By guest blogger, Doug Berlogar, Sales Director at William Cole Vineyards
Cabernet flows through William Ballentine’s veins. The fourth generation in a family of winemakers, his father’s side of the family has owned vineyards in California’s Napa Valley since 1922 and his maternal great-grandfather started a winery in the valley around 1906.
“I grew up surrounded by the production of, and love of, wine, and always knew that this is what I wanted to do,” says William, owner of William Cole Vineyards. Like his family before him, William’s winery is also located in Napa Valley—a place whose rich history is dominated by winemaking, and whose reputation as a winegrowing region is world-class.
A life in wine
Having grown up on the family vineyard, William studied business and finance, with enology and viticulture at college. After graduation, he built up experience at a number of prominent local vineyards, honing his harvesting and blending techniques. And when what is now the William Cole Estate—a nineteenth-century ghost winery in St. Helena—came up for sale in 1999, he snapped it up. “I used to play here as a child,” he says. “I want it to be the icon property for the Napa Valley.”
However, the winery had been closed since prohibition and re-opening its doors meant hard work. Keen to maintain the original integrity of the building, William and his wife, Jane, began an extensive renovation of the stone wine cellar, while moving into its top two floors with their children, Cole and Claire.
By 2004, with the renovation complete, the couple launched their first wine: the Cuvée Claire, named after their daughter. At $175 a bottle, William personally ensures the highest standards. “I’m the only one who touches the wine,” he says. “We barrel-age for over 30 months in 100 percent French oak. Then I blend the different lots until it’s absolutely perfect. We bottle and pack by hand. It’s a slow and gentle process. The priority is on the taste and on maximizing quality.”
In addition to the Cuvée Claire, the winery expanded its range in 2010 with a small production of Chardonnay, Cuvée Jane Marie—named after his wife. There’s also TEN, an exquisite blend of 10 Cabernet Sauvignon vintages. Each product is available only from the winery, meaning its audience is select, loyal, and, in return, treated exceptionally.
“I GREW UP SURROUNDED BY WINEMAKING. I ALWAYS KNEW THIS IS WHAT I WANTED TO DO”
A rich history
As well as producing superb wines, the beautiful William Cole Estate has been nominated for a place on the National Register of Historic Places. “People come for the wine and stay to see the place,” says William. “There is so much history and it’s crucial for us to continue telling its incredible story.”
It’s a story that starts in 1869, when businessman John Weinberger bought the original 240-acre estate and built a vineyard. In 1882, however, John’s death at the hands of an ex-employee meant that his widow, Hannah, took over operations—becoming the first female winemaker and owner in American history.
“She kept the winery going for 38 years until prohibition,” says William. “She passed away in the mid-1930s and her son sold the estate. The house’s grounds are just as historic and were designed by renowned landscape architect Thomas Church, the “godfather of landscape gardening.”
The winery is now open by appointment, and William’s goal has always been “to preserve its history and character.” The product comes first, though. “Making premium-quality wine in the area I love,” he says. “I was born to do it.”
Find William Cole Vineyards 2006 "Cuvée Clair" Cabernet Sauvignon at www.CellarAngels.com and help raise funds for great causes with proceeds.