Winery Profile: Balletto Family Vineyards

When you come across a winery in a famed wine region that hand-selects only the best 10 percent of its proprietary vineyard grapes to craft special wines, selling the rest to other wineries, you know something special is happening. More so when the winery remains family-run and has catapulted in little over 20 years to producing more than 20 wines from 16 vineyards divided amongst 700 acres in the Russian River Valley AVA. Indeed, Balletto Family Vineyards is rightly proud of its statistics and its identity as an Estate Winery.

Balletto focuses both its viticulture and its winemaking on varieties that perform well in the cooler climes of its Sonoma vineyard sites: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and even Pinot Gris, but is not limited to those varietal wines.

Balletto can place all the right emphasis on being both great grape farmers and superb winemakers, with an oenology team led by Anthony Beckman, who left journalism to pursue his love of the art and science of creating great vintages. The origin of these family vineyards lies in hard-earned vegetable farming and practical knowledge of agriculture, business, and geography in California. In the late seventies, John Bolletto, as a very young man facing his father’s early demise, started working the five-acre family farm and grew that business to produce more than 70 kinds of vegetables by slowly acquiring more and more land. They eventually developed one of the largest vegetable-agriculture businesses in Northern California. Foreseeing drought problems and other issues, the Bolletto family started an experimental planting with grapes at what is now the Burnside Road Vineyard; vines required less irrigation and featured a fairly steady market for their produce. In 1998, a series of El Niño storms that damaged vegetable crops, accompanied by changing international trade conditions, caused John and his wife to shift, in just three years, all their land to grape production for the burgeoning wine industry. Not long after they began producing wine grapes, they took a dive into wine production, using the top ten percent of their fruit, something John knew well to calculate with his years of hands-on farming experience. Grape growing is farming, after all.

2001 saw their first vintage: 391 cases of Chardonnay and 689 cases of Pinot Noir. Today, Balletto Family Vineyards produces around 25,000 cases, an impressive number, but not so much to affect quality, especially with Balletto’s emphasis on fruit origins.

In fact, a combination of factors really makes Balletto Family Vineyards stand out, even within California:

  • 100% proprietary vineyards
  • 16 vineyard sites with different terroirs
  • Many wines are single-vineyard, expressing that terroir
  • Hand picking, often at night
  • Skilled winemaking and special knowledge of, for example, how to give Pinot Gris superb expression
  • Business and management savvy
  • Sustainable viticultural practices, including  LODI RULES certification for Sustainable Winegrowing, California's original sustainable viticulture program
  • Family managed, an operation still overseen by John and his wife Terri (plus a few others)

Balletto provides a substantial allocation to Bottle Barn, also located in Sonoma County, from where their wines can rapidly and securely reach the rest of the United States through order wine online. They specialize in single vineyard Pinot Noirs (like the 2018 Balletto Vineyards BCD Vineyard Estate Grown Pinot Noir) and flavor-packed Chardonnays (like the 2020 Balletto Vineyards Teresa's Unoaked Chardonnay), but produce several other outstanding varietals including sparkling wine, like the 2015 Balletto Vineyards Brut Rose, and Pinot Gris; for example, the 2020 Balletto Vineyards Pinot Gris Russian River Valley.

Wines currently available online from Bottle Barn including numerous award winners, having garnered gold medals and 90+ points from critics. Balletto’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs really stand out, and what could be a better expression of Sonoma County’s best wines. These include offerings from Sexton Hill Vineyard, the Winery Block (sourced from a special plot adjacent the winery), and even the Burnside Road Vineyard, that historic first planting, whose 2019 vintage won Gold at the 2021 Sonoma County Harvest Fair! The 2019 Sexton Hill won double gold, by the way.

Written By:

Charlie Leary

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