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2015 BEST Pinot Noir: Balletto Vineyards

Author: Juliet Porton
May, 2015 Issue

“We have vineyards that are a half mile or a mile apart and the wines they produce couldn’t be more different.” —Anthony Beckman

Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa is drawing on deep connections to its estate vineyards to produce outstanding wines, including Pinot Noirs that have been voted BEST Of by NorthBay biz readers for two years in a row.
John Balletto began farming in Sonoma County in 1977, starting on five acres and slowly acquiring additional land until he was growing produce on more than 700 acres. He first planted 35 acres of winegrapes in 1995, but the idea of making wine on a larger scale was a far-off dream until 1998, when several El Niño rainstorms and changing regulations accelerated the switch. By 2001, he was supplying grapes to several wineries and decided it was time to produce a wine of his own. Today, Balletto grows grapes on 640 acres, and 10 percent of those grapes are used for his own label, with the remaining 90 percent grown for more than 25 other wineries.
Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman, who joined the winery in 2007, believe that working with estate grown grapes has been a huge advantage, as the team has accumulated knowledge of each block, row and vine in its 15 vineyards. They’re able to work with each vineyard year-round and make any necessary changes on the front end, so the harvested product is already the best it can be.
“You’re trying to make the wine in the field as much as you can,” says Balletto. “It’s so important that you bring in grapes that are balanced for the winemaking process.”
Pinot Noir can be a particularly challenging grape to grow and work with, but that’s part of what Beckman says he finds most interesting about it.
“I always talk about Pinot Noir being this expressive grape and, if you make a very minor change, way down low, it makes dramatic changes in the finished wine,” says Beckman. “We have vineyards that are a half mile or a mile apart and the wines they produce couldn’t be more different.”
Balletto’s 2012 “BCD Vineyard” Pinot Noir and the 2013 “Sexton Hill” Pinot Noir, for example, are both single-vineyard, estate wines. Both are Gold Medal winners from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and they’re grown just 10 miles apart.
BCD Vineyard is located in the Santa Rosa plains, with gently rolling hills, about three miles north of Balletto’s winery on Occidental Road, just before you get to the coastal mountains. It produces a Pinot that’s velvety and soft with a beautiful aroma to greet you.
“BCD always makes what I consider our luscious style of Pinot,” says Beckman. “It has big, broad shoulders, a silky texture, the core values of good acidity and moderate alcohol, and is just a little bit friendlier and completely pleasurable.”
Eight miles southwest is the Sexton Hill vineyard, sitting low on a Northwest sloping hillside with little direct sunlight in the morning but full sun in the afternoon. It produces a bolder wine with black tea, earthy aromas and a longer finish.
“This one has a totally filling mouthfeel and has grip, texture and tannins,” says Beckman. “It’s luscious, but not in the silky way BCD is.”
Asked about this recognition, Balletto is quick to praise his close-knit and loyal team, who work hard and take pride in everything they do. That large team includes vineyard manager Manuel Vallejo, operations manager Garth Harding, assistant winemaker Ian Bearup and administrative services manager Monica Hunter. Balletto’s wife, Terri, is involved in many aspects of the business, and daughters Jacqueline and Caterina help out whenever they can.
“We want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for voting for us again,” says Balletto. “Our motto is, ‘One customer at a time for life.’ For us, it’s all about the wine, the people and sharing that together.”



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