Adolphe Siot was the first vintner in the area just west of the town of Templeton. The vineyards and winery that we know today as the Rotta Winery were established by Adolph Siot, who purchased the land in 1891 from the West Coast Land Company. Adolphe was a farmer, and his grapevine and fruit tree plantings were the first to grow in the area of Templeton, which has since become a major grape growing and winemaking region.
Contributions to San Luis Obispo County Wine History
First farmer to purchase land in Templeton with a plan to plant a vineyard.
First farmer of French heritage to purchase agricultural land in Templeton.
First farmer to plant a vineyard of Zinfandel in Templeton.
First farmer to use dry farming and head pruning vineyard techniques in Templeton.
First vintner to build a winery in Templeton.
First winemaker to sell wine to the public in Templeton.
First vintner to sell to and mentor an Italian family interested in growing grapes and making wine in Templeton.
The Real Estate Boom of 1886-1887
Adolphe arrived just as the first real estate boom in San Luis Obispo was unfolding. Local investors were starting to speculate and purchase land, including R. E. Jack, James Cass, Chauncey Hatch Phillips, Horatio Warden, James Blackburn, Drury James, and Charles Crocker, also known as the “villain of Mussel Slough.”
Templeton, California – formerly Crocker, California – the end of the line for Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886
The West Coast Land Company was formed in 1886 by “a group of politicians, businessmen, and landowners to develop the southern portion of Rancho Paso de Robles in anticipation of the Southern Pacific Railroad coming to Templeton,” according to local historian, Dan Krieger. Its mission was to develop subdivision maps that laid out the town we now know as Templeton, as well as other towns to be located near the railroad tracks as they moved south from Paso Robles to Santa Margarita and on to San Luis Obispo. The train stations established in these towns would open up new markets accessible by rail for cattle and grains. Prior to this time, crops and cattle were often driven through the mountains to the Pacific Coast and shipped by boat from the pier built by James Cass in Cayucos to markets up and down the coast of California.
R.R. Harris surveyed the 160-acre townsite of present-day Templeton in 1886. He laid out 5 to 12-acre parcels for businesses and residences. The West Coast Land Company named the town, Crocker, to honor Charles F. Crocker, the Vice President of the Southern Pacific Railroad. But Charles Crocker had a brutal reputation. Historian Dan Krieger describes Crocker as one of the most hated men in California because of his involvement in a “bloody shoot-out” arising from a land dispute in 1880 between the settlers and the Southern Pacific Railroad near the town of Hanford on May 11. According to Dan Krieger, the railroad became the enemy of farmers, small businessmen, and local settlers; the infamous event became known as the Mussel Slough Tragedy. Investors were reluctant to purchase real estate in a town named after “the villain of Mussel Slough.” So the town of Crocker was renamed Templeton by the West Coast Land Company. The irony is that Templeton was the middle name of Crocker’s grandson, Charles Templeton Crocker, but few people knew it at the time.
Chauncey Hatch Phillips, and the Real Estate Boom in SLO County
The West Coast Land Company was formed by a man named Chauncey Hatch Phillips, who came west from Ohio. He initially settled in Napa, where he studied law and held the position of Deputy County Clerk. Chauncey Hatch Phillips was both a talented man and an ambitious one. His next job, Deputy Collector, was to collect internal revenue for the U.S. Government. He also went to work for the large mercantile banking company of J.H. Goodman and Company at the same time.
In 1871, Chauncey Hatch Phillips moved to San Luis Obispo County, and partnered with Horatio M. Warden, a Los Osos Valley rancher, to found their bank which later merged into the Bank of San Luis Obispo. Their bank and their business acumen were sound and established their reputations. Their bank was one of the few to remain open during the financial “Panic of 1875,” which was a time of recession and economic stress in San Luis Obispo County. Almost every bank in California closed during this time of financial crisis.
Chauncey Hatch Phillips: from banker to real estate developer in San Luis Obispo County
Wine history in San Luis Obispo County was profoundly influenced by Chauncey Hatch Phillips’ retirement from the banking industry and switch real estate investment and development in 1878. His first real estate investment was Rancho Moro Y Cayucos, and his partner was none other than James Cass. He also promoted subdivisions and land on the Corral de Piedra in the Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, and the Pismo Ranches. He is remembered for the “Phillips Addition,” a subdivision just off Palm Street in northern San Luis Obispo. Many of these sites became vineyards over the next 100 years, which still thrive to this day.
Rancho Huerhuero was his earliest large development in San Luis Obispo County. He surveyed ranch land and mapped out the town of Creston. Soon he was selling ranches for as little as 20 dollars an acre, according to historian Dan Kreiger. Many of these acres were planted in grains and vineyards over the next 100 years, and vineyards thrive in the Creston area today.
Chauncey Hatch Phillips founded the West Coast Land Company in 1886 to survey and sell land sites in the town of Templeton, and land west of the small town along what is now known as Highway 46 West and Vineland Drive. Local rancher and businessman, R.E. Jack of San Luis Obispo and the Cholame Ranch, was his major partner and served as Treasurer of the Company. One of the first to purchase land was Adolphe Siot.
Adolphe Siot, looking for land to farm in 1891
Adolphe was born in France in 1863 and immigrated from France in 1885 to San Luis Obispo County. He must have decided to follow his older brother, Peter Siot, who was born in 1858 and had immigrated from France to San Luis Obispo County in 1884. The Wine History Project has no information on where Adolphe and Peter worked or lived before 1890.
The 1890 Census indicates that Adolphe married Jeanne Siot, whose legal first name was Eugenia. Eugenia was born in 1862 and immigrated from France in 1890. Records show that Adolphe Siot purchased his land, 35.03 acres, in 1891 from the West Coast Land Company. He was a farmer, and his first crops of record were grapevines. He decided to plant a vineyard of Zinfandel vines on its own rootstock on his land. The terrain was one of rolling hills, and some of the land was quite steep. He used traditional European techniques, which included dry farming and head pruning.
Adolphe and his wife had no children. Apparently, the marriage was not a happy one. Eugenia deserted Adolphe, and he sued for divorce based on the grounds of desertion in August 1903. The 1901 Directory of San Luis Obispo City and County lists Adolphe as a farmer and Peter Siot as a laborer. His brother, Peter, must have married. We do know he had at least one son. Adolphe did marry a second time. His wife was named Paolina. They remained married until his death in 1925.
The 1912 Great Register of San Luis Obispo County lists Adolphe (adding an e to his name) as a vineyardist in Templeton and Paolina Siot as a housewife in Templeton. Adolphe made his purchase and planted Zinfandel Vines on his property 1891. Most likely, he built a home and a winery. There are no photos of the vineyards, the house, or the winery. The only photo we have of Adolphe is a portrait taken of him with his nephew and his wife, Paolina. This may have been taken in Templeton at the Petersen Photography Shop.
It is important to note that wine production was an important agricultural product in the San Luis Obispo County in 1888. Butter and cheese were the top agricultural products followed by wheat, barley, beans, and wine. Adolphe made wine, although it is not known how he distributed it. Other winemakers in the area sold to workmen and wagon drivers who passed by on their routes to the ocean or the railroad in Templeton.
Gerome (Joe) Rotta immigrated to the United States from the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland, in 1905. He purchased the vineyard on 120 acres in 1908 from Adolphe Siot. The Wine History Project has no documentation of whether there were buildings on the property when Joe Rotta purchased it. An Historic Resource Inventory and Preliminary Structure Evaluation prepared by Betsey Bertrando, suggests that the construction of the winery took place after 1900 because there were no square nails found in the construction. The report also indicates that Adolphe acquired additional property after his initial purchase to bring his holdings to at least 120 acres.
Gerome’s brother Clement soon joined Joe in the vineyard. Both men were mentored by Adolphe Siot, who taught them the vineyard techniques of dry farming and head pruning in the vines in the old-world style and how to make wine. There are no records to show where Adolphe was living at the time but It may have been in Paso Robles. His physician was located in Paso Robles.
Adolphe Siot continued working with the Rotta Brothers in their vineyards and winemaking. He died on April 17, 1925, the same year that Joe Rotta sold his interest in the vineyards and the winery to Clement Rotta. His death certificate lists myocarditis as the cause. It was signed by Paso Robles doctor, H.L. Barlett. He is buried with his wife Paolina Siot in Grave #11 in Block 76 at the Paso Robles Cemetery. His gravestone is a large and imposing marble block marking his status and wealth. His wife Paolina died on February 18, 1943, of arteriosclerotic myocarditis. The cost for internment was $10, and the concrete box was $20. Both fees were paid by her estate.
1858: Peter Siot is born in France.
1859: Paolina Siot is born in France.
1863: Adolphe Siot is born in a village in France.
1864: Chauncey Hatch Phillips leaves Ohio and settles in Napa, California. He studies law and works as deputy county clerk, deputy collector of internal revenue for the federal government and works for large mercantile banking firm of J. H. Goodman and Company.
1866: The Steele Brothers purchase land in the Edna Valley and the Arroyo Grande Valley. This land will be surveyed and promoted by Chauncey Phillips. It will become an important vineyard area in San Luis Obispo County, known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Vineyards.
1871: Chauncey Hatch Phillips moves to San Luis Obispo and opens a bank with Horatio M. Warden, a Los Osos Valley Rancher. Their bank is later merged with the Bank of San Luis Obispo and is one of the few banks to remain open in California during the financial crisis of 1875.
1875: The Financial Crisis has a disastrous impact throughout America.
1878: Chauncey Hatch Phillips retired from banking and began investing in real estate. He establishes a partnership with Captain James Cass of Cayucos and invests in Rancho Moro Y Cayucos.
1880: The Tragedy of Mussel Slough in Hanford, California, on May 11.
1884: Chauncey Hatch Phillips purchased land on the Rancho Huerhuero Mexican Land Grant lays out the town of Creston.
1884: Peter Siot arrives in San Luis Obispo County.
1885: Adolphe Siot arrives in San Luis Obispo County.
1886-1887: Real estate boom in San Luis Obispo County, California
1886: Chauncey Hatch Phillips forms the West Coast Land Company with R. E. Jack as treasurer.
1886: The West Coast Land Company purchases 63,000 acres of the Mexican Land Grant known as Rancho Paso de Robles.
1886: R.R. Harris is hired by the West Coast Land Company to survey the 160 acres set aside to be the townsite of Templeton (formerly Crocker) California. He lays out residential and business sites.
1886: The Southern Pacific Railroad arrives in Templeton. It is the terminus for three years.
1888: Charles Crocker dies from injuries he received in an accident in New York City carriage.
1889: The Southern Pacific Railroad opens 14 miles of track between Templeton and Santa Margarita. Templeton is reclassified as a “flag stop.”
1890: Adolphe Siot’s future wife, Eugenia, arrives in San Luis Obispo County. They are married.
1891: Adolphe purchased 140 acres in Templeton from the West Coast Land Company.
1890s: Adolphe planted Zinfandel grapevines and fruit trees. He built a home and winery on his property and produced wine. These are the first Zinfandel vines and the first winery in Templeton.
1898: The business district of Templeton is destroyed by fire. Most of the wooden buildings were replaced by brick buildings.
1903: Adolphe Siot files a lawsuit to terminate his marriage to Eugenia based on desertion.
1905: Gerome (Joe) Rotta arrives in San Luis Obispo County from Switzerland.
1908: Adolphe sells 120 acres with his winery and vineyards to Gerome (Joe) Rotta.
1909 to 1925: Adolphe mentors and consults with Gerome (Joe) and his brother Clement on their vineyards and winemaking. He continues to grow grapes and make wine.
1920: Prohibition goes into effect on January 17, 1920.
1925: Adolphe Siot dies of myocarditis on April 17. He is buried in the Paso Robles Cemetery.
1925: Joe Rotta sells his interest in Rotta Winery to his brother Clement. (The winery eventually passes on to his son Mervin Rotta and his wife Roltilda. The winery is sold again in 1976 to San Jose mechanical engineer John Mertens and his wife Della.)
1943: Paolina Siot dies on February 18 and is buried with her husband in the Paso Robles Cemetery.