VJB Cellars: A Celebration of Food, Wine, & Family
60 Shaw Ave, Kenwood, CA | 707-833-2300 | Tasting fee $15 no appointment needed| Piazza Tasting $35 by appointment only |Owner’s Tasting $125 by appointment only | Tasting fee waived with wine purchase |
If you’re looking to visit one of the best wineries in Kenwood, look no further than VJB Cellars. On a warm Saturday afternoon, you can smell the beautiful aromas of Maria’s cooking overpowering your senses, a bustling piazza full of people with glasses of wine will have you wonder if you just stepped into a trattoria in Campania, Italy. Homemade tomato sauce and pesto reign supreme. VJB Cellars, located in Kenwood in Sonoma County, takes a different approach by making customers feel as though they have taken a vacation to Italy – where food and wine go hand in hand.
Established in 2003 by the Belmonte family, the winery by its definition is a logical extension from the 1990s when the family ran Caffe Portofino, a popular restaurant situated in downtown Santa Rosa. Maria, along with her husband Vittorio emigrated from Bonito Italy in the 1960s while bringing their culinary and winemaking expertise as well. Their sons— Henry and Victor grew up learning how to cook and making wine at a relatively young age. Both worked in finance during the weekdays and would help out in the family restaurant on the weekends. They eventually decided that they needed their own wine to pair with Maria’s delicious menu of traditional Italian fare.
Unfortunately in 2000, Victor passed away unexpectedly right before the first harvest could be bottled. Henry decided to move forward with bottling the wines and when it came time to name the winery, he dedicated it to Victor as a way to honor his legacy.
“VJB Cellars is a dedication to my late brother Victor’s life and celebrates his passion for food, wine, and people—it is a place for people to gather, taste wine, relax and enjoy authentic Italian food in a warm environment,” said Henry.
In May 2003, on what would have been Victor’s 35th birthday, Henry and his parents opened a small tasting room featuring just five wines and an espresso bar. The 900 square foot tasting room became a popular spot for both locals to sip wine or espresso as well as visitors looking to discover unique Italian varieties.
The Belmonte family realized they needed more space for guests to gather and enjoy the element of food to complement the wines while providing a unique experience in the heart of Sonoma Valley. In 2012, they opened the hospitality center where they operate now. Featuring a mouthwatering menu created by Maria and Henry along with a number of tasting options, the family showcases several of the 20 unique limited production wines. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the Best Wineries in Kenwood.
Their focus is on Italian varieties—from the ever-popular Barbera and Sangiovese to the lesser-known Sagrantino and Negro Amaro—a food-friendly style remains the critical element of the wines VJB Cellars produces year after year. The family loves educating guests on the vast variety of Italian wines. “We use predominantly neutral oak for our reds and stainless steel for whites. We have an old-world style, but we try to complement that with more robust fruit that is traditional to California wines. The outcome has been delicious, easy-drinking wines that appeal to almost all of our visitors.” said Henry.
Also, in 2014, the Belmonte family purchased Wellington Cellars, which houses their production facility and rounds out their portfolio of wines with French varieties to offer further diversity, specializing in smaller lot, handcrafted estate wines on the 24-acre property in Glen Ellen.
While the pandemic and fires continue to disrupt business operations for wineries, VJB Cellars focuses on getting the little things right—exemplary hospitality and a team willing to challenge the norm. “My team goes above and beyond to take care of our guests—and they keep coming back—I am very proud of that. It’s exactly how my brother would have envisioned it,” said Henry.
2017 Estate Sangiovese – an earthy red in color with flavors of raspberry and cherry pie. This wine shows nice acidity and a smooth finish. This wine would pair nicely with a Pasta Bolognese dish and is ready to drink now.
2017 Barbera – beautiful black cherry aromatics on the nose. Flavors of strawberry, licorice, and a touch of black pepper spice with soft tannins as well as a smooth finish. This wine would go great with a braised pork dish.
2017 Dante Cabernet Sauvignon – flavors of blackberry and plum on the mid-palate. A composition of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Sangiovese.