The Road Taken-Balletto Vineyards

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…*

So begins the frequently referenced Robert Frost poem which alludes to choices made, paths traveled, destinies missed and revealed. When John Balletto was a very young man, he was forced to choose a path that would, again, diverge. Through trials and tenacity, his choices would eventually make it into our glasses.

Due to the loss of his father, Balletto left the path leading to collegiate football fields for those yielding produce. He began farming in Sebastapol in 1977, bought his first ranch in Santa Rosa in 1981. Eventually he had 700 acres of vegetables which made him the largest producer north of San Francisco. But as is often the case in agriculture, only so much is in the farmer’s control. After losing his plantings for three consecutive years, he chose to modify his path in 1999 and focus on vineyards instead of vegetables. 2001 was their first crush, a prolific harvest which produced over 1000 cases.  They now farm 600 acres, selling 90% and keeping 10% to produce their own wines, Balletto Vineyards

I recently sampled four of their wines, two Chardonnay and two Pinot Noir, classic Russian River Valley varieties. Unoaked to moderately oaked, each sustainably grown on estate vineyards.

There is a trend toward unoaked Chardonnay and I am a fan. The 2015 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay was full of tropical and yellow apple notes with great acidity. Brilliant, lively, and full without being heavy. We opened it and the 2013 Cider Ridge Valley Chardonnay which received 18 months of French oak, 25% new. With the addition of oak, the acidity is softened, the aromatics heightened, the complexity soars.  It was an even split on preference for the group. Paired with a salad with chicken, avocado, bacon, and curry dressing, each wine worked but the oaked wine held up to the smoky bacon better.img_7081

I was looking for the right opportunity to open both of the Pinots for another comparison. A last-minute Saturday stop-by with neighbors was just the occasion. The 2014 Russian River Valley was full of rich red fruit notes, red raspberries and a red candy apple. With only 36% finished on new oak, the fruit remains the star of the show. After each sip, your palate is cleansed with acidity, each keeps you coming back for more. A great transitional wine to carry you from summer to fall, winter to spring, or any time.

The 2014 BCD Vineyard  sees a bit more oak which is evident, but the bigger is shift is away from the red fruit and more towards the black fruits. Deeper, richer in color and on the palate, with hints of clove and orange peel, it is late fall and holidays, fireside comfort and cozy blankets Pinot.img_7209

Before the final stanza of the poem, Frost reminisces and wonders:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:”*

While sharing a glass of the Pinot with my husband, I read to him to story of John Balletto. I wondered aloud about his journey, how he looks back at that those defining choices. I thought about those moments in life when we are forced to leave behind dreams or resent the closed door. About how we react to the door, more than the act of closing it, defines us, About how it is often not the moment of decision but all of the choices made, day after day, that carry us to a future we can’t even imagine. I thought about how sometimes God plants a seed of desire, or a seed of rejection, and how a sprinkling of seeds can become a harvest beyond measure.

Balletto has come full circle on his path. Not back to the football field , but the baseball field. In response to a request from his vineyard staff, he not only sponsored their baseball league, he gave them a place to play. Dubbed their “Field of Dreams,” you’ll find a four-acre field, not in the cornfields, but in the vineyards.

Somewhere, ages and ages hence, Balletto’s children and grandchildren, will be sharing a glass of Pinot, hearing the story of how the winery came to be. Perhaps his story of diverging roads will inspire and fortify them. His story struck me, moved me, and is one I will carry and share with a sigh and a toast.

{Many thanks to Benson Marketing Group for sending these media samples. I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

*Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920;, 1999. [Date of Printout].

Photo credit: Adam Fagen




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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

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