Food and wine

  • Chef Sam Badolato tosses pizza dough near the wood fire oven at VJB Vineyards and Cellars in Kenwood.

In Europe, wine and food have spent centuries at the same table, blending seamlessly together in a happy marriage of kindred spirits.

Here in California, not so much. But that's gradually changing, as more wineries across the North Bay unveil new plans to build bigger kitchens and gardens, marketplaces and outdoor pizza ovens.

That trend recognizes the magic that happens to flavors when wine interacts with food, when an acidic white wine balances out the fattiness in a cheese, or the meaty juices of a steak tame the tannins in a red wine.

As a tribute to their Neapolitan roots, members of the Belmonte family have created their own food and wine mecca at the new VJB Vineyards & Cellars Tasting Room along Highway 12 in Kenwood.

Centered around a small but authentic-looking piazza, the complex includes a tasting room adjacent to a marketplace and deli, an outdoor pizza and demonstration kitchen, a gelateria and chocolate bar, plus a large barrel room and private tasting room for special events.

Those still mourning the demise of Traverso's market in Santa Rosa may want to check out the array of imported Italian ingredients in the marketplace, from farro and risotto to Robiola cheese and Mortadella sausage. There is also a full menu of panini, salads and deli sides like Castelvetrano olives.

"We wanted people to come and taste our family's wines, but people are coming here to eat," said Henry Belmonte, winery founder. "They have lunch first, then taste the wine."

The Italian flavors are reinforced by a medley of music, from Frank Sinatra to Andrea Bocelli, playing softly in the background.

"It's part of the village vision Dad and I have had, to create an experience that is intimate but engages people to want to stay," Belmonte said. "Before, the average stay at our tasting room was 50 minutes. Now, it's 120 minutes."

The piazza not only lures tourists driving by but locals as well, who enjoy stopping for a glass of wine or a gelato after school and work.

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