A ranch Thanksgiving

On the Wente homestead, a winemaking family gives thanks with a relaxed feast

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A ranch Thanksgiving

James Carrier

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The afternoon before Thanksgiving, Carolyn Wente Layton, president of Wente Vineyards, steps into those vineyards and clips grape branches ― ablaze with red, rust, and gold leaves ― to decorate the dinner table in her brother Philip's home. In the kitchen, his wife, Julie, and daughters are rolling out pastry and peeling apples for pie. And Jean Wente, matriarch of this California winemaking clan, polishes silver. Collectively, they prepare all the elements for the holiday feast that can be made a day ahead.

On Thanksgiving morning, family and close friends gather at this year's designated host house. Some saddle up horses for a morning ride over the rolling green hills. Others head out for a round of golf or a game of hoops.

The roots for these festivities were put down more than a century ago. In 1883, Carl H. Wente planted grapes in California's Livermore Valley and founded Wente Brothers Winery. His property has grown into a 3,000-acre ranch that includes the vineyards and winery. It's also where Jean, who is the widow of Carl's grandson, and her three children ― Eric, Philip, and Carolyn ― have homes. And it's here that Jean manages the original 50 acres planted by Carl.

Around noon the crowd reunites for a cup of homemade chicken soup to contain appetites while the turkey roasts. Then, with just a little left to do, everyone helps bring forth a contemporary California dinner that blends the changing tastes of new generations with a German and Irish heritage (with a little of the South thrown in). The wine, of course, is made by Wente.


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