Category: Community Multiuse
KENWOOD — After eight years of planning, Vittorio Belmonte’s vision to recreate a little bit of Italy in Kenwood, complete with a VJB barrel cellar, tasting room and village marketplace surrounding a piazza, was realized in a grand opening on July 20.
Growing up in Bonito, Italy, Mr. Belmonte’s early years picking grapes in the family vineyard formed the foundation for an authentic approach that became the Kenwood Marketplace and VJB Cellars located at 60 Shaw Avenue adjoining Highway 12.
After coming to America, his goal was to rekindle the one-of-kind feeling of a warm, rustic and relaxed old world crafted sense of space he remembered from his youth that would endure and pass the test of time.
“We wanted to craft an experience, not just a facility. Our family has been in the restaurant business for over 22 years and has operated a small winery for more than a decade,” said Henry Belmonte, Vittorio’s son.
“Our family legacy of hospitality, with a love of food and a keen appreciation for fine wine, led to a decision to combine these passions into something truly unique.”
The result: An old world Italian oasis with a town square entered through large wooden gates and encircled by numerous shops offering a variety of culinary delights. It is a special place where people can enjoy wine tasting, picnics, barbecues or just people watching the way Europeans do.
Taking the role of a master builder, Vittorio Belmonte conveyed his dream to Architect Ed Sohl and his partner Jim Ford of the Fifth Resource, Inc., who served as project manager.
This team was later expanded to include Architect Michael Palmer, Dan Wright of Dimensions 4 Civil Engineering and Landscape Architect Don MacNair and others, along with son Henry and wife Maria.
The main marketplace structure is a 3,611 square foot stone and wood building with a second floor office and an observation tower 33-feet high.
The VJB barrel cellar and case storage building comprises 1,800 square feet with a 23-foot ceiling featuring open trusses. A 602-square foot garage was converted and restrooms were added.
An existing 1,350-square-foot house on the property was renovated to become a mini-Tuscan Villa.
The tasting room is adjacent to the stone cellar and estate vineyards. It is a two-story structure built, in large part, from recycled materials including 100-year old, 15-inch thick, wood beams from Honduras and lumber salvaged from a barn. Stressed and weathered timbers were also used in the arcade adjoining the wine cellar.
The cellar’s facade consists of native California stone at its base, and with a roof covered with hand-made terra cotta tiles from Latin America as well as windows and doors sourced in Italy that create a Mediterranean feel.
The Italian-inspired VJB Cellars tasting room was also designed to evoke the roots of the Belmonte family. It provides visitors with a complete winery experience, including tours of the cellar and vineyard, wine tasting and retail sales. It also has a private room for small groups or educational tastings by appointment.
“Our spacious front and back covered terraces can accommodate groups and special events while offering 360-degree views of the winery and vineyards,” Henry Vittorio said.
The Kenwood Marketplace has a kid- friendly menu, with pizza, 12 flavors of gelato and ice cream, chocolates and truffles, provided in a safe, secure and intimate environment where parents and grandparents feel comfortable to bring youngsters.
“Many people and groups come here regularly to play bridge or dominos on outdoor tables under umbrellas in the courtyard’s 12,000 square feet of open space.”
Venues around the piazza include a souvenir shop, tasting room, pasta-making center, an espresso bar, a kitchen and carry out deli (with aromas of baby back ribs, pizza, cheese and cold cuts filling the air).
“A typical wine tasting center can hold visitor’s attention for up to 45-minutes or so. The holding time for our guests is over two hours, which means they take their time to enjoy the many interesting attractions we have to offer,” Henry Belmonte said.
“It’s all about people and we go out of our way to ensure that the community comes first. Our neighbors refer to our marketplace and VJB Cellars as their downtown Kenwood square,” he added.
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