After stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and Quebec City, the group made its Toronto appearance at the Royal York Hotel yesterday, where it hosted the 18th Annual Toast to California Trade Luncheon, before opening the doors to the trade for a tasting of its best vintages.
The theme of this year’s luncheon was The Next Generation: Passing the Torch and Karl Wente, fifth-generation winemaker of the 125-year old Wente Vineyards, addressed the distinguished crowd, speaking about evolving California wine styles, commitment to the environment and hip marketing trends turning the industry on its head.
At 33, Wente is one of the youngest winemakers in California and represents a new breed of vintner, one who places great importance on sustainability. He’s quick to point out that, rather than a unique marketing plan, the trend is the norm for his generation. “We’ve grown up with it,” he told the crowd of 400 restaurateurs, agents and media in attendance. ”We’ve learned that we have to work together in a synergistic way, but we also know we’ve got to keep an eye on the bottom line.”
The winemaker compares himself to a farmer. “My generation of winemakers see themselves as wine growers. Ultimately it’s all about flavour. At the core of any winery’s success is healthy soil,” he explained. “Healthy soil, healthy bacteria lead to healthy grapevine, and that which is healthy tastes better.”
That said, Wente worries others aren’t as committed. “I’m sick of green-washing,” he said. “Nothing is more important, so the best way to find out if a company is really environmental, [rather than] just green-washing, is to go to the employees.” At the end of the day, he noted, organics, biodynamics and greening are not mutually exclusive. “Take your best practices and do the best by your people and the rest will follow.”
Wente ended his talk discussing the implications of social media. “The sooner wineries get onboard, the better,” he said, referring to networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. “It’s all about lifestyle marketing.”
Wente Vineyards recently joined the social media craze by taking six songs, pairing them with wines and showcasing them online. “You can go on our site and read all about why I chose those songs,” Wente explained. ”It drives consumers to make them aware of our wines. It’s all about consumer awareness, and it’s a lot of fun stuff.”
The tour continues in St. John’s, NF and Halifax on May 11 and 13, respectively.