Interview with Niki Wente
International Women’s Day falls on March 8th, but this March we are celebrating the women leaders within our organization all month long! Our Women Behind Wente series highlights the strong female leaders spanning across different segments of our business who make Wente Vineyards who we are today.
In this video, you will meet Niki Wente. Niki is a Fifth Generation Winegrower and Viticulture Manager - farming the grapes that you enjoy in every bottle of Wente Vineyards wine. Learn more about Niki and the women behind the brand you know and love.
How long have you been with the company?
2020 will be my fourth harvest back with my family.
Wow, that's impressive. What do you like most about working in the vineyards?
My favorite part about working in the vineyards is that every day is different. I get new challenges brought to my desk every day, and I can, apply some things that I've learned from my Dad, from my cousin, from school, from just personal experience, and it's an incredible feeling to have something new every day.
What's your favorite time of year in the vineyard?
Favorite time of the year in the vineyards is harvest time. So that's typically early September, maybe late August through end of October, sometimes early November. It's the busiest time of year or the craziest time of year, but it's just so much fun. Like the energy is just great.
How do you like the early mornings?
Early mornings late Nights. It's like working around the clock for a few months of the year, but just thought energy and the act of getting the beautiful fruit into the winery is just such a, it feels like I'm fulfilling my duty.
So your fields is heavily male dominated. How do you navigate it?
I think that through my job experience that the one thing that really helped me to navigate the male dominated field is just standing up for what I believe in and speaking up when I think something's not right or could be better.
And before I, in the past I would kind of be quiet and hold back. But I think when I started speaking up, it allowed me to Excel at a faster pace in a male dominated industry.
What do you think is one thing one should know about the Livermore Valley?
The Livermore Valley is just not as hot as everyone thinks it is.
It's pretty. Cool year-round, we have a really similar temperature to probably like the Oak Knoll district and the Napa Valley. And then as you go North past Napa like up to Calistoga, it's much more warm there than it is here. And I think it's a common misconception that Livermore is very hot, but we actually have just a really moderate, cool climate. Beautiful for growing grapes.
So what women have inspired you in your life?
So many women have inspired me. I was trained by Jackie Mancuzzo at Wente Vineyards when I was very young. She is a huge inspiration to me. Nicole Hayden from Huneeus Vintners from when I was working outside the family. My mom, my grandmother, my aunt Carolyn.
My wonderful sisters and all of my girlfriends who are all girl bosses in their own right. I feel inspired every day by the women around me.
What does being a woman leader mean to you?
Being a woman leader means that I'm just as capable of doing it as a man is, I guess. I want to fight for all people and not just women, but I want to make sure that all of the women in our industry are given the same chance.
So it's. Great to be given this opportunity to kind of make things right for everyone.
And what advice would you have for fellow women or aspiring leaders?
Again, I would say just make sure you're standing up for yourself. Stand up for what you believe in. Always speak up when you see something that could be improved or that looks like it's not quite right.
So you work with, as you said, you're. Sisters, your dad, your aunt, your uncle, your cousins. What is the best part about working with your family?
I think one of the best things about working with my family is being able to call my dad anytime of the day and ask for help or just guidance. Just anything I could call him about and he would answer and helped me to figure it out.
So it makes it very rewarding for me to be able to work so closely with my father.
And then on the flip side of the coin, so to speak. What is the biggest challenge or the hardest part about working with your family?
I think the hardest part about working with, and my family would probably also be that I can call my dad anytime.
And that's because, I can sometimes call him instead of relying on what I know and, uh, it's almost like a cop out. So it's a good and a bad, but, you know, it does make it fun for me to be able to connect with. All of my family members on a lot of different things that have to do with the business, so it's nice and sometimes a crutch.
What has been your favorite memory growing up in the vineyards?
Favorite memory in the vineyards would just probably have to be horseback riding. When I was little, my dad would always rope up the horses and bring us out into the vineyards and we would go on long rides and just talk about what he does.
What's growing in the vineyard, what's happening? What do you, what do you need to do next? And it was just such a fun experience and I took it for granted then cause I thought everyone lived like that. But I know now that it's, it was such a treasure and I am very blessed to be able to have those kinds of memories.
Right. So the family business has been around for 137 years, which is huge. How do you hope to impact the next 137 years?
Well, I could start by living to be 137 or a hundred and. 50 or 60 something. Sorry, math. Um, but I, I hope to, uh, inspire just really great technology advancements in the vineyards to try and help improve efficiency is, um, I hope that we can get Livermore on the map, um, to being a competing.
Force to Napa and Sonoma. And not necessarily competing more like a, just I want people to come here and check out Livermore. I want more wineries to be in the Valley. I want more big names to come and invest in vineyard land. There's so much to offer in this Valley and I think that I'd love some of my.
Work to go towards just making Livermore a better place. And I also hope that, we can continue operating our business 137 years, so that too.
So Wente Vineyards is a California certified sustainable in both the vineyards and the winery. What does sustainability mean to you during work and outside of work?
So sustainability to me during work and outside of work is pretty much the same thing. I live my life in a way that I want to make sure that I'm not taking things for granted and I want my children to be able to have the same experiences that I have. So when I'm at work, I'm thinking every day about how can we sustain our employees? How can we sustain the environment? How can we in stay in our community in order to continue running our business so that my children have the same opportunities. That I've had. If they so choose to come into this industry, I'd love it to be here for them.
What is your favorite varietals?
It's so hard. Pinot noir is probably my favorite. And Chardonnay, Chardonnay and Pinot are probably my favorite, but I do love a good Merlot. So top three.
What's your favorite thing about Pinot Noir?
Pinot noir is just so special. It's so elegant. There's so many different clones, so many different genetic variations of the exact same variety that are also beautiful and different and have their own personality and their own sense about them.
And so it just makes it a really fun grape to farm, but also really fun grape to enjoy. The flavors are so different in every Pinot noir I've ever had. You can make it very earthy. You can make it very fruity. It's just such a. Great, versatile varietal. Which you can say the same about Chardonnay. I mean, tons of different ways to make Chardonnay.
Yeah. You definitely can tell your enjoyment in Pinot with your Pinot Noir Rosé. Yes. Delicious. Just released. Super exciting.
Yes. I love that wine. Very lucky to be able to make that. All right.
How do you make time for the balance of work and family?
That's a great question. It's very difficult. Especially during harvest time to make time for, for work and family.
But it's easy because part of my work is as some of my family, but with my husband, we try and, do date night once a week. You know, we try and have a trip, a long trip at least a week long, once a year to just kind of relax and unwind with my dad. I often will grab a bottle of wine from a wine store or at a winery that I've visited recently, bring it over to his house and just open it and enjoy it with him. My sister, my sisters, both of them, I usually just try and catch up over dinner or lunch. So just trying to connect with everyone in my own way is, it's a challenge at times, especially when you're working crazy hours. But it's good to disconnect and having them make time off is certainly a help so that I can get a little bit extra time to go just do stuff that's important to me and not necessarily taking all of my PTO away.
And what is #MakeTime off?
#MakeTime off is something that Wente offers to our employees, and it's an extra added time off, away from work that they give to you every year in order to make time for things that really truly matter to you, whether it's attending a concert for one of my niece or nephews, or going to see my grandmother in pebble beach, or going to fly to Palm Springs and take a day off early to visit my grandpa. There's so many different ways you can use the make time off, but it's just a little bit of extra time to invest in your family, your friends, whatever matters. And I think it's super important that our company makes that time because family is important, across all people.
I would certainly agree with that. Alright. And then just to wrap things up, what excites you most about the future?
The future excites me because the endless possibilities with technology and advancements.
I see robots, farming vineyards and all the people that were working in the vineyards are now working in the office with me and trying to figure out how we can optimize these robots that are fixing everything for us. I think that there's so much potential and AI and robotics and just technology that can be harnessed for agriculture and hasn't really yet been tapped.
We're working on it, but I think that that would be super exciting for the future. I mean, I hope expansion for Wente vineyards in the Livermore Valley in the future. I'm very excited just about. All of the prospects is endless possibilities and my mind can run forever. I think I got that from my dad, but there's, the future is just full of possibility and I think that's exciting in itself.
Awesome. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. I appreciate you as a woman leader and for being our guest.
Vineyard warrior woo vineyard warrior. Thanks for having me.