Winemaking traditions initially came to San Luis Obispo County with the first Catholic church at Mission San Luis Obispo in 1772.
Almost two centuries later, Sunset magazine drew up a harvest tour on a triangle bounded by Highway 46 West, Vineyard Drive and Highway 101.
The October 1968 Sunset included four wineries, an apple farm and a pumpkin patch on its map.
Wineries included Dusi, Rotta, Pesenti and York Mountain.
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Travel the roughly 20-mile triangle today and, according to Vintages magazine, there are more than 30 tasting rooms. York Mountain is now owned by Epoch, and Pesenti is now Turley, but Dusi and Rotta still operate under the same names.
Famous vineyard owners in the county have included actor Wayne Rogers, game show host Alex Trebek and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, composer and former prime minister of Poland.
In the past five decades, the reputation of the local wine industry has risen to international stature, marketed far beyond Santa Barbara and Bakersfield as it was originally.
It would be hard to find wine fermented in redwood today. Oak or stainless steel are now standard. The gallon screw-top bottles have fallen out of favor, as there is more cachet and profit in the cork wine bottles.
Toni Bodenhamer wrote this story for the Telegram-Tribune’s Focus section on July 28, 1970, about the origins of the wine industry in the area.
Local wineries are family traditions
Outside it’s sun-warmed and it smells like drying grasses.
Inside it’s dark and cool and the smell is definitely the aroma of musky, damp redwood and faintly, wine.
It’s refreshing, on a summer afternoon, to step in and away from the heat and the bustle and into a bit of San Luis Obispo County history — for the San Luis Obispo wineries have contributed to and are a part of the county’s history.
Rotta, Pesenti and, until recently, York Winery, are family-owned and -operated wineries southwest of Paso Robles. All specialize in zinfandel wines since the zinfandel grape grows well in the area, although several other wines also are produced.
York Winery was begun by Jacob R. Grandstaff in 1875. In 1882, Andrew York bought the property and his family continued the operation until the winery closed about six months ago. It is in escrow, currently, and when the sale is complete the winery will pass from the Yorks to Max Goldman of Malibu.
“I’m getting too old to keep working there,” said Bill York, grandson of the founder. “But I’m going to help Goldman get it going. I’ll be there as an adviser. I think he’s going to specialize in Champagne.”
The other two wineries are continuing as they always have.
Our wines are aged in the redwood casks. Then with screw-on caps, we can bottle it and leave the bottles standing. With corks you have to put the bottle on its side or the cork dries and lets air in. Then the wine spoils.
Pesenti Winery, begun in 1934 by Frank Pesenti, is located on Vineyard Drive, which runs between Highways 46 and 101. The Pesentis and son-in-law Al Norelli do the work of making the wine, and they also give tours and tastes to tourists who stop by.
According to Vic Pesenti, son of the founder, his father started the winery shortly after prohibition was repealed in 1932.
He came to the area from Italy in 1914 and started from scratch, cutting timber and selling wood and charcoal. The charcoal was used by the railroads. As he cleared the land, he planted zinfandel grapes.
Although they make many other wines, the Zinfandel Rosé is the favorite, says Norelli.
The Rottas bought their winery in 1907 from a Frenchman who started it in 1856. They are now making wines from zinfandel and muscat grapes and up until this year they were selling almost entirely from their tasting room — a room made from a 7,000-gallon redwood wine cask. The winery is on Winery Road off Vineyard Drive. Like the other wineries, the Rotta winery is family-run.
Mervin Rotta is the boss, and he and his mother, Mrs. Romilda Rotta, and his wife handle most of the operations. During summers and vacations Rotta’s nephews, Ricky and Mike Giubbini, come to help out. They spend the school year at home in San Mateo.
The wine-making process sounds simple when explained by experts who have been working with wine making since they were children.
Grapes are picked, crushed, fermented to the right degree and stored in redwood casks to age. The aging varies from two to 14 years. Then the wines are pumped from the huge storage casks, through a filter and into bottles.
Both the Rotta and Pesenti wineries use screw-on caps for their wine bottles.
“Corks,” Pesenti explained, “are more for aging in the bottle. It’s a tradition in Europe. Our wines are aged in the redwood casks. Then with screw-on caps, we can bottle it and leave the bottles standing. With corks you have to put the bottle on its side or the cork dries and lets air in. Then the wine spoils.”
Each of the large casks at the wineries is clearly labeled with the name of the wine, the percentage of alcohol, the gallon capacity of the cask and the gallons per inch in the cask.
That way federal officials can easily tell how much wine is there at inventory time.
The bottles are labeled, too, and then marketed locally — and as far away as Santa Barbara and Bakersfield.