Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Sunny Autumn Day at Balletto Vineyards and Winery – Santa Rosa

The grapes have all been harvested, the vineyards are turning golden yellow and brown and we’re in the midst of the rainy season of Autumn. It is one of the more challenging times of the year for finding scenic shots in the vineyard. It had been raining the previous day and there was more overcast and rain was in the forecast, so with a one-day break of sunny weather I headed out to visit another winery, not far from the others I have recently visited - Balletto Vineyards and Winery in Santa Rosa.

Owner and founder of Balletto Vineyards and Winery, John Balletto, has been involved in farming since 1977, when he was only 17 years old.  After the passing of his father he began farming produce with help from his mother, Hazel, on five acres of land in Sebastopol, California.

In 1981, John purchased his first ranch in Santa Rosa. Later he and his wife Terri decided purchased a large piece of land in order to grow more vegetables and build a new produce packing facility which now hosts the winery and one of the larger estate vineyards today.

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 1999 with 35 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vineyards on their home ranch in the western hills of Sebastopol the farm land was then converted from vegetable land to a vineyard.

In 2001, the Ballettos crushed enough Russian River Valley fruit for 391 cases of Chardonnay and 689 cases of Pinot Noir.  In 2002, they again crushed small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir while adding Pinot Gris from their Burnside Road vineyard.  For the 2003 vintage, they added Zinfandel from the BCD Farms vineyard in the Russian River Valley. 

The Balletto Family has over 500 acres in the Russian River Valley and a select 10% of the grapes, from many different clones and soil types, are used to make their wine. The remaining 90% of their grapes are then sold to other wineries.

To honor their efforts and accomplishments, in July 2010, the Balletto Family was honored being awarded the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year.

One of the most unique features of the Balletto Vineyards is on the other side the duck pond behind the winery. Surrounded by chardonnay and pinot noir grapes is a four acre regulation size baseball field. One of the vineyard staff asked John Balletto if he would sponsor their league baseball team. The Balletto family then went above and beyond the request by setting aside four acres of land aside and donated the materials while the vineyard crew donated the labor to create this very unique playing field. If you visit the winery on the weekend during the spring and summer and venture behind the winery you will hear the sounds of bats cracking, occasional cheers and youths playing in the field.

Balletto Vineyards specializes in varietals that are best suited for the terroir such as Burgundian varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer,  Syrah and Zinfandel.

For a modest fee of $5 (waived with purchase) they offer a very generous line-up of wines.

My first was the 2009 Pinot Gris. On the very floral nose I picked up lemon zest, honeysuckle and on the palate this wine has a full tropical mouth feel followed by crisp acidity and great minerality on a very long citrus finish. A really nice wine for only $16.

My second wine was the 2009 Teresa’s Chardonnay. Fermented completely in stainless steel, green apples are followed by more lemon and citrus than what I tend to expect from Chardonnays. A very crisp Chard with great acidity. This wine sells for $20 yet I have tasted many like it in the $25+ range.

My third wine was the barrel fermented 2008 Estate Chardonnay. Aged in 100% French oak, this wine is a more robust and full bodied than the previous. On the nose I picked up butterscotch, hazelnut, canned pears and peaches, and crème brûlée followed by a touch of vanilla and lemon meringue pie. I think it was just the mood I was in as I’m on the hunt for a wines to pair with Thanksgiving Dinner, but I actually preferred this wine and yet it is $2 cheaper at $18 a bottle. I brought two of them home.

My fourth sample was the 2008 Gewürztraminer. This wine displays many of the characteristic that one would expect, Lychee fruit, guava, and green apples, and tangerines. On the palate it has a slight creamy feel, not quite as crisp as one would expect and a slight touch of sweetness on the finish. This wine sells for $17 a bottle.

I then transitioned to their red wines, varietals that this region is well known for.

My first was the 2009 Pinot Noir BCD Vineyard. A very fruit forward wine with jammy raspberries, strawberries, cherry candy, and cola with just a hint of spice on the finish. This wine sells for $34 a bottle.

My next wine was a step up, the 2009 Pinot Noir Winery Block Vineyard. Sweet roses and more white pepper on the nose than the previous Pinot and on the palate it has more blackberries and dark fruit, cinnamon stick and spice and isn’t quite as “fruity.” I preferred this wine and yet it sells for the same price at $34 a bottle.

My third red was out of the library, the 2005 Zinfandel. On the nose it is very earthy followed by dried figs, berry pie and spice. It is not as earthy on the palate, and it has more leather and tobacco notes. I wasn’t thrilled with this wine, but maybe it was a bad bottle. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Syrah. A big nose of violets, potpourri and herbs followed by blackberries and new leather. On the palate this wine is well structured with refined tannins and more coffee and mocha on the finish. A really nice wine for $24 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Balletto Vineyards and Winery
5700 Occidental Road  
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Phone: 1-707-568-2455

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