Then & Now With Karl Wente

For this fifth generation winemaker, music and wine are a natural pairing.


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For Karl Wente, music can be paired with wine as easily as food. When the fifth generation winemaker isn’t overseeing Wente Vineyards’ 3,000 acres of grapes in California’s Livermore Valley and Monterey County, he’s often at home in Livermore with friends, crafting music on his back porch or launching “Discover the Wine, Discover the Music,” the Web-based marketing campaign, in which Wente matches some of his wines with the work of several musicians.

Favorite beverage when I was 6: Calcium fortified Minute Maid orange juice.

Favorite beverage now: A glass of wine, paired with all senses of the occasion. It’s who you’re with, the temperature outside, the time of day, the music that’s on, the time of the year, the meal that you’re eating, the clothes that you’re wearing.

First wine experience: When I was five, my uncle, Phil Wente, mixed some wine with water at our house. It was very flavorful, without being sweet. It wasn’t like juice. There was just a lot going on.

Epiphany wine experience: During a summer break from high school at our cabin on Lake Tahoe, Mom handed me a glass of Wente’s 1991 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc and said, “Pop quiz: name that varietal.” I stuck my nose into it. It was so distinctly Sauvignon Blanc, I could almost picture the aromas. I was so proud to get it right.

Favorite dish when I was 6: Thin crust pepperoni and salami pizza.

Favorite dish now: Soft shell crab po-boy with hot sauce at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Over the last six years, I’ve attended four times. My first jazz fest was the best week of my life.

Favorite musical artist when I was 13: Bon Jovi.

Favorite musical artist now: My friends. They play music and sing with me on the porch. People grab a shaker, mandolin, ukulele, guitar or bass. We can go from Beethoven to The Rolling Stones; from Patsy Cline to Phish. Favorite toy when I was 6: Legos. Favorite toy/gadget now: My Canadian-made Larrivée acoustic guitar. 

Decoration on my bedroom wall when I was 13: Poster of Michael Jordan on the free throw line.

Favorite decorations on my wall now: I have seven pieces depicting Marilyn Monroe in the house, including a nine-panel abstract oil
painting.

What I wanted to be when I grew up: Professional tennis player, like Boris Becker. 

What I’d be if I wasn’t a winemaker: A traveler with a notebook, a guitar and a camera. I’d find a way to make a living doing something
with those things.

Ideal vacation when I was 12: Summers at the knotty pine cabin my great-grandfather bought on Lake Tahoe in the 1940s.

 Ideal vacation now: Back country skiing, on a blue sky day, after a foot of powder. If I had an emotional meltdown when I was 6, it was most likely over: Not being able to effectively communicate everything that was going on in my head. 

If I was able to rant publicly on a given subject today, it would involve: Food supply, diet and mind/body/universe continuity. 

What would my 16-year-old self think of
who I am and what I’ve become?
He would be reasonably pleased. I live in a cool house, practice yoga and make wine. I’ve got a phenomenal group of friends. Life is good today.

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