Founder and owner John Balletto started the business after the untimely death of his father in 1977. When the family needed him the most, he put their needs before his own and relinquished several college athletic scholarship offers so he could stay home and help his mother, Hazel, run the small five-acre farm.
The Balletto family was determined to make the business a success, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s they purchased parcels of land to gradually increase vegetable production. One of those properties is where the Balletto Vineyards winery stands today.
By 1995, the Balletto family had grown the business into the largest vegetable farm in Northern California, growing more than 70 different vegetables on 700-plus acres. More than two million cases of mixed vegetables moved through the premises per year during its peak.
Despite the success, John and Terri, John’s wife, could foresee challenges presented by California’s growing water shortage and the vegetable business in general. While the two contemplated how to address the impending issues, good friend and neighboring farmer Warren Dutton of Dutton Ranch suggested the Ballettos start growing wine grapes, which are less water dependent compared to other crops they were farming at the time. Seeing a bright future for wine grape growing in Russian River Valley, John and Terri transitioned a small portion of their land to vineyards later that year.
Several years later, the Balletto family weathered several storms—literally and figuratively. In spring of 1998, three El Niño storms wiped out many of their vegetable plantings, causing nearly $2 million in damage. Additionally, economic hardships caused by a new NAFTA Agreement made the vegetable business increasingly difficult to navigate.
The Balletto family was determined to overcome the adversity and set its sights squarely on the wine grape growing business. The family already owned 35 acres of vineyards on their home ranch in the western hills of Sebastopol. Subsequently, they converted all of their vegetable farming land to estate vineyards over a three-year period—planting primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—and started selling fruit to well-known wine producers in Sonoma County.
After seeing the high-quality Russian River Valley wines crafted from their fruit by other wine producers, John and Terri decided to pursue winemaking under the “Balletto Vineyards” name. They saved one-tenth of the fruit for themselves—selecting the top 10 percent of quality—and in 2001 created the first vintage of Balletto Vineyards estate wines from Russian River Valley. The Ballettos crushed enough Russian River Valley fruit for 391 cases of Chardonnay and 689 cases of Pinot Noir that first year.