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Sept. 14, 2022

Keeping a Family Business Family Owned w/ Aly Wente, Wente Vineyards

Keeping a Family Business Family Owned w/ Aly Wente, Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley, California, has managed to keep it going for 5 generations.


Family-owned businesses are notoriously hard to keep family-owned over multiple generations. Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley, California, has managed to keep it going for 5 generations. Partially through having fewer children, but also through structures put in place to keep the family connected and business family-owned, Aly Wente, VP of Marketing & Customer Experience, describes how they’ve focused on connection and fun to keep the family business together for generations to come. 


Detailed Show Notes:

Wente Vineyards was founded in 1833 by Aly’s Great Great Grandfather, CH Wente

  • Grandfather worked in Napa for Charles Krug
  • Livermore was similar to Napa in grape growing back then
  • Wente is ~800k cases in total
  • Brands include Wente Vineyards (~600-700k cases), Murrieta’s Well, Hayes Ranch, Angels Ink, and Ravel & Stitch
  • Has small lot wines only available in tasting rooms

Each generation has left its legacy

  • 2nd generation - brought Chardonnay to California (1908, 1912) with the Wente Clone
  • 3rd generation - bought a property in Arroyo Seco and pioneered it as a region for grape growing
  • 4th generation - helped write the AVAs for Arroyo Seco, San Francisco Bay, and Livermore Valley; spearheaded experiences business, including concerts and golf course
  • 5th generation - still starting out but focused on sustainability, company culture, and innovation

Family ownership has been intact through 5 generations

  • Partially due to the limited number of children
  • CH had 7 children, including 3 sons, only 2 interested in winery
  • Of 2 sons - Ernst & Herman (Gen 2), only 1 had children (1 - Carl)
  • Carl (Gen 3) had 3 kids (Gen 4)
  • Gen 4 has 6 kids (Gen 5)
  • Gen 6 will have many more people in the family

Benefits of being family owned

  • Not subject to shareholders, the family has complete control
  • Multi-generational relationships w/ other family-owned businesses can be helpful (e.g., Southern Glazers is family owned)
  • Large corporations may not have built the golf course or fine dining restaurant

Structures to pass on ownership to future generations

  • Annual “family council”
  • Prepares next generations for ownership and if they want to work in the company
  • Meet once a year
  • Topics include business topics to align on, educational topics (e.g., tax law), and even individual’s visions for the business
  • As more family works together, prioritizing more fun and bonding
  • Attendance starts as children, though not babies
  • Have policies in place for members who want to leave the company or sell shares, but no one has used them to date
  • The goal is to remain family owned

Wente Vision changing

  • Old - to be one of the most respected family wineries in the world
  • Changing to be more about employees

Family vs. external management

  • The current CEO is 2nd CEO to be non-family
  • External people can help balance family and business interests and inter-generational interests
  • Wente doesn’t create roles for family members
  • If a family member wants a role, they still interview others for it and choose the best candidate, though the family member has a slight advantage

3 keys to maintaining and evolving a family-owned business

  • 1) transparency - bringing family members in at a young age
  • 2) respect - need to treat each other with respect
  • 3) fun - need to have fun while working in wine and with family



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