WineGuyMike: Balletto–A Great American Wine Story


John Balletto is an embodiment of the American Dream, although this particular dream contains more wine than most.  An entrepreneur based in the Russian River Valley, located in Sonoma County, Balletto rose up from practically nothing to establish the Balletto Vineyards & Winery, which produces world-class wines.

Balletto’s story begins as a high school student with great promise.  He was a hard working standout track and football player with high hopes of a very promising collegiate career.  Unfortunately however, Balletto’s father succumbed to an untimely death when John was only 17.  The dreams of college ended quickly thereafter for Balletto, but his tenacity and willingness to work hard did not.  Like a true entrepreneur, he faced the adversity and shifted gears quickly, a quality that Balletto has proven masterful at doing throughout his life.

Facing the reality Balletto went to his mother, who had 5 acres of land, and with a $200 startup, he ventured into vegetable farming.  The business grew successfully, but the cost of leasing land became prohibitive so he sought out help from his former high school counselor, Pete Barbieri.  Balletto soon purchased his first ranch in Santa Rosa, California.  Balletto’s vegetable business expanded to 700 acres of land and was producing 70 varietals of vegetables, a total of 2 million cases of vegetables a year.

Balletto had become the largest grower north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but in 1994 and 1995, NAFTA drastically changed the vegetable business.  With the floodgates opened to the outside world to import their vegetables into the US, it became nearly impossible to sustain meaningful business.

In 1998 three successive El Nino storms decimated successive crops.  The vegetable farming business was finished, but Balletto was not.  He still had 35 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay grapes, planted on the western hillside of his ranch in Sebastopol, California.

John also had a mentor, Warren Dutton whose families farming history dates back to the 19th century. Dutton suggested that Balletto consider getting into the grape growing business and he did just that.
Balletto is now the largest vineyard owner in Sonoma County and produces wines under the Balletto Vineyards & Winery label.  In July 2010, the Balletto family was awarded the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year.

Mother Nature had taken its cruel El Nino swipe at John, but he never gave up.  It was a blessing in disguise as the climate of the Russian River Valley provides perfect grape growing conditions, foggy until late morning and then burning off making for sunny clear blue skies late into the day.

Balletto Vineyards & Winery produce wines that are food friendly, lower in alcohol, and high in acidity, which complements food well, never overpowering a dish.  The price point and quality of Balletto wines makes them a true consumer value.

Balletto Pinot Gris

This pale-straw colored wine opens with musky and exotic fresh fig and floral honey tones.  The secondary aromas reveal ripe red apple, melon and lemon.  In the mouth, it’s lush and perfectly viscous with a dose of tartness that balances and holds the wine together.

Balletto Chardonnay

A beautiful, golden-straw colored wine that has lush and heady aromas of honey, cream and mango that nicely compliment its brighter green apple and pear aromas.  There is a touch of spice and vanilla from oak ageing and a scent of Meyer lemon that foreshadows the wines crisp acidity.

Balletto Russian River Pinot Noir

This dark, garnet colored Pinot Noir exhibits floral aromas of rose petals intertwined with spice components of ginger, dusty earth and a hint of vanilla. Fruit aromas of raspberry and cassis form the core of the wine, and in the mouth, create a long, delicious finish.

The Balletto wines reviewed today all receive the WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval™.

From my table to yours,



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