Wente Vineyards' "Cresta Blanca" building at the historic… (Wente Vineyards )
I remember sometime in the '80s, standing at the bar in a favorite wine bar in Paris, when a young American with the look of a Mormon missionary came through the door. He looked around warily, smoothed his hair and approached the man behind the bar, setting his briefcase on top.
He opened it. Inside were three bottles of wine bearing the Wente Vineyards label. Oh, no, I thought. This is going to be a real car wreck. He’s going to try to sell Wente Vineyards Chardonnay to the French.
His French was practically nonexistent, I remember. His accent very broad. He was polite, but tenacious. He just wanted the guy to taste his wines. The bartender rolled his eyes and complied, swishing the wine through his mouth in time-honored fashion — and, of course, spitting.
He turned away while he did this, so the salesman couldn’t see his expression. I did. It was everything you’d expect from a French wine connoisseur at the time: dismissive. But then again, Wente wouldn’t have been the wine I’d chosen, then, to make an impression on the French. Maybe no California wine could have.
But I came away thinking that young American was awfully brave. And so was Wente Vineyards, going all the way to France to try and open a market for their wines.
They didn’t make a sale that day. But they've come a long way since then. Now the winery in Livermore (just east of San Francisco) sells nearly one third of its 750,000 case production internationally and to more than 70 countries around the world. Their top markets are Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Germany and Holland. (Alas, not France.)
Still, it's the 22nd-largest winery in the U.S., billed as the country’s oldest continuously operated, family-owned winery, and this year it celebrates its 130th anniversary.
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