Balletto mainly grows grapes. They keep ten percent for their use. And their wines are pretty terrific. Not to mention reasonably priced. All their wines are estate grown and bottled, with a Russian River Valley AVA designation. And the best word to describe their wines is unusual. You will find aromas and flavors that, in our experience, are unique.
Balletto’s 2016 sauvignon blanc ($19) is a little heavy on the grapefruit for our taste, but with nice, unusual lemon-lime undertones.
Their 2016 “Teresa’s” chardonnay ($20) features tropical fruit and green apple, again, quite unusual.
A 2016 gewürztraminer ($19) was heavy on lychee nuts and ripe pear, lacking much of the traditional spice. Nutty aromas make this another unusual, but not bad, wine.
We’ve always had problems with pinot noir rosé. Usually most of the pinot character is lost with the coloration. But Balletto’s 2016 offering ($18) shows good pinot character, both in the nose and on the palate. This is a major bargain and just the thing for upcoming warm summer evenings.
Their 2014 pinot noir ($29) is a blend from seven vineyards. Aromas of dark fruit with a hint of leather. The palate is an explosion of juice, with a lush butterscotch. finish. Another bargain.
A single-vineyard pinot noir, the 2013 “Burnside” ($42), was lighter with less fruit, more tannins and more oak than the blend. This will improve with age.
Finally, the 2013 zinfandel ($28) was another delightful surprise. Aromas of brambleberries, followed by a soft palate, a small hint of spice, and an overall very nice experience.
The Winery and Its History
To understand the Balletto winery you need to know something about the Balletto family. In 1977 John Balletto started growing vegetables at the tender age of 17. The untimely death of his father sidetracked his college ambitions. With the help of his mother Hazel, he planted produce on five acres in Sebastopol.
The business grew. With the help of Pete Barbieri, the family bought a ranch in Santa Rosa. The business continued to expand. John started leasing land, but quickly realized that fluctuations in lease rates did not make for a stable business environment. With his wife Terri he bought a large parcel at 5700 Occidental Road and built a packing and shipping house. That building is the winery tasting room today.
The Ballettos eventually became the largest vegetable grower north of the Golden Gate with 700 acres under cultivation. But losses caused by three successive El Niño storms combined with competition from Mexico after NAFTA was signed convinced them that there was no future in that market. Luckily they already had 35 acres of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot gris on their home ranch west of Sebastopol. The family began the full-blown conversion to grape growing in 1999. Today they have over 500 acres in the Russian River Valley. In July 2010, the Balletto Family was honored being awarded the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year.
There are actually three vineyard sites. The Santa Rosa Plains are a few miles west of Santa Rosa. Sebastopol Hills is southwest of the town of Sebastopol. And they now have a vineyard in the Petaluma Wind Gap, an up-and-coming region featuring very cold, windy conditions.
Some days we get lucky. We feel very fortunate to have stumbled onto Balletto. They have terrific wine and a fabulous story.