Our Team

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. 

Farmers First

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.  

Our Winemaker

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.  

Giovanni Balistreri

Gio took the helm as RRV’s winemaker in 2012. The result has been a steady stream of remarkable wines. In 2014, Gio received the “Best Winemaker” award in the North of the Gate Wine Competition. In 2016, he won the “Best Red Wine in Sonoma County” award at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.  In early 2019, the North Bay Biz Magazine reader’s poll named Russian River Vineyards estate-grown Pinot as the “Best Pinot Noir”. This year, RRV wines have already won at least one gold medal in five different competitions.

Through it all, the Balistreri Family Vineyard has continued to thrive, and fittingly, the wines produced from that vineyard have been added to the Russian River Vineyards portfolio. It seems that Gio has found his true calling, and at Russian River Vineyards, we feel very fortunate that he found it here.

On most days, you can find Gio at our tasting room, although that may not be case around harvest time.  But Gio loves to hear feedback, especially from those who enjoy the product he works so hard to create.  So feel free to come by and meet him.

On most days, you can find Gio at our tasting room, although that may not be case around harvest time.  But Gio loves to hear feedback, especially from those who enjoy the product he works so hard to create.  So feel free to come by and meet him.

The Russian River Valley

The Russian River Valley is one of the world’s greatest winemaking regions.  Although it is often overshadowed by the more celebrated Napa Valley in the world of wine enthusiasts, the true devotees of great wine are very familiar with the magic of this valley.  So it was with the new owners of Russian River Vineyards just over a decade ago.  They set out to make the most of an incredible environment to make great wine.

What Makes it Special

The region boasts a rare combination of climate attributes.  It enjoys warm summer days which are important for sugar production in grapes, but its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and the Russian River itself, keep it cool at night via transmission of cold air and fog from the ocean.  The cool night temperatures preserve the acidity in the grapes.  This combination of warm days and cool nights allows farmers to achieve and maintain the delicate balance of sugar and acid.  That balance is a hallmark of quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, and some of the world’s best wines made from those varietals can consistently be found here, vintage after vintage.  These attributes, combined with rich and diverse soil conditions, make the Russian River Valley a winemaker’s dream.   

"Wine is sunlight, held together by water"

- Galileo Galilei