become a flavor farmer, a texture farmer. So balance to me means the perfect combination of flavors and tannins.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
I want them to remember how the wine enhanced their overall experience. It’s not about any one thing. Rather, it’s about how all the components come together to create a beautiful memory.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
“You guys are killing it right now. Stay humble my friend.” (from a distributor)