The Balletto Family story is a true wine country farming story. Even as they segued from vegetables to grapes, the Ballettos continued to be farmers and were named 2010 Sonoma County Farmers of the Year.
And, as you visit their stunning production facility and tasting room, you would never dream that this began as a young man learning to grow produce to support his mother after his father passed away. It was family then and Balletto remains family today.
John Balletto began farming in 1977 at the age of 17, having just graduated high school when the untimely death of his father meant he would give up what looked like a promising college football and track career to take care of his family. With $200 in the bank and five acres in Sebastopol, California, John began farming. His mother, Hazel, pitched in.
By 1981, John purchased his first ranch with the help of former high school counselor and friend, Pete Barbieri. He leased more land until John and his wife Terri decided to purchase a large piece of land in order to grow more vegetables and build a new produce packing facility. This land is now the winery and one of Balletto’s larger vineyards.
John would eventually become the largest vegetable farmer north of the Golden Gate Bridge growing more than 70 different vegetables on over 700 acres. More than two million cases of mixed vegetables moved through the premises during its heyday.
In 1998, although they were still going strong in the vegetable business, there were three El Nino storms during the spring that wiped out three of their successive planting, each worth a half million dollars. It was hard economically to stay in the vegetable business.
The Ballettos already had 35 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vineyards on their home ranch in the western hills of Sebastopol and were thrilled with the grape quality. This vineyard is still important to the Ballettos winemaking today. In order to stay in the farming business they felt grapes were their future and, in 1999, replanted vegetables to grapes and concentrated on winemaking.
The Balletto Family now has over 600 acres in the Russian River Valley and select only 10% from many different clones and soil types to make their wine. They sell the remaining 90% of their grapes to other wineries.
The Balletto wines are spectacular and excellent values. All of the fruit is Russian River Valley and all of it is estate grown. Imagine how good this wine is when you realize only 10% of the RRV production is chosen for Balletto wines.
A long-time Pinot Gris producer, this is a fabulous crisp, minerally yet adequately structured wine that is a downright bargain at $18. The Rose of Pinot Noir, at $18 is a strawberry-laced, yummy summer wine that is also well-made and could easily be an aperitif or pair with a number of fresh and bright cheeses.
One of my favorite Balletto wines is the Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay, named for John’s wife, with its true fruit-driven quality and excellent representation of the Russian River Valley…only $20.
I love finding great by-the-glass values in wine lists and Balletto’s competitive pricing makes this easy. Dining at Occidental’s hot restaurant, Hazel, two nights ago, I was delighted to find both a Balletto RRV Pinot Noir as well as the Rose for $10 a glass. These wines are well-made by a loving family with history, a quality that outstrips the dot.commers investing in a wine country dream. This family built one.
Balletto produces a Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir as well as many single vineyard Pinots. Not resting on their laurels, Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman keep pushing the envelope into new Pinot Noir territories with the latest plantings in the up-and-coming Petaluma Gap area (Hazel’s Vineyard, named for John’s mother.) Balletto’s entry-level Pinot Noir has won many awards over many vintages and, at $29, is enormous value for the smoky, earthy wine that maintains a balance of delicious red berry fruitiness.
Balletto’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs from their home ranch at Sexton Hill Vineyard to the acclaimed Sonoma Coast area and many areas in between don’t break the bank either. Solid and delicious with each vineyard representing a different palate of aromas and flavors, Balletto is a true standout in Russian River Valley production. They even make an RRV Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel…and a Pinot sparkler.
A touching fact that I did not hear about when I visited was the Balletto has their own “Field of Dreams” thanks to the request of John’s vineyard workers who asked to use a vacant four acres as a baseball field. John went above and beyond by building a true regulation baseball field hidden among vineyards.
The entire Balletto family is involved with the winery so, visiting this gorgeous place, may mean meeting up with the true stars of farming and winemaking in the Russian River Valley.
Balletto Vineyards and Winery: http://ballettovineyards.com/