Would you like to try something a little different than the usual wine-tasting fare of the Napa Valley? Try Ballentine Vineyards! It’s a little more on the old-fashioned side, with down-to-earth folks running the winery and keeping a very low profile. The winery is just north of downtown St. Helena and almost directly across the street from the more notable St. Clements Vineyards. It is easy to miss because the winery sits back from the road and is not very visible. We have visited Ballentine a few times, and had the chance last week to revisit and have a tour and tasting with owner Van Ballentine and winemaker Bruce Devlin.
Van Ballentine and his father began making wine in 1944 across the Valley in Deer Park. Vineyards were purchased over time and presently there are 90 acres of vineyards planted in St. Helena and nearby Calistoga. They eventually sold the first winery building and moved Ballentine to its present location in 1992. Van has worked an unbelievable 60 harvests and I would have to think that is a record for the Napa Valley. Remarkable! Bruce Devlin was hired in 1999 as winemaker, and interestingly his wife Danielle is the head winemaker at St. Clements Vineyards directly across Highway.
The tasting room is small and quaint and there is no merchandise for sale. It is all about the wine. The tasting fee is $5 and the wines are priced at very reasonable prices, no cult Cabernet, nor exorbitant prices, to be found anywhere. Because this area of Napa Valley has the warmest climate of the Valley, the wines produced tend to be full bodied and loaded with fruit flavors. That is what we found in most of the Ballentine reds. We particularly enjoyed the Old Vine Zinfandel and the limited production Petite Sirah. One of the most interesting wines, and one definitely not to be missed, is the Chenin Blanc. This wine was once widely produced in California and is now a rare commodity in these whereabouts. The Chenin Blanc grape is from the Loire Valley in France, where it remains today a very popular wine. It is a wonderful wine to have with a picnic lunch, no matter what the weather. It is light and refreshing and such a change-of-pace from the usual and always available Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Give it a try at the Ballentine tasting room your next visit to the Napa Valley.