For so many Italian families, traditions are important. For the Belmonte family, the owners of VJB Vineyards and Cellars, that’s most certainly true, and it’s those treasured traditions combined with the relaxed California lifestyle they’ve come to love that they share with guests to their winery since 2003.
The seeds of owning a winery were sown in the late 1990s when the family owned Caffe Portofino, a popular restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa. Patrons loved Maria Belmonte’s food and chatting with Vittorio and his sons Henry and Victor who ran the front of the house. As Henry and Victor watched diners enjoy wine with their meals they had an idea to start making their own wine to sell at the restaurant.
The brothers made their first harvest of Cabernet grapes in 1999, but before that wine was ever bottled, Victor passed away unexpectedly. Though filled with grief, Henry, along with his parents, was determined to keep his younger brother’s memory and passion for making wine alive. VJB Vineyards and Cellars—named for Victor Joseph Belmonte— was born.
In 2002, the Belmonte’s sold their restaurant and began renovating an old home and garden store on Highway 12 in Kenwood. They opened this tasting room on Memorial Day weekend in 2003. There were five wines on the wine list including their flagship wine, Dante, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blend which they still produce.
Although welcoming guests to their storefront tasting room and introducing them to an ever growing list of Italian varietals and seeing them enjoy these wines was gratifying, the Belmonte family had dreams of creating something more. They wanted a space where visitors could experience not only wine, but also food and an atmosphere that spoke to their Italian heritage and hospitality.
In late 2010 they broke ground on their current tasting room and marketplace, first planting more vines for their popular Montepulciano and Aglianico wines, then turning the existing ranch-style home on the property into a stunning Tuscan-style villa that houses their tasting room, marketplace and deli, as well as an outdoor pizza kitchen and a fabulous piazza that is the heart of the new property.
In the summer of 2012 VJB Vineyards and Cellars celebrated its grand opening. With a portfolio of more than 15 wines including several Italian varietals rarely produced in California, coupled with wood oven pizzas and the wonderful, home style Italian food Maria is so well known for, VJB quickly became a must visit destination in the Sonoma Valley.
As the family and VJB Vineyards and Cellars reflects on their first decade in the winery business and time settling into their new home, it’s the combination of being firmly rooted in tradition coupled with an ability to dream beyond the present day that’s led them from running a popular restaurant to owning a small tasting room to their current property that blends the best of both worlds into a place where guests can enjoy wine, food and true Italian hospitality embraced in the company of family and friends.