VJB Vineyards & Cellars: warmth and style in Kenwood
By Pamela Personette
The weather outside was frightful but inside it was so delightful! That was the case this past Winter when it came to my visit to the tasting room at VJB Vineyards & Cellars. VJB is a 5,000 case winery with a small tasting room located on Highway 12 in Kenwood, CA. The drive from the town of Sonoma was beautiful. Even on a cold, rainy, Sunday afternoon, I marveled at the beauty that surrounded me. The hills were as green as Ireland and the vines, although dormant, dotted the mustard-laden vineyards like giant cloves, placed in straight rows across the land.
We arrived at the tasting room, parked the car and dodged the raindrops. As soon as we entered the tasting room, we felt like we were home. The atmosphere was warm and cozy and although full, the tasting room didn’t seem too crowded. It had the feel of walking into someone’s home. Customers were positioned around the tasting counter engaged in conversation with the friendly staff. A long wooden farm table and benches positioned in the middle of the room was a wonderful addition. Customers were seated there, enjoying their wine, talking with friends and making new friends.
We received a warm welcome from Kathy who was positioned near the front door. She found a nice nook for us to stand and brought us our first wine to taste. A chardonnay, it was delicious. The old world style of the wines at VJB never disappoints. And neither does the food! In celebration of owner Vittorio Belmonte’s 70th birthday, delicious lasagna was served. Made by chef, Maria Belmonte, Vittorio’s wife and cook book author, the lasagna was true comfort food. And comfort is the key word when it comes to VJB. The staff, including, Henry (Vittorio & Maria’s son), Lesli and Lindsay made us feel like part of the family. Although busily engaged pouring wine, carrying cases to customers’ cars, or giving restaurant recommendations, they always came back to us to make sure we were poured the next wine, to hear our latest news and to make sure we were having fun.
And we were having fun! A great treat was the barrel tasting taking place. The use of the wine “thief” and the thrill of tasting wine from the barrel always delight me. Some of the customers, new to wine tasting were awed by the procedure. The staff gave them new vocabulary, explaining how the thief is used. Always friendly and respectful, the staff never talked “down” to the novices who walked away confident and enthused about their new knowledge.
After we tasted all of the wines, heard about the success of Vittorio’s surprise birthday party the night before, and contemplated another piece of lasagna (we showed restraint), it was time to choose a selection of wine to enjoy at home. We selected our favorites, which were beautifully wrapped in black tissue paper and placed in the elegant VJB bag for us.
We said good bye and the staff thanked us genuinely for visiting. As we ventured outside, the weather didn’t seem as cold as when we arrived. Like comfort food, the warm hospitality we enjoyed inside the tasting room stuck to our ribs. Outstanding wine, outstanding hospitality: VJB serves up plenty!