Wendt Bottles Award-winning Wines At His Northern California Vineyard

Posted: May 26, 1987

Paul Masson sells wine only when it's time, but Henry Wendt, chairman of SmithKline Beckman, makes wine at his Northern California vineyard only when he has the time.

"All of our (Wendt and his wife, Holly) vacations are spent there . . . during big holidays such as Christmas, New Year's and Labor Day, we will wrap a week around them and go there . . . and when I am in California on a business trip, I try to stop there for at least a day," said Wendt, who spends most of his time running the $3.7-billion-a-year Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical company.

The "there" that Wendt gets to when he can is Quivira, a 90-acre vineyard in Sonoma County north of San Francisco. Quivira, which has 35,200 grape vines, is a privately held corporation formed in 1983 by Henry and Holly Wendt.

Wendt refused to disclose Quivira's sales figures, but he said the company employs 18 people, including a national sales manager and vineyard manager.

"All I will say is, it's successful beyond our wildest imagination."

The Wendts manufacture an award-winning zinfandel and sauvignon blanc. The wines are sold under the Quivira Dry Creek Valley label.

Harvey Steinman, executive editor of The Wine Spectator, a consumer wine publication based in San Francisco, said it's the soil of the Dry Creek Valley, which is also the name of the section of Sonoma County where Quivira is located, that makes its zinfandel so good.

"It happens that certain parts of the country are better for growing grapes than other parts, and the best grapes for zinfandel grow in the Dry Creek Valley," said Steinman, adding that the Wine Spectator reviewed the Wendts' 1983 zinfandel vintage and rated it 75 on a scale of 100.

"Dry Creek zinfandel is among the top 10 zinfandels in the country," he added.

Both of Wendt's award-winning wines are good sellers in his home state.

Curtis S. Miller, assistant director of the bureau of logistics for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said the Quivira brands sold 800 cases statewide in the year ending April 1.

"That's quite good for its price . . . it's not a boutique price, but it's a premium price," said Miller. Quivira Sauvignon Blanc sells for $8.08 per bottle; Quivira Zinfandel goes for $7.68. He said the LCB started carrying the brands in 1985, and Wendt said Dry Creek Valley wines are sold in 150 to 200 liquor stores throughout Pennsylvania.

Nationally, Wendt said, the company expects to sell 10,000 cases this year and 11,000 to 12,000 cases in 1988. Besides Pennsylvania, the wines are sold in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, Hawaii and Washington state.

"In the future, we would like to concentrate our sales on California, and the rest of the West and along the East Coast corridor between Boston and Washington," he said.

Wendt said he and his wife first became interested in wines while they were living in Montreal during the 1950s.

"There were a lot of French wines imported into the area, which is in Quebec province, and that was a great introduction," he said.

In 1980, Wendt and his wife purchased the Quivira Vineyard. He said he

considers it more than a hobby. "It keeps me very busy," he said."But most of my time is devoted to SmithKline."

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