Kira Ballotta found her way into the wine industry via the money side.

“I was working in finance in the field of valuation,” Ballotta explained.

After working on a couple of winery acquisitions in Napa and Paso Robles, “I took a deeper interest in them.”

From there, Ballotta met David Mahaffey, a local Napa winemaker (and founder of Olivia Brion) and offered to help on the weekends.

“I refer to myself as the guest that never left. Now I get to run that brand along with my new brand, Cantadora.”

1. What was your childhood ambition?

I wanted to be an architect. I loved Julia Morgan and Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m still inspired by buildings, but I don’t sit and draw them anymore like I did in middle school.

2. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?

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I saw the 14th Dalai Lama give a talk when I was a student at the University of Washington. Any time spent near him is spent with joy; he definitely makes the list. Maya Angelou; her impact on the world is so much deeper than poetry and her poetry is extraordinary — it would be a privilege to hear anything she’d have to say. And my maternal grandmother — I miss her all the time.

3. How long have you been in the wine industry?

The first harvest I helped with was in 2011. My first vintage making commercial wine for Olivia Brion was in 2016. I took over all winemaking in 2019. And in 2022 I assumed all ownership and started my new brand, Cantadora. Olivia Brion highlights stories of women from the turn of the 20th century ( Cantadora focuses on the stories of women today giving back to their communities in extraordinary ways (

4. What is the biggest challenge the wine industry has faced?

Climate change definitely tops the list for California. Lack of precipitation in many areas and overall reduction in water access and irrigation will reshape our vineyard landscapes. I do think our industry will continue to evolve, and I find the dedication of many to regenerative farming, hybrid varietals, diversity and inclusion, fair wages and innovative packaging to be encouraging. We’ll need all the great minds to solve these huge and imposing issues on crops and declining resources in general.

10 Questions: Napa chef Lalita Souksamlane showcases "royal-style" Thai cuisine

10 Questions: Chef Lalita Souksamlane showcases “royal-style” Thai cuisine at her new Napa restaurant, Osha Thai. 

5. Who do you most admire in the business world?

I really admire Alice Waters’ impact on the food industry. I think her local and organic foods movement can be felt by everyone in the food and beverage worlds.

6. If you could change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?

One big change: I would change all farming to organic. I don’t think there is any reason to pollute the air or water in the pursuit of making luxury goods like wine.

One little change: I would change all labels to be made from 100% post-consumer waste. The paper looks the same and can actually be less expensive. If you run a business with labels, just ask your sales rep for a sample! Such an easy switch.

7. What’s on your to-do list?

Raising my two little boys, 2 and 5. It’s hard to think beyond parenting at this stage in life, but I’d also like to continue to travel and challenge myself to write more. With my new wine brand, Cantadora, I want to build a whole community around loving wine as a puzzle piece in this larger world of art, food and storytelling – but that dream is still forming day by day.

8. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

I was born in New York City. I moved to California at 3 years old and my family has been here for five generations. California is my country, but I still consider New York City my hometown.

9. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?

I’d like to write a book. The topic hasn’t come to me. The only one that hangs around in my head is a sci-fi-based story and I don’t even read much science fiction. I need a new muse.

10. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

Without a doubt, exactly where I am. I love Napa and California. I get to live with my wonderful husband and two little boys. My mom moved here from Sacramento a few years ago, so I get to be near extended family. My son starts kindergarten at Browns Valley in the fall and I can’t wait to engage deeper with our Browns Valley community.

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