Fourth generation farmer-turned-vintner, Giovanni Balistreri highlights Sonoma Valley’s diversity, authenticity and down to earth attitude that runs through this beautiful county, where the dramatic coastline meets giant redwood forests and rolling farmland. Across the county line from the well-known larger wineries of Napa Valley, Sonoma brings a fresh and personable experience where family is at the heart of everything.
Tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get into the wine industry?
I’m born and raised in Sonoma and my family have been in the Sonoma farming industry for 4 generations. My Mum also grew up on a dairy farm so it’s in the blood. After graduating high school, I met a friend of my Dad’s who wanted to set up a vineyard.
Tell us about The Original Russian River Valley Estate? When did it begin?
I joined my fellow founding partners Chris O’Neill, Barbara Sattler and Anthony Austin in 2008 to restore the property faithfully to its 1890s origins. Together we set up the joint venture of winery, restaurant and farm. I was named winemaker in 2012 and last year Ben Davies became our executive chef. We’re selling our wines just in in California and direct to consumers who also love our organic restaurant. Our farm also has a 1.25 -acre organic vegetable garden and we’re currently growing 9 acres pinot noir.
Tell us about your wine experiences you have on offer for guests? What makes you unique?
We offer a really authentic wine country experience and we compliment the food that we grow with the wine that we make. Our restaurant really elevates the wine experience by paring locally sourced and organic ingredients with our most exceptional wine. Make this 4-course meal a real treat! The Napa Valley used to be run by family owned wine makers. It has now become corporate and impersonal, whereas in Sonoma the people who have been growing the wines are very much there and present. Sonoma Valley is all about building brands and keeping things as authentic as possible. In 10 years’ time I want to set up a bed and breakfast experience for guests to fully immerse themselves in this beautiful region.
What is your favourite wine you make?
It has to be the 2014 Horseridge Pinot Noir – which was a winner at the 2016 Harvest Fair.
What would be your number one piece of advice to our guests coming to experience Sonoma?
Come with an open mind and get to know what’s so real and natural. You will get to meet the people who have made Sonoma what it is now. Come to appreciate the unique experience and how the destination is growing and changing. The diversity of Sonoma is such a great draw. The Pacific Ocean is 20 minutes to the west, skiing is 3 hours to the East and the buzz of San Francisco is 20 minutes to the south.
Rest your head
For authenticity, sophisticated design, attention to detail and their farm-to-table food, we love Farmhouse Inn. From £650 per night
Enjoy the ‘Wine & Farm-To-Table Food Pairing’ at Russian River Vineyards, from $50 per person. www.russianrivervineyards.com