Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ballentine Vineyards

Our visit to Ballentine Vineyards was delightful, thanks to David, our host, and to a very good, interesting and affordable line of wines.  Ballentine is located north of St. Helena on Highway 29 just north of Charles Krug.  The owners, Betty and Van Ballentine, came from families with a long history of wine making in Napa Valley. Betty’s grandfather arrived in California in 1884 from Italy and later, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, moved to Napa Valley and founded L. Pocai and Sons Napa Valley Wines.  It was the 115th bonded winery in the state.  The Pocai ranch is the current source of Ballentine’s Merlot grapes.  Van’s father came to California from Ireland in 1910 and purchased an old winery founded in 1891 with its 160 acres that was abandoned during prohibition. His first vintage came in 1933 from Ballentine’s Deer Park, selling the winery in 1979.   The current vineyards that contribute to Ballentine Vineyards are the old Pocai Vineyard near Calistoga, The Crystal Springs Vineyards near the base of Howell Mountain and Betty’s Vineyard which is next to the winery and the 100-year-old Ballentine home.  So Ballentine is a family winery in every sense of the word, with a long family history rooted in Napa Valley.  On their web page, they describe the history in much more detail. They have a small tasting room that requires reservations because of community regulations, but you can often check in at the last minute to see if they can fit you in.  They do get big bus tours so this is not always possible.

Bill and David in the tasting room

Ballentine is well known for their Chenin Blanc and are one of the few Napa Valley wineries to produce this varietal.  We wanted to focus mostly on the reds, though, this time but did try the Ballentine 2010 Malvasia Bianca at $24 because it is so rarely found in Napa Valley.  This had a light nose with refreshing crisp citrus fruit on the palate that was fairly dry.  This is a poolside summer sipping wine, but it is also interesting and somewhat exotic. It also comes in a carbonated version called Frizzante. Our reds began with the Ballentine 2006 Betty’s Vineyard Syrah which had plenty of fruit, as Syrahs should, but was not overwhelmingly fruit forward.  It was quite nice for $23.  We were told that Ballentine is noted for their Zinfandels and is at the annual ZAP or Zinfandel Festival.  Unfortunately they were out of the 2009 Block 9 but we were able to sample the Ballentine 2009 Zinfandel Old Vines at $25 which was very well balanced, with good fruit, some spice (pepper)  and very nice overall presentation and a good finish.  It has 10% Petite Sirah and 4% Syrah added.  This is an excellent Zin for the money and one that is hard not to like. The Ballentine 2008 Cabernet Franc was next and it was one of the better Napa Valley Cab Francs but at only $29.  With an interesting, complex nose, dark cherry on the palate with delightfully integrated tannins, it also has a decent finish.  Not to be ignored, however, is a excellent Ballentine 2009 Petite Sirah Fig Tree Vineyard at only $28.  This one was well balanced with plenty of substance, blackberry fruit and lovely integrated tannins.  It is very drinkable now and should pair well with food. We couldn’t resist trying the 2006 Petit Verdot at $38.  Yes, one of the classic five of Bordeaux blends, but this time as a 100% varietal.  It was interesting and well worth trying, although I’ve never been convinced that Petit Verdots can stand totally on their own, although they have great color and are certainly interesting to taste.  Still, I admire a winery that offers it.

Entrance to Ballentine's tasting room

When we return I’d like to try the Chenin Blanc plus the Merlot, Block 9 Zin and the two Cabernet Sauvignons, the regular and reserve.  All of the wines we sampled were very good for the price, with the Petite Sirah and Cab Franc perhaps being our favorites, closely followed by the Zin.  But each was enjoyable.  Ballentine Vineyards is certainly worth a visit (and a return visit) for their interesting line up of very good wines at reasonable prices and their excellent service.

2820 St. Helena Highway North
St. Helena, CA 94574
Date of Visit: July 25, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.