Napa Valley AVA
Today’s Ballentine Vineyards is still a hidden gem winery that produces excellent estate Napa Valley wines that are only sold in select, premium shops outside the winery.
While Ballentine Vineyards only dates back to 1992, it can be reasonably argued that the winery’s roots can be traced back more than a hundred years. Ballentine’s founders, Betty and Van Ballentine, are both descendants of Napa Valley pioneering wine families that had a hand in carving the reputation that Napa Valley has enjoyed for centuries.
Betty’s grandfather, Libero Pocai, emigrated form Italy and found his way to Napa Valley in 1906, when he purchased a sixty-acre tract that eventually became the State’s 115th bonded winery. Under the L. Pocai & Sons label, the winery reached its heyday during the 1940s and 50s. Van Ballentine’s father, John Ballentine, was one of the first vintners to apply for a new winery bond after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. He called his new winery Deer Park and became commercially successful selling a large number of varietals that were popular at the time.
Van Ballentine started working for his family’s winery as a youth and continued as a grower after Deer Park ceased operations around 1960. Through it all, he maintained a desire to return to the winery side of the wine business.
In 1992, Ballentine finally decided to revive his family winery and had a portion of his harvest custom crushed. In 1995, Van and Betty built a winery behind their 100 year-old farmhouse in Napa Valley. They also revived the original bonded winery number #3595 that was issued to Van’s father in 1933.
Today’s Ballentine Vineyards is still a hidden gem winery that produces excellent estate Napa Valley wines that are only sold in select, premium shops outside the winery. Ballentine Vineyards has won numerous medals and awards in competitions and is considered one of the rock-solid small wineries that are the true bases of the Napa Valley.
Van Ballentine always had the desire to get back into the winery business, and he believes wine was in his veins since he was a little boy (when he used to clean the inside of the fermentation tanks for his father). For many years, Van and Betty Ballentine sold their grapes to the likes of Caymus, Ravenswood, Rosenblum and Robert Mondavi, but the couple always felt there was more to the business than just growing grapes and tending vines. They also shared a true passion for the winery side of the business, but knew they had better be prepared to work hard if they wanted to be successful.
Today, Ballentine Vineyards consists of eighty acres of prime Napa Valley vineyards. The land is divided into three separate vineyard tracts. The long-standing Pocai Vineyard reaches between the Napa River and Silverado bought by her grandfather more than a century ago in 1906. The Fig Tree Vineyard, which was purchased in 1949, is located at the northeastern edge of the St. Helena appellation and is characterized by two fig trees that stand guard over the prized grapes (which produce some of Ballentine’s rarest estate wines). It is also a sentimental site, as one of the fig trees was a precious gift to Van Ballentine from a dear friend who brought it from her home town in Italy. The well known Betty’s Vineyard surrounds the present Ballentine Vineyards Winery, as well as the Ballentines’ residence that are both located on the property.
In 2012, Van and Betty’s son, Frank Ballentine, began a partnership with his aging parents to manage the Ballentine Family Estate Vineyards. Frank had always been passionate about food and wine, and now as he works shoulder to shoulder with winemaker Bruce Devlin, he enjoys exploring the incredible potential of his family’s vineyards and winery. He and Bruce have refreshed the family vineyards with strong science and employ innovative winemaking techniques to continuously provide their customers with new and different taste experiences in Napa Valley.
It is also important to note Ballentine Vineyards’ dedication to sustainable farming. The family’s focus has always been on producing the highest quality grapes possible and sustaining their traditions for generations to come. Ballentine Vineyards’ Winery was designed with sustainability in mind - to collect the rainwater from the rooftop, to then be used for frost protection and irrigation; the winery has been solar powered for over a decade; and the latest addition is a treatment plant that allows them to recycle every drop of water used in the winery.
We are proud to share Ballentine Vineyards with our Gold Wine Club members and celebrate the incredible legacy this pioneering family has built. Cheers!
Map of the area
About the Vineyard
All of Ballentine’s estate grown grapes come from two of Napa Valley’s most prestigious appellations, St. Helena and Calistoga. Both are located in what is considered the upper valley, at Napa’s northern end. The three separate vineyards that comprise Ballentine’s estates provide an excellent cross section of micro-climatization that is important to the style of wines that Ballentine Vineyards continues to produce.
The two sub regions (St. Helena and Calistoga) contain both mountainous and flat (valley) vineyards and are considered among the elite growing areas in Northern California. They occupy the eastern slopes of the Mayacamus Ridge and are subject to the same cool nights and sun-filled days that the rest of Napa Valley enjoys. Red varietals dominate the plantings, but an occasional white vineyard can be found in selected spots. Many of Napa Valley’s finest wines originate in this region that is held in the highest worldwide regard.
Napa Valley is not a large appellation, and is approximately just thirty miles long and five miles wide, yet it has a reputation as one of the world’s premier wine regions. Pioneer and settler George C. Yount is credited with being the first to grow wine grapes in Napa Valley back in the mid 1800’s, and by the end of the nineteenth century, there were more than 140 wineries in the area.
While the region grew, it also had a number of setbacks (Phylloxera infestation that killed many vines, Prohibition, and the Great Depression), but despite the downturns, growers and winemakers persevered. In the mid 1970’s, the region took a big step onto the world stage when Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon beat several famous French wine labels in a blind tasting at the prestigious Paris Wine Tasting in France.
Today, there are over 450 wineries that grow grapes in Napa Valley and there are currently 16 distinct viticultural areas considered sub-appellations of the Valley. Each is home to beautiful countryside scenery and legendary award-winning wines that make Napa Valley one of the world’s greatest destinations - especially for lovers of great wine, fantastic food, and beautiful views.
Bruce Devlin - Winemaker
Bruce Devlin may have started out wanting to be a brew master, but he is now an award-winning winemaker in Napa Valley. In fact, after a brief stint studying forestry at Humboldt State and photography at San Jose State, he ultimately earned his degree in Fermentation Science at UC Davis. It was here that he turned an interest in fermentation into a passion for science and winemaking.
Bruce’s start in the wine industry began in Germany while on a student work exchange program. He spent months working in the Pfalz at Weingut Reichsrat Van Buhl, a region known for their famous German Rieslings, and he developed a real appreciation for wine - winegrowing and winemaking. Bruce has also spent time in South Africa and Australia, with each destination helping him hone in on his unique style.
Twenty years ago, Bruce became the winemaker for Ballentine Vineyards, and he has crafted several high-scoring wines for the entity over the years. He also co-owns Three Clicks Wines and makes wine for Napa’s Glenwood Cellars. When not making wine or collaboratively managing the vineyards with Frank Ballentine, Bruce and his wife can be found cooking for friends, exploring Napa Valley, kayaking, or skiing the best slopes around the world.
Van and Betty Ballentine
Van and Betty Ballentine’s story is what Hollywood movies are made of. It follows the story of wine in Napa Valley, as both Van and Betty are descendants of pioneering families that helped shape Napa Valley into what it is today. They are the driving force behind Ballentine Vineyards’ award-winning wines and the winery’s ever-promising future and have continued to be an integral part of winery activities, lending their wisdom to their son, Frank Ballentine, General Manager of the winery, and longtime winemaker, Bruce Devlin. They also never tire of delighting guests with their amazing stories of good times and bad times while enjoying a glass of their estate grown Napa Valley wine.
Both Van and Betty were born on Napa Valley wine land - close to the same land they continue to farm today. They met in grade school and were high school sweethearts.
Van Ballentine is the son of John Ballentine, an Irish immigrant who purchased an old stone winery in Napa Valley in 1920 when it was actually illegal to produce wine. Van recalls that he was either seven or eight when he began helping his father around the family winery, and he even made wine as part of his father’s crew. Van’s small stature was also put to good use when it was discovered that he could fit through the small opening that allowed him to clean the inside of the empty fermentation tanks.
Before reviving his family business, Van’s career included a stint as the vineyard manager for the huge Christian Brothers facility, located just north of the town of St. Helena - a period that Van once described as “eye opening to see wines made on such a large scale.” It made him appreciate the fact that as a small winemaker, one tends to have a great deal more flexibility in making decisions about their wines.
Over the years, Van has remained true to his no-nonsense approach to wines, putting a good deal of emphasis on the fruit content and having stayed away from over-oaking the finished products. He has also impressively completed over sixty wine grape harvests, a number that puts him in rarefied air among Napa Valley growers and vintners. Van’s wife of many decades, Betty Ballentine, herself a descendant of the Pocai winery family, also has roots that run deep in Napa Valley. Betty is the granddaughter of Libero Pocai, an Italian immigrant who bought 60 acres of prime Napa Valley vineyards with gold coins in 1906 and made wine before Prohibition. He won some of the first wine awards in California and established the L. Pocai & Sons winery label.
Today, Van and Betty Ballentine, along with their son Frank Ballentine and winemaker Bruce Devlin, continue to produce delicious award-winning wines from their estate Napa Valley vineyards and they strive to provide their guests with an authentic experience of a working boutique family winery. Ballentine Vineyards is one of the few old small family wineries in Napa Valley, that is rooted in both its history and its future.
The wines of Ballentine Vineyards reflect a period of times past in Northern California and of an era that allowed Napa Valley to emerge as one of the great wine producing regions in the entire world. We hope you enjoy these special selections from a very special Napa Valley winery. Cheers!