중앙데일리

The family with fine noses for wine

Mar 13,2007
Eric Wente, the chairman of Wente Vineyards of California. By Ines Cho
As with luxury fashion houses, the association of a wine’s name with prestige comes from generations of craftsmanship maintained by one family. Eric Wente, a member of the fourth generation of winemakers at Wente in California, says the value of his product in the fiercely competitive world of wine comes from its range. Within one brand, shoppers can get a substantial variety of products as the Wente winery sprawls over 7,000 acres in the San Francisco Bay area and the Arroyo Seco, in Monterey, two of the premier Central Coast winegrowing regions.
“We are one of a few existing family-owned wineries with real names and faces behind the brand. So there really are Eric, Philip, Carolyn, Karl and Christine Wente, who have made an investment in continuing our work,” said Mr. Wente to a group of journalists last week. Mr. Wente visited Seoul for a Wente dinner event at the Grand Hyatt hotel in central Seoul.
To distinguish it from other Californian wines, each bottle made by Wente is emblazoned with a picture of the original estate and the year 1883. That was when Mr. Wente’s great grandfather, C. H. Wente, founded the Wente vineyard. He was a first-generation immigrant from Germany who learned winemaking from Charles Krug. Wente was the first winery in California to produce Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It was also one of the first wineries to use stainless steel vats, mechanize harvests and to process grapes in the field.
In 1977, when his father Karl died, Eric, who had just left Stanford University, became the company’s president. He was only 25 years old. “I was 10 when I began making money hoeing weeds at the winery, so I’ve been in the business for 46 years,” he joked. He began a global campaign to promote his family’s product at a time when California wine was not well-known. Aided by his brother and sister, he developed Wente as an international brand and fierce global competitor. “We needed to have a brand that people all over the world would recognize,” he said. He also had a long-term plan to create a lifestyle brand and image in the Livermore valley. For fine dining, the Wentes added a restaurant. They started a concert series in the summer of 1988 and opened a golf course in 1998. He says the estate received about 300,000 visitors last year. With Mr. Wente’s 31-year-old daughter, Christine, and 30-year old son Karl in the business, Wente is at its fifth generation now.
Last year Wente sold 400,000 cases, of which 160,000 were shipped to 150 destinations worldwide. In Korea, Wente is distributed through Sharp Trading Inc.
When asked about the prospects for the Korean market, Mr. Wente said “I see a lot happening here. People have the disposable income to enjoy their lifestyle. Koreans are much more interested in and are open to different foods and experiences.”
Even so, Wente’s local distributor believes Koreans are not ready for the company’s latest and most sought-after wine, called the Nth Degree, a collection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Shiraz . With less than 200 cases made each year, it sells out fast and the wine must also be aged for five to 10 years after purchase.


By Ines cho Staff Writer [inescho@joongang.co.kr]



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