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Roots and Resilience: A Deep Dive into Wente Clone Chardonnay

Wente Clone Chardonnay

The Enduring Legacy of the Wente Clone Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards, nestled in the Livermore Valley, enjoys a rich history intertwined with the evolution of California Chardonnay. This deep dive explores the fascinating story behind the iconic Wente Clone, a testament to the Wente family’s pioneering spirit and enduring impact on the global wine industry. 

From Humble Beginnings to Pioneering Innovation: 

In 1883, C.H. Wente established Wente Vineyards in the Livermore Valley. His vision and early varietal plantings across his fertile 47-acre plot laid the groundwork for five generations (and counting!) of innovation. In 1912, his son, Ernest Wente, inspired by his studies at UC Davis, brought Chardonnay cuttings from the University of Montpellier in France to his family’s Livermore vineyard. There, Ernest developed the clone through years of selective breeding and trials. This marked the beginning of an era of experimentation that led to the birth of the Wente Clone. Unlike many of its clonal peers, the Wente Clone survived the Prohibition era, as Wente Vineyards was authorized to produce sacramental and medicinal wine. Leveraging this strategic loophole during Prohibition was crucial for the survival of what would soon be an iconic clone.   

The post-Prohibition era saw a resurgence of the wine industry, with Wente Vineyards playing a pivotal role in revitalizing the industry. The Wente Clone’s growing significance in this era marked an increased popularity and a renewed interest in the unique qualities of Wente’s wines. 

Bolstered by that interest, Wente Vineyards bottled the first varietally labeled Chardonnay in the United States in 1936, of course using the Wente Clone. It would soon play a significant role in elevating the quality and reputation of American Chardonnay on the global stage. 

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What is a clone? 

In viticulture, a “clone” refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud; in theory, each vine grown on a clone is genetically identical to the original vine. Clones  are important and selected for favorable attributes, such as resistance to certain diseases or  desired cluster size, taste, smell, etc. All clones are assigned a number or given a name to  distinguish them from other clones. For example, Clone 2A is The Old Wente Clone, Clone 4  is the Wente Clone (also known as The Heat Treated Wente Clone)  

The Wente Clone: Shaping California’s Chardonnay Identity: 

Through meticulous selection and propagation, the Wente family ensured its continued legacy. UC Davis also played a crucial role in the spread and research of the Wente Clone, further establishing its importance. 

Characterized by small clusters and intense flavors, The Wente Clone profoundly impacted California Chardonnay. These distinct characteristics became synonymous with the region’s wine style, influencing countless vineyards and shaping consumer expectations. There are now multiple Wente clones, but the heritage selections are known for their incredible fruit aromatics and some signature musk. This typically results in apple, pear, citrus, and stone fruit flavors, with apricot, and floral hints in the background. These characteristics make California Chardonnay what it is, where it can be barrel-fermented and handle a reasonable amount of new oak while still retaining the fruit intensity.  

Beyond California: A Global Impact: 

Today, over 75% of all Chardonnay vines in California are derived from the Wente Clone, making it a cornerstone of the state’s Chardonnay wine production. The Wente Clone’s influence extends far beyond its Californian roots. Its adoption in other regions showcases its adaptability and contribution to diverse Chardonnay styles worldwide. Wente Vineyards’ commitment to research and collaboration further solidified the clone’s significance in the global wine industry. 

A Legacy of Resilience and Excellence: 

Through strategic adaptations, the Wente Clone navigated challenging times, including Prohibition, market shifts, and evolving consumer landscapes. This resilience, coupled with a generational commitment to quality first and foremost, has earned Wente Vineyards numerous accolades and established us as a leader in American winemaking. 

Looking Forward: Embracing the Future: 

Wente Vineyards remains committed to innovation and real sustainability. The future beckons, with climate change and evolving tastes presenting new challenges. But like the Wente generations that came before, we adapt. We explore new techniques, experiment with clones, and constantly strive to improve. The Wente Clone will evolve, but its essence, its spirit, will remain, a testament to the family’s 140+ years-long dedication. 

A Toast to a Lasting Legacy: 

The Wente Clone Chardonnay symbolizes the Wente family’s dedication to quality and innovation, and its impact extends well beyond California. It’s a global ambassador, shaping Chardonnay styles worldwide. Its enduring influence on California Chardonnay and the international wine landscape is a testament to the family’s pioneering spirit. As Wente Vineyards embarks on its next chapter, the legacy of the Wente Clone continues to inspire and resonate with wine lovers worldwide. 

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