One of the unique elements of the annual Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival each year is the creation of a Collaborative Zinfandel Blend, using juice donated by participating wineries.
This year the blend master making that wine is Mike Giubbini, owner of Rotta Winery, and grandson of one of the pioneers of zinfandel in San Luis Obispo County.
Rotta has been a recognized name in zinfandel since 1908, when Joe Rotta first bought property in the rolling hillsides of west Templeton. Joe sold the property to his brother Clement in the 1920s, who then bonded the winery after Prohibition, and built his winery in 1937. One of just a handful of wineries in the area at the time, Clement successfully ran the operation with his wife, Romida, for four decades, selling gallon and half-gallon jugs of wine to farmers, locals and hoards of Cal Poly students.
Giubbini has fond memories of visiting his grandparents, working in the winery and greeting customers at the front door of their home. He said his mother and uncle eventually sold the property because “they thought it would be too hard on the grandkids to run a winery,” but that was long before Paso Robles began to flourish as a premium wine growing region.
More than 20 years ago, while still working as a career firefighter, Giubbini bought the property back, moved into his grandparents’ old house, and began replanting the vineyard. It was a labor of love, and he did almost all the work himself.
Today, Rotta Winery has a new 5,000-square-foot production facility, and a tasting room where Giubbini greets guests seven days a week. “It’s a lot different than in the ’60s and ’70s, when we were making wine in big redwood tanks,” he said.
In the new tasting room, jugs of old Rotta Zinfandel sit on the shelves, with their original labels dating from the 1940s to the 1970s. On the wall hang pictures of the original winery (which is now only partially standing), along with a photo of Giubbini’s grandmother standing in her front yard, ready to greet visitors. It’s a tribute to the Rotta legacy, with a view of Rotta’s future in the form of gleaming stainless tanks on the other side of the wall.
Giubbini is making about 10,000 cases a year, mostly from his 20 acres of estate zinfandel, cabernet sauvig-non and cabernet franc. Behind the patio of the tasting room, in fact, are large, gnarled vines that have grown on the hillside for more than 50 years, and which he still grows in the old head-pruned, dry-farmed tradition.
When hearing he was selected to be this year’s zinfandel blend master, Giubbini said he was at first overwhelmed at the thought of having to blend 33 different lots of zinfandel into one wine. “But now that everything’s done and everything’s under control, it’s nice to be honored like that,” he said with a sigh of relief.
Giubbini hopes one day his son, now a career firefighter himself, will take over the winery, and his young granddaughters are already showing interest in the winery and the vineyard. “We’re the only one of the three original wineries — York, Pesenti and Rotta — that’s still owned and run by the original family,” he said. “I’m going to keep it going just as long as possible.”
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Note: The 2010 Collaborative Zinfandel Blend will be poured at the Zinfandel Festival Wine Country Auction on Saturday, and can only be purchased through the auction, both alone or as part of a vertical package with blends of years past.
250 Winery Road
Templeton, CA 93465
Founded: 1908 by Joe Rotta
Owner: Mike Giubbini
Partner/winemaker: Mark Caporale
Cases Produced: 10,000 in 2009
Tasting room hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.