Today we have a guest post from Amy Hoopes of Wente Vineyards. Ms. Hoopes give us a fascinating story of the history of the Wente Clone Chardonnay, as well as a preview of her conference session, to be presented on Friday, August 15th at the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.
The Power of One – The Wente Clone
When Ernest Wente was a student at the University of California at Davis in the early 20th century, the California wine industry looked a lot different than it does today. There was no established model, but the area and its wines were beginning to garner respect and attention around the country and the world for the potential quality of California wines. California was just showing the inklings of what it would eventually become – one of the world’s most respected wine making regions.
While at U.C. Davis and with the help of Professor Bonnet, Ernest Wente began researching the background of Chardonnay, which is now known as the unique variety responsible for making the best white wines of Burgundy, France. He fell in love.
With the help of Leon Bonnet, Ernest convinced his father, Carl H. Wente, to allow him to import some cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier in southern France. In addition, he acquired some promising budwood from Chardonnay vines planted at the Gier Vineyard in Pleasanton; vines which had been imported from Burgundy a number of years earlier by Charles Wetmore, founder of Cresta Blanca Winery, one of the other original Livermore wineries.
Over the next 30 to 40 years (even through Prohibition), Ernest selected vines that seemed to offer the best of all worlds—a strong, resistant vine that produced fresh, clean aromas and rich apple and pear characters when fully ripe.
Little did he know that he was changing the landscape of wine in America forever.
At first he was merely pleased with the vines’ performance in the vineyard. They grew well and were healthy and vigorous. And then came the wine. The family was so pleased with the results that they were the first to produce a varietally-labeled California Chardonnay, with the 1936 vintage—a practice that few pursued in those days.
Wente Vineyards Chardonnay soon grabbed the attention of others. As winemakers in the Golden State tasted Ernest’s Chardonnay, they quickly began asking for cuttings of the vines. And Ernest, ever a friend and colleague to his fellow winemakers, never turned anyone away. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Wente Clone (as it was now being called) began to spread across the state.
In fact, there were fewer than 150 acres of this varietal, then known as “Pinot Chardonnay,” in all of California in 1962. Then, the Guide Michelin declared that the Wente Chardonnay was the finest white wine produced in America, and the rush to plant this varietal began. By this time, three generations of the Wente family were involved, and they knew that they had something special in their vineyards.
The greatest vineyards and wineries in California began replanting their Chardonnay vines with the new clones, and the results were startling. Within a few years, the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which featured a significant percentage of the Wente clone, won the Great Paris Tasting of 1976. This firmly positioned California Chardonnay on the worldwide map of fine wines.
And that was just the beginning; winery after winery crafted award-winning wines from those grapes. Sangiacomo Vineyards, Kistler, Kongsgaard, Ramey, and Paul Hobbs have all featured the Wente Clone in wines that have won widespread critical acclaim.
The power of one clone transformed California’s viticultural landscape, and in so doing, converted generations of American winemakers and wine drinkers to the glories of Chardonnay. Over 100 years and five generations, Wente Vineyards has made Chardonnay the most popular wine in the New World.
Amy Hoopes will present “The Power of One: The Wente Clone” on Friday, August 15th at 8:45 am as part of the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators. At this session, Ms. Hoopes will tell the whole story of the Wente Clone. Attendees will have the opportunity to taste through a flight of wines from Wente Vineyards and its many relatives around California who have built their winemaking reputation on the Wente Clone.
As Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of Wente Family Estates, Amy Hoopes oversees all global marketing and sales operations for the family-owned wine portfolio including Wente Vineyards, Entwine, Murrieta’s Well, Double Decker, and Hayes Ranch, as well as for the lifestyle operations, The Course, The Restaurant and the Concerts at Wente Vineyards.
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