Besides being a fifth-generation winemaker, Karl is an avid musician. Karl started on saxophone, gravitated to electric guitar, and plays acoustic guitar now. The name of his band is Front Porch, reflecting the fact that several musicians drift in and out; he also plays with other musicians including Wolf Hamlin. Shannon (percussion, vocals, harmonica) is a member of the Stone Foxes band, which has been together playing blues rock for five years.
Each summer, Wente sponsors the Front Porch Music Series in support of emerging talent, with three performances on the property featuring local up-and-coming bands. (This series is in addition to their concerts featuring headliners such as Foreigner and Earth, Wind and Fire.) Karl’s family has also established the Wente Foundation for Arts Education, whose focus includes “putting instruments in kids’ hands.”
Acknowledging the unusual nature of the evening’s pairings, wine with music, Karl said, “One of the things I really love to do is think about the structure of a wine and the structure of a song. We know that your mood affects how you get music. Listening to music affects your mood, drinking wine affects your mood. Music is good for the soul, wine is good for the soul.”
Our first wine was the 2011 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, from Wente’s Livermore Valley vineyards. Karl paired this with Brown Bird, scheduled to play at the Front Porch festival on August 31st. Karl said, “Like Brown Bird, this wine just makes you want to move your head. It has a percussion influence. Crisp acidity, liveliness; music of the world. Sauvignon Blanc is a staple in Bordeaux, South Africa, California, New Zealand, worldwide.” Stainless steel fermented to ensure the fruitiness was retained, this is indeed a round, rich, fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
Web notes: “A French emigrant, Louis Mel traveled the western United States in the 1870s seeking a place to make wines to rival the great French Crus. He found the ideal home in the Livermore Valley. Acquiring Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon cuttings from the Marquis de Lur-Saluces, owner of the famed Chateau Y’quem, he planted them in his vineyards. The Wente family acquired the Louis Mel estate in the 1930s, where the descendants of these vines, located in the southern Livermore Valley, live in gravel and loam soils similar to the terroir of their native Bordeaux.” Karl would pair this with raw Northwest oysters.
The second wine was 2012 Eric’s Chardonnay, a small-lot wine also from Livermore Valley grapes. Eric is Karl’s Dad, and recently several members of the family enjoyed a Chardonnay Challenge and produced several different styles of wine. Eric’s style is “naked,” with stainless steel fermentation, no lees, no malolactic fermentation. Karl said, “It really was made in the Sauvignon Blanc style. Just back to the grapes.” Shannon said, “Wow, smooth!” and the two commented on the apple, pear, citrus, and apricot notes.
Karl paired the Wheeland Brothers (August 3rd performance) with this wine: “It has some pep to it, but it isn’t this huge thing. The other was more peppy, but this has more structure, is more grounded. It has substance behind it, but it doesn’t go too far. My family has a long history of Chardonnay, and 75% of the Chardonnay planted in California has genetic roots from vines that came onto my family’s property in 1912.”
Wente makes several different styles of Chardonnay including the Morning Fog (lean crispness plus some richness), Riva Ridge (more new barrels, with a bigger, richer style), then the Nth Degree, which is the biggest of all, offering a crème brulee structure. Karl would pair this with “a goat cheese dip with crunch, with acidity to cut through it.”
Our third wine was the 2012 Riverbank Riesling, Monterey County. Blended with 20% Gewürztraminer, this was a delightful wine with tangerine, floral, honey, and grapefruit flavors. Karl said, “There’s a tiny bit of residual sugar there, balanced with acidity. It’s smooth and round with some floral intensity.” Shannon’s first response: “Oh, that’s like honey.” and Karl responded, “But with acidity. It cleans the palate.” This is a surprisingly full-bodied and viscous Riesling. Because Karl feels this wine is smooth, alluring, but with a depth to it, he pairs this one with The Kin, scheduled to play on August 31.
Web notes: “The Arroyo Seco Appellation is defined by a unique geological feature called the Arroyo Seco Cone. Composed of soils, water sources, and wind streams that differentiate it from the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Appellation, it was created over eons by the flow of the Arroyo Seco as it spills down from the Santa Lucia Mountains. This funnel-shaped region appears at the edge of steep slopes where the river has cut a deep ravine, forming an imposing riverbank. On the southern edge of this ravine, Riesling flourishes in the deep rocky soils. The grapes were cold fermented in stainless steel. Fermentation at lower temperatures highlights the natural fruit flavors in the grapes. The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation, helping to retain its crisp acidity.” Production: 15,000 cases. Karl would pair this with homemade sausage and pasta.
The tasting finished with the 2010 Sandstone Merlot. Karl commented on the “harmonies just kicking through, the male/female voice, just bringing it all together. I chose the Sandstone Merlot because of the great structure behind it. You don’t think about the drums and bass and rhythm necessarily, but they’re all there,” and he paired this wine with the band The Lone Bellow, scheduled to play August 31. This wine was just delicious. It spent 18 months in oak barrel (no new barrels); it had plenty of big fruit and spice. It’s big enough for beef, delicate enough for salmon.
Web notes: “The grapes for our Sandstone Merlot come from a gently sloping formation of hills running along the southeastern corner of the historic Livermore Valley. With warm days, cool nights, well-drained sandstone soils, and incoming breezes from the San Francisco Bay, the Wente family’s hillside vineyard is an ideal place to grow outstanding Merlot. Each vineyard was harvested and fermented separately in upright stainless steel fermenters. Rack and return, which is the process of draining all of the free-run juice off the cap and then returning the free-run juice back over the top of the fermenter, was performed twice daily. This method increases the color and tannin extractions and improves mouthfeel through the integration of oxygen. This wine was aged for 16 months in American, French, Eastern European, and neutral oak.”
Samples received for review.