Bethany Clough

Not just wine: Vino adds spirits, cocktails, more food

Chuck and Jen Van Fleet own Vino Grille & Spirits, formerly Vino & Friends. They have moved the business to a new location and added spirits, cocktails and more food to the menu.
Chuck and Jen Van Fleet own Vino Grille & Spirits, formerly Vino & Friends. They have moved the business to a new location and added spirits, cocktails and more food to the menu. bclough@fresnobee.com

Some things get better with age, like wine, and one wine-based Fresno business.

Locally owned Vino & Friends has a new home, a bigger menu and has added cocktails and spirits. Hence the new name, Vino Grille & Spirits.

The business that started as a small wine store and tasting room in 2006 has been evolving ever since. It started at Shepherd Avenues and Champlain Drive, in the same shopping center as Orchard Supply Hardware, before moving to a bigger space nearby and adding food in 2011.

Now it has moved into a newly built building that’s two-tenths of a mile north, at 1440 Champlain Drive. Owners Chuck and Jen Van Fleet designed the building to look like a wine cave. It has stone walls with rock from Napa Valley, and old wine barrels lining the bar.

Despite all the changes, wine is still at the heart of what Vino Grille does.

“Nothing is going to change with that,” Chuck Van Fleet says. “Vino is always the passion.”

One must-try dessert: The homemade Twix bar.

It still has its wine shop, wine club and is very much a wine bar. Two dozen wines are on tap, attached to bottles that are kept fresh with nitrogen.

But now it has six new bartenders serving cocktails, liquor and beer.

A few more beers are on tap and the $13 cocktails include a pomegranate jalapeno mule made with ginger beer and vodka. And the vino gin fizz has egg whites and gin that was aged in a chardonnay barrel.

There are about 100 types of spirits available, including whiskey, bourbon, scotch and cognac. That includes the Japanese single malt whiskey Yamazaki – and more are on the way in the increasingly popular category.

Tasting and discovering new spirits is similar to wine tasting, Van Fleet says, though what you’re tasting often comes in a whiskey glass with a big spherical ice cube.

“It’s the next evolution in learning,” he says. “It’s just fun.”

Vino & Friends has sold food for a while, but decided to change its name to make it clear it’s more than just wine.

“People would come up to us and say, ‘We didn’t know you served food,’ ” he says.

They’ve beefed up the menu too, adding more shareable dishes such as the duck confit mac and cheese. Steak is new on the menu, along with the brown sugar pecan bourbon pork chops.

The restaurant has a team of chefs, with Jen Van Fleet heading the kitchen. She’s also the baker behind the all the breads and desserts, including the brioche used in burger buns and bread pudding.

One must-try dessert: The homemade Twix bar. It has three shortbread cookies covered in chocolate and sea salt sitting atop three scoops caramel-sea salt ice cream that’s made in house.

The new Vino is a little bit bigger than the old one and can seat more people. A banquet room that doubles as dining space can be rented for special occasions.

Outside is a huge patio with a fountain, misters or heaters and soon, an outdoor bar. The patio was deliberately built facing east so that it’s shaded by 2:30 p.m., solving a problem with one of Vino & Friends’ previous patios.

Reservations: (559) 434-1771.

Vino Grille is in Via Champlain shopping center with Northside Dental and a salon. A GB3 gym and new apartments are under construction within walking distance.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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