Imagine an 18-hole championship golf course through vineyards, rolling hills and natural grasslands. Then imagine the clubhouse where wine is more popular than beer or cocktails! That’s The Course at Wente Vineyards. Carolyn Wente believes that the scenery and course, where vineyards sculpt each hole, are the reason wine takes the top spot in the clubhouse. This Fourth Generation Winegrower and CEO has been instrumental in the lifestyle changes incorporated at Wente Vineyards. Born and raised in Livermore Valley, 14 miles from the SF Bay, Carolyn Wente and her two brothers, Eric and Philip, took over their family-owned and operated winery when they were in their 20s. Today, the winery is managed by the fourth and fifth generations.
Lifestyle Business. Carolyn and her brothers not only grew the wine business over the years, but also launched lifestyle businesses, including a golf course, restaurant and summer concert series, that are directly related to the enjoyment of wine. “We wanted people to be able to come to the vineyard, enjoy food and wine, take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy music – all at the same location,” said Carolyn. “What could be better than great performers in a vineyard setting?!”
Designing a Golf Course. Wanting to create a premier destination golf course in Northern California, the Wente’s approached Greg Norman who had not designed a golf course in the US. “After many discussions, we were able to sign Greg to design the golf course at Wente Vineyards,” added Carolyn. Norman started the design in 1995 and the course opened in 1998. (Though this was initially Norman’s first course in the US, TPC Sugarloaf golf course in Atlanta was Greg Norman’s first golf course to open in the US.) The Course at Wente Vineyards has been voted Best of the East Bay multiple times. It has become known among golfers as one of the most beautiful and challenging in Northern California. In 2010, The Course was also designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Growing up at Wente Vineyards. Carolyn started in the business as a child, growing up around the vineyards with her parents and brothers. After graduating from Stanford University, she went to work for a bank as a financial analyst. She had been there for a few years and found herself on the management track. Realizing that the she was not going to be in the bank business permanently, but rather, helping her brothers run the winery, Carolyn decided that this was the time to go back to the winery. So in 1981 Carolyn came back to Wente Vineyards to run the sales and marketing areas of the business.
The Business Side of Wente. Carolyn’s brother Eric is Chairman of the Board and responsible for Wente Vineyards’ dynamic expansion into worldwide export markets, beginning in the early 1980s. Today, Wente Vineyards exports to more than 70 countries worldwide and is considered a leader in the export of ultra-premium wines. Her brother Phil, , having taken a strong interest in the agricultural and farming side of the business from his grandfather, has headed the operation, expansion and redevelopment of the Wente Family Estate vineyards and its land development programs for more than 20 years. Carolyn’s role as CEO seems a natural fit. As the youngest of her siblings, Carolyn grew up in the business, often traveling with her parents on business trips, meeting vendors and talking to restaurateurs about Wente wines. “My experience in the banking industry also helped,” added Carolyn. “There, I was often involved with other businesses which allowed me to learn a great deal of information about business planning and development.”
The Vision. Carolyn and her brothers enjoy a unique camaraderie as the management team. Having grown up together they have the same values, the same vision and a closeness that allows them to work effectively together. Now, it’s especially satisfying for the fourth generation to see the fifth generation passionate and working alongside them. Today, Carolyn’s nephew Karl is a Fifth Generation winemaker and Senior Vice President responsible for all winemaking at Wente Family Estates. His sister Christine is on the Board of Directors and manages the Wente Foundation for Arts Education.
Carolyn and Golf. Golfing in the Wente family dates back to Carolyn’s grandfather on her mother’s side. He was an avid golfer – in fact, a scratch golfer. He had 3 daughters – all of whom learned golf at very early ages. Carolyn’s mother insisted that her three children learn the sport. Philip is probably the most avid golfer, but both Eric and Carolyn play often. “I started golfing as a kid,” said Carolyn. “I played while growing up and eventually took up tennis also. Today, my son, now 18, is captain of his varsity golf team and hopes to play in college. He and I will often go out and play a few holes late in the afternoon. The course at Wente is similar to a links course, with holes 1 through 7 winding back to the clubhouse. My son and I will often play 5, 6, or 7 holes late in the afternoon. It’s nice to have that special one-on-one time with him.”
The Business of Golf. “As with any business, said Carolyn, “the wine industry works on relationships. I find that playing golf helps people get to know each other better – and that makes for better business partners.” Carolyn also plays in the tournaments that are an integral part of the business. When asked who her favorite playing partner was, Carolyn said she has several women friends who nudge her out of the office and onto the golf course every once in a while. “And,” she added, “I have a dear friend who puts up with my game and allows me to relax while we enjoy our day!” Women on Course toasts that option!
Join us at a Signature Event near you to taste the Official Wine of Women on Course – Wente Vineyards!