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Above: Members of the Wente family celebrating their 2011 American Winery of the Year award
from
Wine Enthusiast magazine.


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Like the old-growth roots of grape vines, the foundations of California's many family-owned vineyards stretch deep. And as is the case with all family businesses, each successive generation must balance the gravity of a longstanding legacy with modern innovations and evolving consumer demands. 

For today's third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation winemakers, that may mean pursuing new approaches to wine production like organic or biodynamic viticulture. Or it may mean attracting new customers with novel marketing initiatives and programming, like "crush camps" that let customers witness and even participate in the winemaking process.

Here are four family-owned vineyards helmed by a fresh crop of young talent:

Wente Vineyards 
Founded 130 years ago, the vineyard holds the title for oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery in the country. Today, the winery (which has grown to include over 2,000 acres of land in the Livermore Valley outside of San Francisco, and another 800 acres in Monterey County) thrives under the leadership of fourth- and fifth-generation family members including 35-year-old Karl D. Wente. 

Wente earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford--plus two Masters degrees from UC Davis--before formally joining the family business in 2002. "Winemaking is in my blood," he says. An avid musician, Wente is responsible for the launch of "Discover the Wine, Discover the Music," a program that introduces consumers to new musical talents and new vintages. His influence can also be witnessed in Wente Vineyards' seasonal concert series, which attracts a rollicking lineup of musicians like Sheryl Crow and John Fogerty to the Vineyard's stunning, open-air amphitheater.

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Foppiano Vineyards
Sonoma County's Foppiano Vineyards was founded more than a century ago, in 1896. The winery even survived Prohibition in the 1920s by selling home winemaking kits. Known worldwide for its flagship Petite Sirah, Foppiano won the coveted Civart award in 1999--one of only two American wines to be ranked among the top 13 in the world.  Today, the family (above) continues to focus on Petite Sirah, while moving into new directions with two varietals new to the vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Vineyards Manager Paul Foppiano, a fifth-generation family member, remains committed to sustainability with a cover crop program that has mostly eliminated the use of insect sprays and pesticides. He's also installed owl boxes to provide shelter for the local population of owls, which help to cull predators that are harmful to the vineyards.

Honig Vineyard
In 1964, Louis Honig purchased a 68-acre ranch in Napa Valley. The vineyard was planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which he sold to neighboring wineries. Seventeen years later, after Louis' death, his family produced a small run of Sauvignon Blanc under its own label, Louis Honig. The wine was a breakout success, netting a Gold Medal at the Orange County Fair. As a result, the family decided to increase production, and Honig Vineyard & Winery was born. In 1984, at the age of 22, Louis' grandson, Michael Honig, took over management of the vineyard and winery. As the business took off, more family members chipped in. What began as a small "garage" winery has today become a successful family enterprise and an industry leader in sustainable viticulture.

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Brown Estate
A comparatively young vineyard, Brown Estate was first established in 1980 by the parents of the current managers, David, Coral, and Deneen Brown (pictured above). Nestled in the hills east of Rutherford in Napa Valley, the estate initially sold its output to third-party wine makers before deciding, in 1995, to begin producing wine under its own label. After surviving a catastrophic warehouse fire in 2000 that wiped out the 1998 vintage its entirety, the winery now thrives with wines that range from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay, as well as a flagship Napa Valley Zinfandel. Brown Estate is notable in part for being one of fewer than a dozen African-American-owned in the country. It's no wonder this winery wears its moniker, "the little winery that could," with pride.