I also visited Murrieta's Well, a winery owned by the Wente Family. Where Wente is all about varietal wines, and has been for many years, growing over the past forty years primarily on the back of premium varietal bottlings, Murrieta’s Well is about blends, two big important and rather unusual blends, the Whip and The Spur that are huge success in the marketplace, but also smaller blends as well as some fascinating experiments with a wide variety of Spanish and Portuguese varieties.
And finally I dropped by Page Mill, a winery I had lost touch with since the late 1990s. A source of some of my earliest exposure to Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Pinot Noirs, Page Mill moved from Santa Cruz to a facility in Livermore in 2004 and quickly began using local fruit. While they had in the past sourced what they thought was the best they could find, Napa Cabernet and Zinfandel, Sonoma Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Pinot, today the winery sources a vast majority of the fruit it uses for its 3,000 case production from Livermore Valley. It is the type of winery that will build the future of Livermore. Is building the future of Livermore. Adding variety and innovation to an industry that has doubled, to 50 wineries, over the past decade. Yes, it is an exciting time to visit Livermore, and there is a story here, developing over time, that will be fascinating to tell some day. For today I can relate a tiny chapter.
That chapter begins with Wente, and in a way the story could end with Wente as well. Founded in 1883 on 48 acres that are still part of this family owned winery, Wente has been a part of the wine industry in California for very nearly a century and a half and still manages to fly under the radar to a certain extent. Focusing on premium wines since the 1960s, when the production was 90% white wines, Emerald Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and a still Blanc de Blanc being the standard bearers of the day, Wente has evolved into a large producer of wines that offer important value. Some of the wines come from Monterey County, augmenting the Livermore production, but the ethos that drives the production is the same.
These are not cheap wines, but at their respective price points they have few peers. Some of the savings that allow Wente to produce such value are simple economies of scale, but others such as mechanical harvesting, have their detractors. Tasting what is in the bottle should silence them. You may not like the style, which with the more modest priced offerings seems to be about approachability that is not facile, and captures the lovely balance these wines are capable of. Blending fruit that is ripe but not jammy with nuanced savory notes and building structure from juicy acids and ripe tannins. Yes, you may not find these wines to your liking but you cannot say that they are unattractive or poorly made.
I certainly was impressed with their balance and to a certain extent their throwback style. They are not jammy, overly oaky, or simply too big, though the top of the line wines do begin to approach this territory. I particularly enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, each being distinctive and quite unique.