Ballentine Vineyards is located right across from St. Clement Winery however, you can only see their sign as you drive northbound on St. Helena Highway. There is no signage when you drive southbound – and do not mistake the pale metal warehouse type winery buildings as storage facilities for the nearby St. Clement Winery! They even make bumper stickers that say “Where the Hell is Ballentine Vineyards”! Betty and Van Ballentine run the winery, both of whom have wine making family history in the Napa Valley dating back to the early 1900′s. As the family story goes, the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco gave Betty’s parents a reason for leaving the “ruins” and they relocated to the Napa Valley. Their original vineyard land was purchased with gold coins! 20 acres surround the winery and tasting room and they own additional Napa vineyards. All fruit for their wines come from vineyards they own. The current winery dates from 1992 as before this they were solely grape growers, providing fruit sources for other well-known wineries including Caymus, Mondavi and Rombauer. They do still sell some of their grapes each year. The tasting is very low key and informal as it is all about the wine – no gift shops or music here! A tiny lab is even located near the actual tasting counter.
The tasting room is quite small but can fill up fast if a group or tour van drops by. They have earned a healthy reputation for their Chenin Blanc, which by the way is not a varietal often found at Napa wineries. This is a very dry wine and the 2007 version we tried has great aromatics with some stone fruit flavors including peach and just a touch of vanilla on the finish. However their focus is on red wines and they make excellent Zinfandels (several Zinfandel versions are made from separate blocks in their vineyards), and Syrahs. In fact they have a number of varietals available for tasting including 100% Cabernet Franc and 100% Petite Verdot which in the Napa area, are varietals not often made as stand alone wines. We really enjoyed their Zinfandel Port. Its not overly rich like some of the Zin ports we have tried, has great berry flavors with a long warm finish. You come to this winery when you are ready to try wines other than Cabernets as of the 13 wines available for tasting, only 1 was a Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition their prices per bottle are very reasonable.