Ballentine Vineyards consists of 3 properties including Pocai Ranch, Crystal Springs Vineyard, and the Betty’s Vineyard. The winery currently produces 10,000 cases of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah, with plans to also make Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Sirah in the near future. Proprietors Van Ballentine and Betty Pocai met when they were in elementary school and got married in the 1950s.
Betty’s family established vines on Pocai Ranch and Van owns vineyards between the towns of St Helena and Calistoga. In 1884, Libero Pocai, (Betty’s grandfather), left Lucca, Italy and moved to San Francisco, California where he married Maria Cristofani. After the 1906 earthquake, Libero and Maria bought 60 acres near the town of Calistoga in the Northern Napa Valley.
Soon after purchasing his property from T.H. Steele, Libero planted Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Gamay, and Charbono. In 1912, he built a winery and began making wine under the L. Pocai and Sons Napa Valley Wines label after the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st.
This was a time wine most of the Pre-Prohibition Napa wineries had long since shut their doors. The winery’s Zinfandel, Claret, and Gamay each won awards at the California State Fair during the 1940s and 1950s. Libero’s sons, Frank and Henry, ran the winery until 1963 when they began selling their grapes to other producers. Frank’s daughter, Betty, grew up on the family’s Pocai Ranch and went to school in Calistoga.
In 1920, John Ballentine, (Van’s father), bought 160 acres vineyards and a stone winery. After the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st, John was one of the first to bond a Napa Valley winery, which he named, Dear Park.
John made his first vintage under the Dear Park label in 1933 and persevered until 1959. During these years, Van was instrumental in assisting his father. After serving in the Navy during the late 1940s, he worked for the Christian Brothers for several years as well.
These were some of the most difficult years for small wineries, and the fact that they stayed in business is a testament to the family’s work ethic. David and Kinta Clark bought the production facility in 1979.
Luckily, this was not the end of Van’s career in the wine industry. In 1944, he bought what is now called Betty’s Vineyard just north of Greystone in the St Helena AVA. Additionally, in 1949, Van shrewdly bought a separate piece of land near Howell Mountain which he named Crystal Springs Vineyard.
Despite the long history of Van and Betty’s families in the Napa Valley, they have only been making wine under the Ballentine Vineyards label since 1992. Production facilities were built on the Home Vineyard 3 years later.
This historic Pocai Ranch is located northeast of the town of Calistoga off of Silverado Trail. Ballentine produces reserve wines under the “Bg” label with grapes from this property. This refers to the soil type which is classified as Bale gravelly loam. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, and Chenin Blanc are planted. Yields average 3 to 4 tons per acre.
Crystal Springs Vineyard is situated near the Howell Mountain AVA in the northeastern part of the Napa Valley. This property is planted with 16 acres of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot. The Syrah vines are some of the oldest in Napa.
The 25 acre Betty’s Vineyard is also the location of the couple’s winery and beautiful Victorian home. The vines are mainly Merlot, but some Syrah was recently added. 2002 was the first vintage of Betty’s Vineyard Syrah.
Ballentine Vineyards makes a number of different wines exclusively with grapes grown on the family’s 3 properties. Some of their recent releases include the 2003 Betty’s Vineyard Syrah, 2001 Syrah Old Vines, 2001 Integrity (blend of 58% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon), 2002 Zinfandel, 2001 Block 9 Zinfandel Reserve, 2002 Merlot, and 2003 Cabernet Franc.