Published on Now And Zin Wine, words on wine by Randy Fuller
Wente: California Chardonnay, American Chardonnay
California Chardonnay is what it is today because of Wente Vineyards. If you love Chardonnay, you probably love Wente, and you may not know it. The grape clone which is used to make 80% of American Chardonnay is here thanks to Wente. In 1912, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted a cutting from from the vine nursery at France's University of Montpellier. That Chardonnay plant became the Wente clone of the grape.
To get a bit geeky, In viticulture a "clone" refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud. Each vine grown on a clone is said to be genetically identical to the original vine.
Wente is the country's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, now run by the family's 4th and 5th-generations. A recent virtual tasting event was hosted by the family historian, Phil Wente, and winegrower Niki Wente, who walked participants through five different styles of their line that defined California Chardonnay.
The 2017 Small Lot Eric's Chardonnay comes from Livermore Valley grapes grown near the cooling influence of San Francisco Bay. Winemaker Karl Wente used no oak in making this wine. He says he made it to honor his father, Eric. Dad preferred his Chardonnay unoaked, so that's the way the son made it. The juice was aged for four months in steel, in contact with the spent yeast for a fuller mouthfeel. Alcohol is restrained at 13.5% abv and it retails for $30.
This unoaked Chardonnay could be described as "all fruit" if it weren't for the minerals. Apples and apricots on the nose battle for attention with the smell of a wet driveway. Big fruit on the palate is met with crisp acidity, and the whole thing finishes long and clean.