It's a scene that gives new meaning to the term family values. Two generations of Wente winemakers are clustered like Chardonnay grapes around adjacent banquet tables for the Fifth Annual California Wine Auction. This black-tie extravaganza is the charity gala of the season for Livermore Valley, a wine region just north of Silicon Valley, where IPO millionaires are turning into wine connoisseurs overnight. On the block is Lot Number 50--a collection of 18 bottles of Wente Cabernet Sauvignon, each hand etched and painted with a scene of the Wente Vineyards golf course. Carolyn Wente, great-granddaughter of the man who first glued labels on bottles of Wente wine, nervously fans herself with a paddle as the auctioneer rallies the crowd to put a value on the family name.
"What's it worth to you?" he asks, carnival-barker style. And with an opening offer of $1,500, bids explode like flashbulbs around the chandeliered hall: Three thousand! Five thousand! Ten thousand! Carolyn can only cup her hands over her mouth, as the lot goes to a cyberbaron for $13,000, making it the night's most expensive wine. "That could have been really embarrassing," Carolyn says afterward. "Talk about putting your pride on the line."
Not that she really has to worry. The Wentes have withstood much more to successfully run California's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery. Over the course of five generations, the family has endured Prohibition, drought, changing tastes and increased competition, not to mention assorted differences with one another. "Some people look at our business and say, 'I'd never work with my family,'" Carolyn reports. "They don't understand that growing up with my brothers, Philip and Eric, gave us the same values. Working together just seems normal."