03.19.2014  
 

VJB Vineyards Purchases Wellington Winery

With new acquisition, owners of 6,000-case Sonoma County winery add 21 vineyard acres and winemaking facility

 
by Paul Franson
 
“vjb
 
The Belmonte family’s purchase of Wellington Vineyards brings their total vineyard acres to 39, which includes 8 acres of old vine cultivars.
Kenwood, Calif.—The Belmonte family, owners of VJB Vineyards and Cellars in California’s upper Sonoma Valley, has acquired nearby Wellington Vineyards.

The purchase adds a production winery and hospitality center plus 21 acres of grapevines to the Belmonte’s existing 18 acres of estate vineyard.

It also provides a home for VJB’s production, which had been at another winery. The Wellington facility has a permit to produce 15,000 cases per year, but Wines Vines Analytics puts VJB’s current production at 6,000 cases. Belmonte tells Wines & Vines that he intends to reduce production to 5,000 cases of high-quality wines.

VJB has a tasting room in Kenwood with a deli and café, which will continue to offer its wines.

While VJB specializes in Italian varieties, Belmonte intends to focus on Bordeaux varieties at the Wellington site.

The history of Wellington
Wellington Vineyards has been owned by Peter Wellington, whose late father John bought the winery site in 1986. At the time, it consisted of 20 acres of old vines and a few old fruit and nut trees.

They started replanting part of the old vineyard and orchard in 1988, and the winery was completed in time for the 1989 crush.

The estate vineyards consist of 21 acres. Eight of those acres are planted to vines between 85 and 117 years old with 24 different varieties in the old vineyard. The most common of the old vines are Zinfandel, Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache and Syrah.

In addition, the vineyards contain 10 acres of 11- to 16-year-old Merlot, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Syrah vines. Three more acres were replanted in 2001, predominantly to Syrah, Zinfandel and Grenache. Belmonte expects to adjust planting over time.

The family behind VJB
Henry Belmonte and his parents Vittorio and Maria opened the VJB tasting room in 2003. They grow Cabernet and the Italian varieties Montepulciano and Aglianico, and they also produce Italian varietal wines from Tocai Friulano, Barbera, Primitivo and Nero d’Avola.

They also produce Russian River Zinfandel and Chardonnay.

Belmonte says he buys about 30 percent of the grapes the winery needs, and expects that to continue with Wellington.

Henry Belmonte’s first experience with wine and winemaking came at age 9, when his father and uncles would make table wines in the basement of their Massachusetts home.

However, it wasn’t until many years later that Henry and brother Victor began to create and produce their own wine under the family label.

Today, in addition to many ventures and activities, Henry oversees all aspects of the winery.

Vittorio Belmonte first picked grapes at age 8 from the family vineyard in Bonito, Campania, Italy (near Naples). Those early days in Italy were the foundation for Vittorio’s attitude when assisting and determining the characteristics of the wines produced by the family at VJB. He continues to influence the winemaking overseeing the vineyard management and winemaking teams.

Maria Belmonte, also born in Bonito, began cooking at 10 years old. When Vittorio and Maria settled in Kenwood in 1976, Maria opened the family café, which draws upon the southern Italian favorites she learned from her mother and grandmother.

In 1987 Maria decided to sell the small café to open a restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa, which she operated for 15 years. Today Maria holds the role of executive chef for the winery, where she continues to turn out lunches, dinners and special events. She also has created a line of sauces, pestos and tapenades.

The VJB winery has a popular deli and café specializing in Italian lunches including panini, pasta and pizzas.

The Belmontes didn’t buy the inventory of Wellington wines, and Peter Wellington is leasing the tasting room in place for two years as he winds down the winery’s business. “We want to offer our own wines when we take over in two years,” said Belmonte.

The company sells directly to customers of its hospitality center and wine club.

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