When you're in a tasting room, do you ever feel like you long to learn more about the winemaking process than the attendant is able to share between pours? Or do you wish there were a place the yapping wine geek could go to get his soil and clone questions answered?
Now, there is, at least at Wente Vineyards in Livermore. Last week, the winery opened its new Winemakers Studio, an interactive wine education center that functions sort of like a mini Exploratorium for wine lovers. It is open to the public Thursday through Sunday.
"There's a little bit of kid in all of us (wine enthusiasts) that wants to explore what we think we know and challenge ourselves to delve even deeper," four-generation winegrower Carolyn Wente told me during a recent tour. Indeed, and here, the learning is hands-on.
When you walk in -- the studio is located in the former Tamas Estates tasting room at Wente's estate winery -- you see a chardonnay vine from the winery's Arroyo Seco vineyard climbing up the wall above a chic gray couch and orange chairs. A flat-screen TV loops short, digestible videos of fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente talking about what's happening in the vineyard that month. Some elements of the studio will change with the seasons.
On the wall, tiny, scented beads fill beakers so you can spritz and sniff common wine aromas -- melon, cherry, grass and butter -- while you play wine trivia games on iPads or try to grasp the concept of wine's body and texture by comparing fabric swatches (pinot, silk; cabernet, velvet). A little out there, but I appreciate the effort.
To the right, there's a sleek bar where you can refill 1-liter growlers with unique, small batch wines handcrafted exclusively for the Winemakers Studio by each of Wente's winemakers (yes, they have five, including Karl).
The growlers are reminiscent of the half-gallon Valle de Oro wines Wente used to sell from the 1960s to the 1980s. "Those were so popular with locals," Carolyn recalls. "As we return to that vineyard-to-table culture, I think people will really appreciate coming down to the winery and filling up on their table white and table red."
Those wines are the 2013 Artisan White ($28 for a bottle and much less, $20, for the larger growler) and 2012 Aristan Red ($42/$30), made by Brad Buehler and Andrew Lynch, respectively. I thought it was neat to unlatch the cellar door, so to speak, on one of the country's largest wineries and get to know the behind-the-scenes team. For instance, the 2012 Azul-Verde ($48/$34), made by Wente's young enologist, Elizabeth Kester, really stood out to me -- a smooth and sophisticated cabernet-franc based blend with silky tannins.
But the real magic happens in the backroom, where for $125, visitors play winemaker for a day. This isn't one of those weekend or even all-day commitments. Just take a seat at the beaker-and-funnel covered community table and in 90 to 120 minutes, a wine educator will guide you through a wine-blending session using the same tools used by Wente's winemakers.
In that small lab, they have barrel samples from estate vineyard blocks, a hand-corking machine, a gadget that seals the cork with foil and even a nifty label for you to stick on your bottle before taking it home. Not bad for a few hours outside the tasting room.
Contact Jessica Yadegaran at email@example.com.
Wente's new interactive wine education studio is open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and by appointment at Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore. Experiences range from wine tasting to blending seminars, sensory evaluation and food and wine pairings. $10-$125. For more information, visit www.wente winemakers.com.