Drinking Wente with the Winemaker

Karl D. Wente, the winemaker himself, charmed two dozen diners at Greg Norman’s Australian Grille in North Myrtle Beach at a recent wine dinner.

We were sipping Riverbank Riesling, 2008, when Karl arrived at the table with a bottle of beer in hand. His second, which he explained with the traditional winemakers’ old saying:

It takes a lot of beer to make wine.

Winemakers are farmers spending long hot days in the field and a cold beer quenches the thirst.

Of course he never tires of the taste of wine. After as much as a 10-hour day of continuous blending and tasting:

I went home and popped the cork on a bottle of wine to relax on my porch with my guitar.

“Palate fatigue is not a real phenomenon at all. Of course we can taste all day, and it requires a lot of that to achieve the best blend and try to see into the future of how it will age.”

He’s passionate about winemaking, with genuine pride of family achievement as well as young adventure in creating new blends and experimenting with technique.

The country’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery is known for its 125-year history and for its portfolio of fine wines created from some 3,000 acres of sustainable farmed Estate vineyards. Karl is 32, the fifth generation to farm the family vineyards in California’s Livermore Valley and Arroyo Seco, Monterrey.

His first vintage at home was in 2002, although he had two earlier ones during his previous study and work. He is currently making wine with Annika Sorenstam, another fine mix of precision golf and fine wine such as the Greg Norman-designed course at Wente Vineyards.

I use the tools I have and make the best possible wine.

“No day is the same. There’s always a different season and a different vintage. We live with the cycles and stages of nature and take what the land gives. It’s the same land, but it gives a different product each year. We are more fortunate than in western Europe where sun and seasons affect the growing. We might not have the perfect rain pattern, but we can open a valve. When to irrigate is the single most important decision a farmer can make.”

What is his favorite thing to be doing? I guess I expected an answer related to the winemaking we were discussing.

Skiing in steep deep powder in Squaw Valley with Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” blasting through head phones.

Karl E.Wente (l) Peter Dombrowski

Peter Dombrowski, the restaurant’s director of operations, Chef Greg Sandford and Chef Jeff Edwards were showered with praise for the scenic deck seating along the waterway as well as for their creative menu and inventive pairings.

Chef Jeff Edwards (l) Chef Greg Sandford

The seven courses wowed the diners as much as did the wine and the intimate gathering offering conversation with the winemaker. Both chefs referred to the duck breast as their personal favorites. As the fifth course, it was prepared Hungarian smoked paprika dusted with a Tellicherry pepper potato mousse and cherry vanilla compote. This course was paired with the subtle sophisticated Murrieta’s Well Red Meritage, Livermore Valley, 2005.

One diner preferred the third courses of pan seared jumbo diver scallop, crabmeat, asparagus and lemongrass, ginger scented Hollandaise sauce. It was paired with a Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, with a crisp acidity and clean refreshing finish.

Another raved about the fourth course of Escalope of salmon served with puff pastry and creamed leeks Dijonaise. This was perfectly paired with Riva Ranch Chardonnay, 2008, a medium-bodied wine with rich golden color and subtle oak barrel aging.

Lovers of beef and big reds favored the sixth course of Greg Norman Premium sirloin Carbonara and fresh English peas which was paired with the Shorthorn Canyon Syrah, 2007.

A few guests closed the evening with casual travel plans to Wente Vineyards for another big helping of a fine restaurant, wine tasting, golf and entertainment.

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