Forty years ago, John Balletto created one of the largest vegetable farms in Northern California, which all began on his family’s five-acre property in west Sonoma County. Winegrapes followed 20 years later, when Balletto planted 35 acres in grapes on Burnside Road. By 2001, that grow yielded 200 cases of Chardonnay and an equal number of cases of Pinot Noir. Today, more than 600 acres of premium winegrapes—all in the Russian River Valley—are grown by the Balletto team, much of it sold to two dozen other Sonoma County wineries.
It’s those luscious Pinot Noir grapes that are responsible for Balletto Vineyards’s 2016 Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir, which received the Best Rosé award this year. Approximately 4,800 cases of the wine have been produced.
“The grapes grown for this rosé come from a sandy and silty loam that is well drained,” explains Balletto. “The elevation is only 80 feet to about 150 feet above sea level. The vineyards are between 8 and 17 years in age and the clones of Pinot Noir are 667, 777, and 115––all French Dijon.”
When picked and made correctly, says Balletto Winemaker Anthony Beckman, Pinot Noir has intrinsic qualities that can make world-class rosé. “The grape is full of acidity, especially early when the sugar content is low, and it has a pretty salmon color when lightly whole-cluster pressed. It’s loaded with perfume and bright fruit. Few other varietals can make rosé with such booming aromatics and still have balance with acid and texture.”
Balletto Vineyards wine is 100 percent estate-grown and estate-bottled, adds Beckman. Every drop of wine comes from vineyards the Balletto family farms and controls in the cool southern third of the Russian River Valley. “The area is renowned for producing some the world’s best Pinot Noir, and this rosé fits right into the mold,” he says.
Its quality and distinctness stem from Balletto Vineyards’ commitment to growing and producing rosé. Every year, the rosé comes from vineyard blocks specifically farmed for rosé because of their brightness and soft tannin profile. “The grapes are loaded whole cluster into a wine press and gently squeezed to minimize skin extraction,” says Beckman. “The light pink juice is fermented completely dry and then bottled early the following year. There is no malolactic fermentation, and the wine is sterile-filtered prior to bottling.”
Making great rosé requires significant focus. “Because the wine is so light and delicate, every mistake shows,” he explains. “There’s little room for error, and this begins with the farming and picking date all the way through the fermentation and bottling. During the peak of fermentation I will stop and smell each lot at least twice daily to make sure everything is on track and that the aromatics are still pretty and fresh.”
If rosé veers off track, Beckman adds, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. “So I spend a good amount of time monitoring temperatures, yeast health, fermentation rate, and most important, how it smells and tastes. This rosé of Pinot Noir has intense and pretty aromas. They are supported with perfectly weighted texture, finesse and an electric vein of acidity that keeps it crisp, balanced and enticing. This is what rosé is all about.”
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