During his career in construction and residency in Orange County, Michael Bello was not involved in the wine industry. Yet frequent visits to the Napa Valley and a love of red wines have inspired him to start his own winery, Bello Family Vineyards.
“My wife and I used to come to the valley all the time for wine tasting,” he said. “I wanted to buy a piece of property in the valley as a real estate investment and as a possible retirement home. Visiting and tasting the different wineries in the valley and tasting the wine have inspired me to try and make my own.”
He found a property in Rutherford on Highway 29, right next to St. Supéry, and with the help of vineyard manager David Abreu and winemaker Aaron Pott, he built his estate in four years.
“We have replanted the grapes,” Bello said, “and with the advice of David, we removed the chardonnay grapes and planted Bordeaux varietals.”
The decision was influenced by Bello’s preference in wine.
“I know what I like and I found a partner in Aaron Pott, who comes from a French Bordeaux-style winemaking background,” he said.
The first vintage was 2004, and today Bello Family Vineyards’ production has reached 5,000 cases per year. Some of the grapes that are used in the making of Bello’s wines come from the estate, while others are sourced elsewhere. Currently, Bello rents winemaking facilities in St. Helena and maintains a tasting room at 929 Main St., just south of downtown.
Its owner is already looking ahead to the next steps for Bello Family Vineyards.
“We want to grow our business and eventually own our own winery,” Bello said. “We want to develop our brands. We want the public to learn about Bello Family Vineyards and like our wines.”
His son, Christopher, has relocated to St. Helena with his family to oversee the estate and the tasting room, which opened in August.
Construction of the tasting room, designed by Los Angeles-based Rey Viquez, took nine months.
“Once visitors walk into our front doors, their immediate response is a ‘wow’ factor,” Bello said. “We hear from many that this is one of the best tasting rooms in St. Helena.”
The main room presents a long bar area, with an oversized chandelier made of red glass bottles.
One of the side rooms is ideal for group tastings, with a large mirrored table, a grand fireplace and handcrafted crystal chandelier with grape clusters.
“We brought the Southern Cal flavor to Northern Cal,” Bello said. “It’s a more contemporary design, yet we incorporated the wine motifs and the touches of the Napa Valley.”
Another side room is dedicated to Bello’s other passion, horse racing.
“I’ve been into racing for 30 years and in the wine industry for 13 years, and I love them both equally,” Bello said.
The room showcases Megahertz, Bello’s champion race horse, and his awards. A vast TV screen allows visitors to watch horse races.
“We have race days,” Bello said. “When our horses are racing, we feature the race on the big screens and curate a special flight of wines.”
Bello even named a wine after his beloved racehorse. The 2009 Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $50.
At the other end of the price range is the winery’s 2009 reserve cabernet sauvignon that sells for $250. Bello said that he feels the pricing is right.
“We got a plus-94 Parker [rating] and I think it’s an excellent bottle of wine. It’s comparable to other wines at this price range,” he said.
In addition to wines, the tasting room also offers olive oil and Nona Nunzi’s line of products, which includes tomato sauce and Italian spreads created by Nancy Bello, Michael’s wife.