How it Began
In 2008, fourth generation farmer and aspiring winemaker Giovanni Balistreri, under the tutelage of award-winning winemaker Anthony Austin, set out to reclaim the rich history and enormous un-tapped potential of one of Sonoma County’s finest wine-making estates. The estate lies in the heart of the Russian River Valley and thus proudly and appropriately bears the Russian River Valley appellation.
The winemakers understood the potential of this small estate, but even more importantly, they had come to know the special region in which it sits. This was not a place to build a large, corporate winery to produce wine in high volume. It was a place where a careful, patient approach could produce world-class wine. And in the decade since, the venerable estate has been returning to its former glory.
A Light Touch
Excellent wine comes from excellent grapes. We see it as our job to keep a light touch in our process and to let the character of the fruit be expressed in the wine. It is the antithesis of a heavy-handed, tail-wags-the-dog process of chemical interference to nail a market-tested flavor profile.
This is why a hallmark of our process is small production runs of single-vineyard wines. This philosophy amounts to a very hands-on approach by the winemaker, and requires a solid foundation of skill as a farmer. Its more work, and not necessarily the most “efficient” way to make wine. But it's our way.
We don’t mystify the winemaking process. We are farmers, first and foremost. Gio, our winemaker, is a product of four generations of farmers, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. To produce great wine, you must first produce excellent fruit. And it is the essential character and flavor of that fruit, when it is harvested, that will determine its potential to become a superior wine.
There is no shortcut. You have to be there and manage the crop at every step. We are hands-on farmers, not only with our estate-grown grapes, but we also directly manage the farming of all vineyards from which we produce wine, whether we own the property or not. If we don’t farm it, we don’t make wine from it.
Giovanni “Gio” Balistreri is a product of four generations of Sonoma County farmers. Gio was seven years old when he went to work on his family’s dairy farm. Up at dawn each day with his Grandfather, Les, Gio did the chores and learned the skills of his family’s livelihood.
By the time Gio was set to leave for college, he already had ten years of practical farming experience. But Gio’s father Jack Balistreri had realized the potential of the family farm for growing wine grapes. So Gio and his father planted four acres of Pinot Noir grapes in Freestone, CA. With his first wine harvest already pending, Gio attended Fresno State University, where he majored in Agricultural business with concentrations in Winery Management, Wine Marketing, & Wine sales.
In 2008, Gio was tapped by legendary winemaker Anthony Austin to join a team that acquired Russian River Vineyards. Under Anthony’s tutelage, Gio learned the “light touch” approach to winemaking that has become a hallmark of Russian River Vineyards. Since then, Russian River Vineyards wines have won more than 200 medals, 75 of them gold.