It’s no wonder Balletto Vineyards won Best Pinot Noir. The Balletto family has been growing primarily Pinot Noir in west Sonoma County since 2001. Owner and founder, John Balletto, began what was the largest vegetable farm north of San Francisco, with more than 70 different vegetables on 700 acres of land in the late 1970s. In 1995, Balletto planted his first vineyards in Sebastopol, which led him to the start of Balletto Vineyards and first vintage in 2001. Today, the family-run estate produces more than 22,000 cases of wine from estate-grown vineyards.
Vice President and winemaker, Anthony Beckman, has been with Balletto Vineyards for 12 years. “I know where the vines are weak or strong. I look at it like coaxing—make sure nothing takes a left when it’s supposed to go right,” he says. “The personality of the wine is done in the field, and the job of the winemaker is to preserve the personality so it makes it to the bottle.”
At Balletto Vineyards, 60 percent of their production is Pinot Noir, followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The bright, fruity Pinot Noir is structurally like a scaffold, says Beckman. “It has a lot of volume without the weight. It’s not viscous, grey or sweet, but rather has acidity, fruit and tannins.” The winery offers eight different Pinot Noirs and 20 different bottling’s from the same vintage, each making a statement about what it means to farm estate-grown wines, or what a good wine entails.
Balletto Vineyard’s won best Rosé last year, and has been a favorite at Balletto for more than 15 years. And the Pinot Noir is largely responsible. The process includes whole cluster press, two-hour skin contact and light color from the Pinot Noir, then fermented like a white wine.
Balletto Vineyards recently acquired a new vineyard south of River Road—five acres of Pinot Noir—100 percent of which will go directly to the winery. The Balletto family grows more than 600 acres of grapes throughout the Russian River Valley, all but 10 percent going to dozens of wineries throughout the Sonoma County region. “I’m hoping to get four tons of Pinot Noir grapes from the new vineyard, 100 percent vineyard designate wine,” says Beckman. “It will be the first glimpse at what this vineyard will produce.”
Beckman’s years of perfecting his craft comes down to a few simple guidelines, says Beckman. “I’m making wines that make a statement. Unique wine, from a unique place, that tells the Balletto family story.”
For Beckman, working with the Balletto family is much like being a part of the family. “Everybody who works here is an extended family. We all take pride in the work we do,” says Beckman. “In my 12 years here, I’ve posted a job maybe twice—once people join the team, they stay.”
Balletto has had vineyard workers in the field for 20-plus years. “It’s the ideal of what it is to be a part of or have a family business.”
Cows grazing along hillsides and in seaside meadows are a picturesque and familiar sight in Marin and Sonoma counties. Dairy farms have been a local presence for more than 100 years, but thes...