Aldo Nerelli crouching in Zinfandel vineyard at Pesenti Winery, 1952.
Vic Pesenti, left, pushing hand cart with boxes holding jug wine, and Aldo Nerelli, right, holding box of Zinfandel.
Aldo Nerelli and Victor Pesenti, the second generation of winemakers (1946–1969) at Pesenti Winery. Courtesy of Frank Nerelli., circa 1995.
Aldo Nerelli and Victor Pesenti, the second generation of winemakers (1946–1969) at Pesenti Winery. Courtesy of Frank Nerelli, circa 1995.

Aldo Bruno Nerelli was born on York Mountain on April 6, 1917, to Lorenzo and Cesarina Nerelli. He worked with his family in the vineyards starting in early childhood, and he worked at the Templeton Winery until he enlisted as a soldier in World War II.

When Aldo returned in 1945, he found the Templeton Winery and vineyards abandoned. However, Aldo continued the winemaking tradition, the second generation in the Nerelli family to do so. He married Silvia Pesenti, whose father, Frank, founded Pesenti Winery in 1934. Silvia was born to Caterina and Frank Pesenti in 1923. The youngest of six, Victor, was the only son. The Pesenti children worked in the vineyards and the winery with their parents. Silvia and Vic only spoke Italian when they entered the Templeton School.

While Aldo was abroad during World War II, Silvia worked just north of Paso Robles at Camp Roberts, which was built in 1940 as a World War II training center. They were married in 1946 and remained happily together for over sixty years. Aldo’s first job was in the liquor distribution business in San Luis Obispo. Two years later, Silvia’s father invited the couple to move to the family farm. Aldo joined the staff of Pesenti Winery in 1948; by 1950, they had built their own home at the top of the vineyard, where they raised three children, Frank, Ann, and Terisa. Silvia worked in the winery for over fifty years, cooking lunch every day for her family, friends, and workers. Her gnocchi and polenta were always in high demand.

By 1970, only three local wineries had been in business for more than thirty years in San Luis Obispo County: York, Rotta and Pesenti. The York and Rotta families grew their own grapes and made Zinfandel wines, focusing on local customers and tourists. The Pesenti Winery grew its own grapes and purchased grapes from many small Italian growers, including Lorenzo Nerelli and Bruno Martinelli. Pesenti Winery sold to customers statewide, including the Basque population in the Central Valley, the Swiss dairy farmers along the Central Coast, sheepherders in North County, restaurants, liquor stores and wine distributors.

Victor Pesenti and his wife, Linda, joined the Pesenti family at the winery in 1946, when Victor returned from World War II.

Victor and Aldo worked together until Victor died in 2000. The winery was sold to Larry Turley in 2001. They worked as a team, making Pesenti wines from 1948 to 1969. Frank Nerelli, Frank Pesenti’s grandson, was appointed winemaker in 1970. Victor was the sociable, outgoing face of the winery, marketing Pesenti wines throughout California. Aldo was the businessman who ran the production and distribution of the wines. He hosted tastings and tours at the winery. They even expanded the varietals; Zinfandel Rosé was the favorite, according to Aldo. Frank Nerelli produced a four-star Port, which was highly praised.

Pesenti Vineyards were famous for their old vines and the quality of their grapes. Pesenti jug wines continued to be favorites all throughout California. The California food revolution was focused on crafting premium wines, and many winemakers sought to buy Pesenti grapes.

Partial Pesenti Family Tree