When Rick and Elizabeth Myllenbeck first met at California winery Fenestra years ago, they had no idea their shared passion would eventually turn into a business.
But that's what they're doing with Sonoma Cellar, a tasting room and restaurant soon to open in Old Town Alexandria. The goal: to recreate the casual and comfortable feel of the California wineries they have loved over the years, while also incorporating varietals from Virginia and other regions. The current residents of Alexandria spent years living in Sonoma County before ending up in Virginia (Rick Myllenbeck is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve).
First, though, the couple must transform a more than 200-year-old building into a two-stroy restaurant and wine haunt. "It has a great structural shell," said Elizabeth Myllenbeck. But that doesn't mean it lacks water damage, electrical issues and other problems. They've set up an Indiegogo page to try to get help in defraying the unanticipated costs.
The owners are aiming to create a California feel in the building's architecture and its cuisine. "We hope it won't be stodgy," Elizabeth Myllenbeck said. They'll have art from local artists on the walls, and a patio in the back for casual gathering. There's seating for about 100 people inside.
The restaurant plans to sell wines at retail (plus a corkage fee) in the restaurant. Customers can also taste them ($10 for the select tasting, $15 for the reserve). About 85 percent of the list will come from California, with more than 150 wineries represented. "The wines we'll offer, no one else has," Rick Myllenbeck says. They'll also have a wine club and wine dinners. The food will feature such dishes as panini, quinoa salad, shrimp with zucchini pasta, soups, kabobs and lamb burgers, all featuring local products. Chef Bernard Henry is overseeing the menu (the chef used to have his own winery, so he's no stranger to pairing cuisine and wine).
The team expects about half of their customers will come in for dinner, while the rest will just stop in for a glass of wine or a tasting. An opening at the end of July is planned.