Earlier this year my husband and I decided to take a day to ourselves and head to Livermore valley to go wine tasting. It had been a long time since we had visited the Livermore valley and had heard about a few new wineries that we wanted to visit as well as a few old favorites. We had called ahead and made a lunch reservation at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards where we could sit outside on the patio under the shade of the large sycamore trees and enjoy the view. It had been a very long time since we had been to this winery and had heard that the restaurant had a new chef.
Wente Vineyards has been privately owned by the Wente family for the past 130 years. Since the 80s, the Restaurant has been a “destination dining location,” which specializes in wine country cooking, using the very best sustainable and organically grown local ingredients. In addition to wine tasting and dining at Wente, visitors can play golf on their championship 18 hole golf course and attend their summer concert series. The property is nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Livermore valley and as you approach Wente Vineyards on Arroyo Road, the course and grape vines are laid out before you.
My husband and I sat on the patio overlooking the expansive property. We order a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which was delicious, and we decided to share a few menu items. As an appetizer, we ordered the lamb pastrami on crisp rye bread with micro greens, coriander aioli, and pickled onions. It was absolutely delicious. The visual presentation was so elegant with bright colors and very fresh ingredients. For our main courses, he ordered the smoked pork sandwich with molasses barbecue sauce with slaw and potato salad with fresh corn and watercress, and I ordered the salad of fresh beets, peaches, pecans, radishes, and blue cheese dressed with a lemon marjoram vinaigrette. Both dishes were very delicious, using super fresh and beautiful ingredients. For dessert we ordered a rhubarb and strawberry gallette with lavender ice cream that was drizzled with honey. The dessert was exceptional! We were told that the lavender for the ice cream was harvested from the garden. My husband and I had just shared something extraordinary. I asked our waiter about all the lovely ingredients that were presented in the array of dishes that were served to us. The waiter told us that The Restaurant has its own garden on the property where the produce is grown, which is cared for by Master Gardener Diane Dovholuk. He told us to go visit the garden and perhaps we would find Diane.
We decided to venture to the garden to see where all this fabulous produce was grown. We found Diane working in the garden, where she was busier than a bee, but found time to talk to us and show us her impressive garden. Diane is a true educator and I learned much about gardening in the time we spent with her. Diane showed us her numerous beds of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We saw her beehives, grape arbor, and summer seedlings. We inspected her micro greens growing in the green house and learned about the benefit of the profusion of ladybugs that had hatched on the fava beans. We had a delightful conversation. Upon departing, Diane gave me an heirloom tomato seedling; Hawaiian Pineapple. I planted it in my vegetable garden and it has grown to be one of my very favorite tomatoes this year.
It occurred to me on the way home from our visit at Wente Vineyards that the story of chef and gardener would make a beautiful blog article! So here we go…
Diane began her Wente Vineyards employment as a food server in The Restaurant many years ago. In 1997 Diane enrolled and completed the Master Gardeners’ Program in Alameda County. Diane approached the management at Wente and asked if she could plant some herbs and vegetables in the front garden where she could provide the restaurant with some estate grown produce, which she was granted. She really enjoyed growing vegetables and herbs for the restaurant and continued to ask for more space. In 2010, a small vineyard in the back of the property was cleared and laid fallow for a year. Diane approached management and asked for this plot of land where she could create a large scale restaurant garden. Diane was given the space to transform into a beautiful and productive garden, as well as offered the full-time position as garden manger. Diane was elated to finally create the garden of her dreams.
Transforming the half-acre into a working garden was a difficult process with numerous hard days of work. With a handful of laborers, she needed to move, grade, prepare, and enrich the soil, lay out the planting beds, choose the plants, add the irrigation, fence the garden, and build a green house. After two years of hard work, Diane has created a veritable garden of Eden, which is cradled within beautiful rolling hills, where Live Oaks thrive and hawks soar above. This garden has truly grown to be Diane’s life’s work.
That same year, in 2011, Wente hired a new executive chef for The Restaurant; Chef Matt Greco. Chef Greco relocated to California to be the executive chef at Wente’s restaurant from New York City where he had worked and lived for the past twelve years. Chef Greco originally came to New York City to attend culinary school at the CIA. Upon graduating, Chef Greco was hired by acclaimed Chef Daniel Boulud, where he worked at Café Boulud working his way thought the kitchen ranks for four years. His training at Cafe’ Boulud earned him the position of sous chef in the kitchens of renown chefs, Gray Kunz and Andrew Carmellini. His final years in New York, Chef Greco was the executive chef at the acclaimed restaurant Char NO. 4 in Brooklyn, where Chef Greco featured food that embraced his southern roots.
Chef Greco was born and raised in central rural Texas. He remembers helping his father tend the vegetable patch in the backyard, gathering eggs from the chicken coop, and hunting for wild birds. His father taught him his first lessons in food and cooking, honoring the ground in which it came from, and not to take more than you need. Chef Greco experienced the joy of food for the first time from these moments in the garden and kitchen. This sustainable way of life has become the cornerstone of his cooking philosophy.
Garden Tomato and Summer Melon Salad, fresh basil, and Ricotta Salata Cheese
Dressed with a vinaigrette of Olivina estate extra virgin olive oil and Saba Vinegar
Paired with Wente Vineyard’s Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc from Livermore Valley, 2011
Chef Greco had learned his craft from the best and expanded his education and expertise while working with such prestigious chefs and his years at Char NO. 4. Chef Greco learned the craft of charcuterie while in New York and is passionate about creating delicious meat dishes, such as the lamb pastrami. The menu at The Restaurant features a handful of delectable dishes that highlight his skills. Chef refers to his style of cooking as an, “elevation of everyday food.” Chef is passionate about the craftsmanship of his cooking, the use of fresh organic ingredients, impeccable visual presentation, and ultimately, the deliciousness of the food, which is evident in every dish that comes out of his kitchen.
Chrispy Garden Squash with Gypsy Pepper and Smoked Hazelnut Romesco Sauce
Paired with Wente Vineyard’s The Whip, 2011
Chef Greco always had a quiet desire to eventually move west where he could work with the fresh bounty of California’s produce and products where he could put his own unique spin on California Cuisine. Wente Vineyards was the right place for Chef Greco to build upon an already successful career and realize his next culinary vision in California.
Estate Grown Garden Baby Lettuces with Squash, Mustard Greens, Kale, Ricotta Salata, and Violas
Dressed with a Chamomile Flower Vinaigrette made with Estate Olivina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Paired with Wente Vineyard’s Riva Ranch Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco, 2012
Chef Greco, along with his sous chef Courtney Loreg, and Diane have a unique working relationship in planning for the future produce needs for the restaurant. Great thought, research, planning, and strategy is imperative to successful meet the needs of a busy restaurant season after season. The three of them meet throughout the year to discuss the coming season’s plant list, quantity, and new heirloom varieties of vegetables to try. Diane is constantly working at refining the garden where it will ultimately be more efficient for the restaurant. The three of them constantly look for new and exciting varieties and cultivars to grow that they may offer diners a truly unique culinary experience when eating at The Restaurant; one that would leave a lasting impression as it did for my husband and me. For example, this winter The Restaurant will be featuring a polenta that has been ground from corn that is growing in the garden right now.
Wente Vineyards offers Chef’s Garden Tours and Tastings and Garden Luncheons. The chef’s tour are lead by the chef and gardener through the half-acre organic garden with an interactive discussion about vegetable gardening. The chef concludes the tour utilizing ingredients harvested that morning into a delicious tasting, which is paired with Wente’s wine. The luncheons are a gathering of diners who join Chef Greco in the garden where he prepares for them a delicious sit down luncheon, paired with Wente wines, in the outdoor garden kitchen. Guest of the tour and luncheon enjoy their afternoon in the beautiful garden dining pavilion located in the center of the garden.
With this said, I raise my glass to Chef Greco and Master Gardener Diane; what you have set out to accomplish is no easy task. But the quality, creativity, and amazing taste of the food you grow and prepare speaks volumes! Thank you for a delicious and beautiful experience!
THE RESTAURANT AT WENTE VINEYARDS
5050 Arroyo Road
Livermore, CA 94550
THE RESTAURANT HOURS OF OPERATION
Monday – Saturday: 11:30am to 2:30pm
Sunday Brunch: 10:30am to 2:30pm
Sunday-Monday: 5:00pm to 8:00pm
Tuesday-Saturday: 5:00pm to 9:00pm