By Jonathan Mitchell
Here at Wine and Music, we are obviously passionate about both wine AND music!
When we come across someone who embodies excellence in the wine or music world, we celebrate them.
However, if we meet someone who embodies excellence in BOTH, we have to elevate them to Wine and Music Deity!
That would be Karl Wente of Wente Vineyards, the ultimate wine and music guy!
Not only is he a world-class winemaker, but also a fine guitarist, musician, and promoter of music.
At 30 years old, Karl represents the 5th generation of Wente's to be in charge of wine making at this 125 year-old Livermore Valley estate, California's oldest family-owned winery.
This self-described "flavor junkie" and "music junkie" has got serious wine chops, holding degrees in chemical engineering, horticulture, food science, and enology.
Growing up a Wente, it is no surprise he went into the business. If the name Wente rings a bell to you, it's because 70% of all chardonnay plantings you find today come from the famed "Wente Clone" that his great uncle Herman brought back from France in 1912!
Karl was also interested in music from an early age, being a fan of folk and pop music, until at UC Davis, he got turned on to Frank Zappa and Miles Davis, and went to Jazz Fest, which really opened his mind to the diversity of music. He now lists such diverse musical influences as BB King, Eric Clapton, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, Phish, Michael Franti, and Bob Dylan as well as African, Brazilian, and Carribbean music.
Not surprisingly, he makes wines from over 30 varietals and clones at Wente. He maintains they are all beautiful "in their own way". One of his stated goals is to insure that Livermore is recognized as one of the great wine regions of the world, and to that end, he sets very high standards for grape growing and wine making.
The new high-end line, dubbed "Nth Degree" is small-production, hand-crafted wine. The fruit is all hand-sorted, and the wines are aged in special barrels from around the world. There is Nth degree Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In March, he will also release a brand new wine, Contraste, which is a joint venture between himself and Mexican winemaker Hugo Dacosta from Baja's Guadalupe Valley. Contraste is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Tempranillo. It is made half in Mexico, half in Livermore, than blended and aged in Mexico.
But back to the music for a second, folks. One of the greatest things about this avid wine maker is that he loves to play the guitar (among other instruments). He studied with noted multi-instrumentalist Jim Hurley at Fretted Friends in Livermore. At the end of the lessons, Karl would always break out a great bottle of wine and the two would talk about, yes you guessed it, wine and music! When word started getting around, lots of local musicians would come by to "jam and sip".
Hurley taught Wente that "music theory, like wine making, was a body of knowledge one needs to assimilate completely. It's about how the 12 notes work together".
And now, every Tuesday night, at Karl's home there is a jam session in his fully-equipped studio. Wine makers come by to share their skills both on the frets and in the bottle.
Karl also promotes new artists through the Wente website. Free downloads of these new artists are available at www.wentevineyards.com/discover.
And speaking of the website, make sure to visit the site so you can learn more about the wine and the music. They have a beautiful winery and a concert series that is not to be missed!
Who knows, you might even get to hear some winemakers jam!