Certificate of Merit, 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition

The Golden Gate International Exposition was held in San Francisco in 1939, a time when the country was coming out of the Great Depression and the American wine industry was rebuilding after the “dry years” of Prohibition (1919-1933). The exposition featured architectural structures and artistic elements that evoked a nostalgic look at past civilizations as well as examples of a streamlined, modern style. The bay area’s recent technological triumphs—the completion of the Golden Gate and San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridges—were also celebrated as the country seemed poised for better days ahead.
This certificate of merit was awarded to the Wente Bros., winemakers in Livermore, California, at the 1939 exposition. Their Sauvignon Blanc won the Gold Medal / Grand Prize from the California Commission for the exposition, an honor that reflected the Wentes’ specialization in the production of white grape varietals. Recognizing California’s wines through fairs and expositions became an important component in the industry’s re-emergence in the post-Prohibition period.
The Wente family’s history in wine began in 1870, when Carl Heinrich Wente came to the United States from Hanover, Germany. He sought out prominent German winemaker, Charles Krug, and learned the basics of viticulture and winemaking in California’s Napa Valley. In 1883 he moved to Livermore, east of San Francisco, and acquired an interest in a local vineyard, soon expanding his holdings to 300 acres in cultivation. Two of his three sons learned the business: Ernest studied agriculture at the University of California, Davis, and took on responsibility for the vineyards, while Herman studied enology at Berkeley and became the family’s winemaker. In the early years of production, the Wentes specialized in white wines, selling their wine in bulk to firms in the San Francisco area.
During Prohibition, the Wentes produced altar wine in bulk for Georges de Latour of Beaulieu, in the Napa Valley. But, like most California growers, they sold most of their grapes to home winemakers. Following Repeal, in 1934, they bottled wines for the first time.
The Wente family is known for its significant work with Chardonnay, which began when Ernest Wente was a student at UC Davis. In 1912, with the help of Davis employee Leon Bonnet, Ernest persuaded his father to import cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier in France. He also sourced budwood from the Gier Vineyard in Pleasanton, in Alameda County. Ernest planted the two sources in the Wente’s Livermore Valley vineyard and over the next three to four decades, selected vines that showed favorable traits. He re-planted them to establish what is now known as the Wente Clone of Chardonnay. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Wente clone was spread across the state to other wineries. The most famous and widely distributed of all the clones that derived from the Wente plantings, FPS 04, eventually became the most widely planted Chardonnay selection in California.
In 1960, the family expanded its holdings, buying acreage in the Salinas Valley called the Arroyo Seco Vineyard. When Herman Wente died in 1961, Ernest’s son Karl became the head of the company. After Karl’s death in 1977, the next generation—Eric, Philip, and Carolyn—assumed responsibility for the family’s enterprise.
Currently not on view
date made
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 10 1/2 in x 13 1/2 in; 26.67 cm x 34.29 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of the Wente Family Estate through Christine Wente
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Work and Industry: Food Technology
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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