Napa Valley’s Kira Ballotta makes ‘Woman Power Wines’ in an effort to bring more sustainability to winemaking

Napa Valley winemaker, Kira Ballotta at a local vineyard. Photo courtesy of Kira Ballotta and Cantadora Wines.

Woman Power Wine could be the best way to describe Cantadora and Olivia Brion wines as they were featured at a special launch party event at Taub Family Outpost on Sept. 1. The woman behind Cantadora & Olivia Brion is winemaker and entrepreneurial visionary, Kira Ballotta. Her goal is not only to honor and spotlight women but to also work with women-owned businesses and vendors.

Bottle of Cantadora Wines featured at the Sept. 1 wine tasting at Taub Family Outpost in Sonoma, CA. Photo by Jonathan Farrell

“Luxury products, like wine, should not hurt the earth,” said Ballotta. “High-end products like wine, they are delightful, but they are optional,” added Ballotta. “And, as our society moves from a resource rich planet to a resource compromised one, we must be constantly mindful of these choices.” 

While the number of women at the helm at wineries has increased over the years, according to Forbes, and studies conducted by Santa Clara University, of the 4,200 bonded wineries in California, only 14 percent had a woman as their lead winemaker. Of that 14%, only 4% are in ownership roles. Ballotta is part of changing that, she is winemaker, founder and owner at Cantadora Wines

She sources only organic grapes for Cantadora and Olivia Brion and is persistent that everything she oversees in the winemaking process is sustainable. When she looks at a vineyard site she not only sources organic grapes and builds relationships with committed growers, but questions “does it make sustainable sense to grow grapes here?”. 

 In the winemaking industry, especially in years past, “I’ve seen the steamroller attitude and approach,” she said. That’s not how Ballotta operates or conducts business. 

As a prized crop of monoculture, the local history of grape-growing and winemaking has been the domain of family dynasties and traditions passed on from one generation to the next. But when the corporate sector recognizing the growing tourism element made its way into the Napa/Sonoma region, the impact was dynamic. 

With a grape crop failure in France in the 1980s, the Napa/Sonoma Valley was then poised to rival the wineries of Europe. The corporate sector took advantage as the Napa/Sonoma area gained fame, changing it from then on.

SF Bay Area artist, Cynthia Tom is featured on a bottle of Cantadora Wines 2019. Photo courtesy of the artist and Cantadora Wines.

Family-owned wineries were up against savvy corporate entities with resources that a family operated winery didn’t have. Gone were the days of “a little old winemaker” and the informal sleepy demeanor of wineries. Wineries were now event venues like Mondavi, mixing art, music, entertainment and Michelin star gourmet food with wine, all into one. 

With a recent influx of wineries popping up in many places throughout the United States and other parts of the world, Ballotta had this to say. “Just because someone can grow grapes just about anywhere doesn’t mean the grapes should be grown there or are ideal for wine.” 

Ballotta explained that there’s a reason why an area or particular spot is ideal for growing grapes for wine. “There has to be a water source, in addition to the soil the climate has to be less humid which is conducive to growing a grape that’s fit for winemaking”.

This is why she seeks out specific wine grape grown inareas like Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. Or, like ones she works with in the Russian River area of Sonoma County and Santa Cruz mountains for Olivia Brion

“For example, she said, if the air is too humid, mold can affect the grape; if there isn’t a large enough swing in temperature the wine can be flat and fairly simple in structure. It’s a delicate balance and not everyplace can be ideal for it.” 

As climate change and drought take center stage in California, Ballotta keeps her eye on the future. She knows the importance of precipitation and she understands that the sustainable growing of grapes doesn’t cause wells to run dry. Or, as is the issue with many agricultural areas, that the water used doesn’t take away resources for other important things.

On top of sustainable grape sourcing and business stewardship, Ballotta wants to build community through stories and wine. This is why she is featuring local women and their significant contributions on the label of Cantadora Wines. The name ‘Cantadora’ translates to ‘storyteller.’ Each exceptional woman featured has an important life-story to tell. 

Among the women featured on each vintage is surreal artist, Cynthia Tom. “I am so honored to be among them and for my art work to be recognized in this way,” she said. Just like the care and detail that goes into each bottle, “Cynthia’s work is unique,” said Ballotta.

One of the flight of wines selected for that evening of Sept 1 at Taub Family Outpost in Sonoma, CA. Photo by Jonathan Farrell

“Much of Cynthia’s work is about helping women transform heartache to resilience,” noted Ballotta. “Her art is described as ‘cultural surrealism’ and is part of the permanent collection, at The Smithsonian entitled ‘What is Feminist Art.’ She started ‘A Place of Her Own’ in service to others seeking to heal from generational trauma. She uses visual art as a conduit in that process. Cynthia’s wine is 80% Mourvèdre and 20% Syrah and was chosen by Cynthia to be most reflective of her.

The second bottle in the line-up features Sonia Melara as “The Protector”, the co-founder of California’s first domestic violence shelter, La Casa de las Madres, in 1976. Her wine is 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano. The final bottle showcases Marianne Page as “The Sage”, economist at UC-Davis and co-founder of the UC Davis Center for Poverty & Inequality Research. Her wine is 65% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 5% Viognier.

There are just over 100 cases of each wine produced and they are sold at $50.00 per bottle. “10 percent of the sales of each of the wines produced goes back the organizations founded by the women featured on the bottles,” said Ballotta. “The stories of the women are an inspiration, she said. And, the work they do is foundational to the health and wellness of many women and children in our community.”

The turnout at Taub Family Outpost had Ballotta busy. Staff at Taub, on Thursday were Ashley Charlton Bishop, cafe-wine bar supervisor, Kevin Reilly, director of operations and general manager, Martin Gobbee. They were all very pleased.

Patrons of Taub Family Outpost on Sept. 1 were pleased with the wine tasting event. Winemaker Kira Ballotta hopes to have more soon. Photo by Jonathan Farrell

Chef, Justin Davis at Taub prepared a special menu for the event so that the food pairings matched perfectly with each flight of wines in each set. One special menu for the Olivia Brion, vintages 2019 to 2021 and a special menu for the special Cantadora wines, all vintage 2019. 

With the arrival of fall and then the holiday season, Ballotta will releasing a specialty chocolate and wine pairing, featuring Cantadora Wines for her mailing listYou can taste the wines with Kira Ballotta by appointment only, Monday through Friday in Yountville, CA, the heart of the Napa Valley. For more information or to book a tasting or event, visit Cantadora Wines website, or Olivia Brion Wines.