Photo credit: Patice Yeegreen
It all appears to be so effortless – the haute cuisine; the fine wines; the elegant dining room. For 30 years, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards has garnered accolades for its culinary artistry and marriage of fine food and wine. And while not entirely effortless, that artistry is sometimes derived from something as simple and lovely as a fresh, hand-picked, heirloom tomato. The Wente family has long practiced what is now de rigueur on the restaurant scene – sustainable cuisine. “We are an original farm-to-table restaurant,” says Wente CEO and fourth generation winegrower Carolyn Wente. “We’ve always had our own garden and grown our own produce for The Restaurant. This is not new for us.”
Wente Vineyards, founded in 1883, is the oldest, continuously operated family owned winery in the country. The winery maintains its winegrowing leadership role under ownership and management by fourth and fifth generation Wentes who know that the quality of a wine originates in the vineyard. The Wentes also know that the quality of their restaurant cuisine originates from their own garden and pastures, and from the current team of three they’ve convened. This threesome performs a daily culinary pas de trois – the choreography worthy of a standing ovation. Meet the haute ensemble:
Master Gardener Diane Dovholuk; She’s been a part of The Restaurant at Wente since it opened. Starting as a server, Dovholuk now oversees the estate’s ¾ acre fruit and vegetable garden that provides much of the produce for The Restaurant. Dovholuk tends vegetable, herb and flower beds. She keeps bees, maintains a grape arbor and grows micro greens in a green house. She consults regularly with Executive Chef Mike Ward and together, based on the season’s bounty, they craft delicious dishes with hyper-local significance. This New Hampshire native is by nature an educator, and regularly conducts scheduled tours of the garden she so meticulously maintains.
Executive Chef Mike Ward: He took over The Restaurant at Wente Vineyard’s kitchen this past summer, and in creating his new menu, has embraced the Wente Estate on-property programs: estate-grown wines, estate-raised beef, estate-pressed olive oil and Dovholuk’s estate-grown produce. A self-proclaimed “meat geek,” Ward brings several new meat options to the menu while maintaining its great variety. His approach is ingredient-driven with subtle cultural influences that reflect the local offerings while surprising the palate. Ward previously ran the kitchen at Tyler Florence’s El Paseo in Mill Valley and he earned his cooking chops at some of the best restaurants in New York City.
Wine Director Jorge Tinoco: Another longtime employee at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, Tinoco started as a bartender in 1996. He is now a certified sommelier working towards his Masters in Wine, a title achieved by very few. Tinoco combines his passion for wine with his dedication to educating guests and staff alike on the myriad possibilities for pairing fine wine with gourmet cuisine. He works closely and in creative partnership with Chef Mike Ward to create a wine list that complements the Chef’s daily changing menu. The result is a frequently updated list of more than 750 fine West Coast wines, featuring selections from all California appellations and some Northwest wine regions. Tinoco’s wine list has won the Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence “For an Outstanding Wine List” every year since The Restaurant’s opening in 1986.
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards: 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore, CA. Lunch hours: Monday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Sunday Brunch 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sunday – Monday 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Photo credit: Patice Yeegreen