William “Van” Ballentine passed away on Tuesday December 17, 2019 at his home in St. Helena at the age of 92, surrounded by his family. He was born on March 15, 1927 at St. Helena Sanitarium, Sanitarium, California to John Ballentine and Ellen (Gerhardt) Ballentine. Van grew up growing grapes and making wine with his father, who had immigrated from Ireland and purchased 160 acres of vines along with a winery that he renamed Deer Park, after his homestead in Ireland. Van lived for working in the vineyard. From a childhood age, he worked in the vineyards, planting grapevines, tending to the soil, and driving his tractors. Van loved farming and continued the family tradition of wine making his entire life.
Van attended Foothill Elementary School in Deer Park and graduated from St. Helena High School in 1945. After high school, Van spent 4 years in the Navy before returning to Napa Valley. On April 26, 1953, Van married Betty Pocai from Calistoga. Together, Van and Betty raised their two sons Frank and Bill in St. Helena. In 1953, he began working for Christian Brothers and managed their Napa Valley vineyards for many years, along with his family’s vineyards. In 1993, Van and Betty built the winery for Ballentine Vineyards on their homesite in St. Helena. Van and Betty enjoyed traveling the country together, participating in wine tastings, sharing their wine, and telling people of their family stories in the Napa Valley. They enjoyed meeting people both in the wine industry and the many wine enthusiasts they met along the way.
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When Van was not working in the vineyards or traveling for the winery, he enjoyed outdoor activities, especially hunting and fishing. He spent a lot of time hunting with his family members, sons, and friends. Van also enjoyed traveling to Alaska for salmon fishing, which became an annual highlight for him. Van was a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West and a Board Member of the Napa Valley Cooperative.
Van is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, Betty, his two sons, Frank (Linda) and Bill (Jane), four grandchildren, Cole, Audrey, Claire, Ryan, and dear family members. His funeral service will be held on Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 1:30pm at Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring Street, St. Helena. A private burial will follow at the Catholic Cemetery.