(photo courtesy Balletto Vineyards website)
Half the fun is catching hot wine waves before they break, and World of Pinot Noir gives you plenty of opportunities to do just that. Take Balletto Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma. John Balletto ran one of the largest vegetable farms north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the late '90s El Nino storms and NAFTA were too hard to recover from. Luckily there were already some grapes planted, and today it's up to 600 acres of vines. Each year they keep 10% to make their wine and sell the rest of their fruit.
"This is our first visit to World of Pinot Noir, so I’m looking forward to being the new kid at the show, meeting a bunch of new people and showing off some awesome pinots," says Anthony Beckman, Balletto's winemaker. "I’m so happy with the 2014s that we are just releasing now and will be pouring. There’s also a group of friends who will be there, too, so I’m sure the evening after the pouring should be eventful. (As long as I make a noon flight the next day, it’s all good!)"
Fest-goers who make it to the Balletto table at the Friday tasting will sample what Beckman calls "a super fun lineup for the event. I’m starting with the 2014 Sonoma Coast blend called ‘18 Barrel.’ This might be the best—meaning most distinct, structured and age worthy—wine that I’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s a blend from my favorite three vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills area: Sexton Hill, Burnside Road and Cider Ridge. They are all are hillside, high-elevation plantings located about 10 miles from the Pacific. It’s a serious pinot. My second wine is from a warmer site, BCD Vineyard, and is a classic Russian River Valley wine with dark fruit and a nice weighty and hedonistic mid palate and finish. The third wine is a library release. I thought it would be fun to pour the very first vintage of Sexton Hill Pinot Noir (2011) right next to the most recently bottled vintage of Sexton Hill Pinot Noir (2014). These two wines together really show how nicely the Balletto Vineyards wines age. The tannins and grip on the 2011 have slowly mellowed and show a softer texture. The aromas have shifted away from the black tea/hibiscus tones that it had five years ago and that the 2014 is showing now."
Beckman wants to stress that "Balletto Vineyards is one of the few wineries in Russian River Valley that is 100 percent estate grown and estate bottled. That’s a huge advantage for us. I have been making Pinot Noir from the same estate vineyards for the last 10 years. We have complete control from pruning to bottling and everything in between. I can’t stress how important this is. I know all the good spots, the challenging spots, and at what flavor profile to pick each separate block. I can sense when to harvest grapes so they retain the right levels of natural acidity that give vibrancy to the wines. This knowledge comes only from working the same land year in and year out.
"Being an estate winery allows John Balletto, Balletto Vineyards founder and owner, and me to fine tune both the farming and the winery practices as needed. Our goal is to make distinct and bright Pinot Noirs that are lower in alcohol but still have the weight, structure, and balance reflecting our individual vineyards and, of course, are delicious to drink."
The varieties of delicious to drink will just keep growing since Balletto purchased a new Pinot Noir vineyard close to the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley. "New vines will be going in this spring, which is incredibly exciting," Beckman claims. "The site is hilly with all sorts of different aspects and slopes. Right now, in the early stages, it’s like a first date when you’re trying to figure out what exactly will make this site happy."
Of course, customer happiness is the most important, and at Balletto Beckman says, "In the end, I think that drinkability and yumminess are as important as it gets. If the bottle is not empty by the end of dinner with a guest trying to drip out the last drabs, then it failed as a wine. Balletto Vineyards wines are seldom left half full."