Educator turns from the school to the vineyard

Fall harvest has a new meaning for former Morro Bay High School Principal Pete Zotovich. Instead of nurturing youth toward robust adulthood, he’s awaiting matured fruit picked from the Zotovich Family Vineyards to be stomped into fine, full-bodied wine.

“I’ve always been a farmer. Both grandfathers made wine,” said Pete, who’s recovering from major knee replacement surgery and chomping to get back to the vineyard. “My son Ryan studied wine at Cal Poly — apprenticed with excellent winemakers. We just hired him to be our winemaker.”

For years, Pete and his brother Steve talked about buying a vineyard. With a career in real estate investments, Steve discovered the perfect 75 acres in the Santa Rita Hills, aka Lompoc’s “Wine Ghetto.” In 2006, they produced 125 cases of pinot noir.

Besides chopping weeds and removing eucalyptus trees, Pete assumed California sales duties once he retired. It might be his most challenging project, he said.

“Sales is demanding — the travel away from family, making appointments, getting people to return calls and handling the rejection,” he said. “But when you demonstrate you have a great product and get the sale, that’s rewarding.

“We’re known for our pinot, chardonnay and cold climate syrah. We’re in 50 California locations, including Morro Bay Wine Sellers, Albertsons, Windows on the Water, Galley, Giancarlo’s, Hoppe’s and Cass House.”

He’s anxious to complete rehab on his knee and get back out there, he said. “I enjoy the public relations aspect of it. We have a tasting room open Thursdays through Sundays on East Chestnut” in Lompoc.

However, his heart is still in education.

“I miss the daily interaction with the students, parents and staff,” he said. “I like being the decision-maker or getting the team together and coming up with group solutions. The kids kept me young. I was always proud of the staff we built.”

A teacher, coach, vice principal and principal for 38 years, Pete was challenged by wife Kathi to get his administrative credential, which quickly led to their move to the Central Coast.

During his nine-year tenure as principal, his faculty team at Morro Bay High received the California Distinguished School award in 2005 and 2009, was a Blue Ribbon school in 2006 and made U.S. News and World Report’s bronze and silver lists for top schools.

“I didn’t push for test scores. We set directions because they were good for the kids based on good research,” Pete said. “I’m a competitive guy. Recognition makes the students work harder, motivates the staff. Competition makes you better.”

So were his goals unfulfilled?

“I wanted to challenge all students to take and succeed in classes above their expectations, but you know when it is time to step aside and move on.”

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.