by Sergio Sismondo


This winery can claim family ownership and wine making experience of over one hundred years. In 1906 Libero Pocai arrived in Calistoga. He was from Lucca, Tuscany, a world famous center for the production and distribution of wines and olive oil. Libero Pocai made the purchase of sixty acres of prime growing land in the valley. He planted Zinfandel, Merlot, Charbono, Petite Syrah and Gamay, and went on to bottle wine under the label "L. Pocai and Sons", which was also the name of the winery. His two sons were Frank and Henry. They worked with their father in this great venture. The winery has been a continuing family business since then. At times the owners concentrated their effort in the grape growing business, and at other times in the wine-making part of the business. The owners of the winery today are Betty and Van Ballentine. Betty, born in St. Helena, is one of the two daughters of Frank Pocai. Her husband Van is the son of Irish immigrant John Ballentine, who arrived to the Napa Valley in 1920 and proceded to purchase one hundred and sixty acres of prime growing land. John Ballentine developed a successful winery under the name

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of Deer Park. John's son Van continued the family business, producing a variety of wines including Zinfandel, Cabernet, Claret, Riesling and Sauternes. The current winery was built by Van and Betty Ballentine in 1995. Much of the grape they use is still grown on the land originally purchased by their enterprising ancestors.

This splendid and historical winery is located on the east side of the St. Helena Highway, north of St. Helena, towards Calistoga. Bruce Devlin is wine maker, always jovial and informative. Bruce has been collecting an impressive array of awards, accolades, and prizes for his wines -- all well deserved, in our view. The tasting room is operated by wine expert Kearna Hall. Kearna is friendly, helpful, informative, and gives visitors a genuine feeling of being welcome. We highly recommend a visit to this splendid winery, and especially a careful tasting tour through the big reds offered.

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Van Ballentine and Sergio Sismondo


This year we sampled a great range of wines: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Petite Syrah, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Zinfandel. There was also a Late Harvest Cabernet-Sauvignon which we did not rate (generally we do not give ratings to dessert wines). All the wines were excellent, and we rated them in the upper eighties and nineties. Following is a table with our ratings for recent and current releases.

Cabernet Franc Pocai Estate 2001 89
Cabernet Franc Pocai Estate 2002 90
Cabernet Franc Pocai Estate 2003 91
Cabernet Franc Pocai Estate 2004 91
Cabernet-Sauvignon 1998 91
Cabernet-Sauvignon 2004 92
Chenin Blanc 2003 86
Chenin Blanc 2004 86
Chenin Blanc 2005 90
Chenin Blanc 2006 90(4)
Merlot, Cab-Franc "Integrity", 2000 90
Merlot, Cab-Franc "Integrity", 2001 89
Merlot Napa Valley, 1999 89
Merlot Napa Valley, 2001 87
Merlot, Pocai Estate, Napa Valley, 2002 91(3)
Petite Sirah 2820, 2001 88
Petite Sirah Nichelini Vineyard 2002 89
Petite Sirah 2004 93
Petite Sirah, Fig Tree Vineyard 2005 93
Petite Verdot 2004 94
Petite Verdot   2004 94
Bg Red Table Wine Pocai Estate(1) 1999 90
Sangiovese 2820, 1999 88
Sangiovese 2820, 2000 87
Syrah, Estate, 1999 90
Syrah, Estate, Old Vines, 2000 89
Syrah, Betty's Vineyard 2002 89
Syrah, Betty's Vineyar 2003 89
Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 1999 89
Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2000 88
Bg Zinfandel Pocai Estate (1)(2) 1999 90
Bg Zinfandel Pocai Estate 2000 90
Zinfandel, Block 9, Reserve 2000 90
Zinfandel, Block 9, Reserve 2001 89
Zinfandel, Block 11 2003 92
Zinfandel Block 11 2004 92
Zinfandel Block 11 2005 91
Zinfandel Old Vines 2002 90
Zinfandel, Block 11, Old Vine 2003 91
Zinfandel Port 2003 90
Zinfandel Port 2004 91

(1) Bg stands for "Bale gravelly-loam", a type of soil flanking the Napa River, on the base of its ridges, which is characterized by its well drained structure. A part of the original land purchased in 1906 by Libero Pocai is of such terrain. Yields tend to be low on this type of soil. The fruit is concentrated and makes dense wines. The Bg Red Table Wine is made from a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc grapes.

(2) The Bg Zinfandel, Pocai Estate, was awarded "Editors Choice" by the Wine Enthusiast, 2004.

(3) This big and characteristic Napa Merlot won the "Gold Star Award" for exceptional merit, by SANT¨¦, The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals. It was also listed among the TOP TWELVE Merlot wines in America, by Wines & Spirits magazine. Priced at $22, it is certainly a world class bargain.

(4) This tasty Chenin Blanc was listed in the Wine Enthusiast among the "Best Buys". Priced at $15.00, it is a bargain indeed.



Our choice for best wines tasted in 2006 goes to the three varietals:

  • Cabernet Franc 2003, 100%, from the Pocai Vineyard, rated by us 91. (Last year our choice for best red wine was the Cabernet Franc of 2002, rated 90.)
  • Petite Syrah 2004, field blend, mostly Petite Sirah, but also some Zinfandel, Carignane and Syrah included, from St. Helena, rated by us 93.
  • Petite Verdot 2004. Rated by us 94.


  • Our first choice for the best red wine tasted in 2005 was the Zinfandel from Block 11, priced at a modest $25, and with our rating of 92. Aside from the intrinsic quality of this wine, rich, complex, and superbly balanced, it is also an exceptional buy from the point of view of price. Our recommendation is to buy some of this -- as we did.
  • Our first choice for the best red wine tasted in 2004 was the Bg Zinfandel, Pocai Estate, of 1999. This wine, made entirely with grapes from the Pocai Vineyard Estate, is priced at $27 and our rating was 90.
  • Our second choice for the best red wine tasted in 2004 was the Cabernet Franc of 2002. This wine, also made entirely with grapes from the Pocai Vineyard Estate, is priced at $24 and our rating was 90. It is a captivating wine, with our strong recommendation to buy (we did).
  • Our "Best value for money" choice goes to the Zinfandel, Napa Valley, of 1999, priced at $18 and which received our rating of 88.
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Bruce Devlin - Winemaker and Marion Johnson - Hospitality/Sales


  • Our choice of the best red wine tasted in 2003 was the Syrah, Estate Grown, of 1999. This wine was priced at $25 and our rating was 90.
  • Our "Best value for money" choice goes to the Zinfandel, Napa Valley, of 1998, priced at $16 and which received our rating of 89.

Speaking with wine maker Bruce Devlin about Zinfandels, we learned of a fine and dense Zinfandel wine made by Ballentine, vintage of 1993, which still holds and grows in the bottle. We purchased some, and can put it in our recommended wines list. It sells for $30 per bottle. There is a limit of three bottles per customer.

The Zinfandels sampled are included in the extensive Zinfandel listing in this web site, in the section "Wine Listings / California - Zinfandel".

For more information see