Amedeo Martinelli grew grapes and made fine wines beginning in the 1920s and was a gregarious member of the Templeton community. The Martinelli Winery, planted in the traditional Italian style, was the fifth winery to be bonded in San Luis Obispo County after the repeal of Prohibition. Amedeo’s wife Rina and his adopted son Bruno learned to manage the vineyard business after his death, keeping the historic vineyard family-owned until its sale to Turley Wine Cellars in 2014.
Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
- Martinelli Vineyard was first planted in the traditional Italian style with Bing cherry trees and other fruit trees planted among the Zinfandel vines.
- Martinelli Winery was the fifth winery to be bonded in 1934 after the repeal of Prohibition.
- Amedeo was considered to make fine wines starting in the 1920s when most Italians were making jug table wine.
- Martinelli Vineyard was dry-farmed and single hedge pruned; they were maintained from 1926 to the present in 2020 with some of the oldest vines in the county.
- Amedeo Martinelli was known for his generosity and support of friends including Joe Venturini and his family which led to the planting of the Venturini vineyard next door to the Martinelli vineyard. This vineyard was planted in 1927 and continues to produce with old vines in 2020.
- Amedeo brought his third wife, Rina Fossati Martinelli and his adopted children, Marie, Bruno, and Silvana to Templeton in 1960 to continue his legacy of growing premium grapes. They continued growing high-quality grapes until the vineyard was sold to Larry Turley in 2014.
- Amedeo befriended local and federal agents during the Prohibition years and shared his best wines from the barrel with them.
Amedeo and Bruno Martinelli – two generations
Amedeo Martinelli was born in Giulianova, Italy in the year 1881. He emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s with his brother Emilio and arrived through Ellis Island according to daughter Marie Martinelli. The brothers followed in the footsteps of fellow Italians, seeking employment in the coal mines near Columbus, Ohio. Amedeo and Emilio found lodging in a traditional boarding house for Italian workers run by a “housemother” who rented rooms and provided meals to her tenants. These tenement houses were social centers as well as homes for Italian immigrants. Each day the men would walk to the mines and work for twelve to fourteen hours. Life stories were shared, and relationships were forged to last a lifetime. At the end of the day, each coal miner received a gold coin valued at $1. Day after day, the pattern would be repeated. As soon as a man accumulated enough money, he would move on to other places, usually by train, to find work and seek his fortune.
Amedeo arrived in the Templeton area of San Luis Obispo County after World War I ended, around 1918. He shows up on local census records by 1920 but we know he arrived earlier. He must have had a friend or contact encouraging him to come to the area. He joined fellow Italians clearing the forests in the hills west of Paso Robles. His profession was listed as woodcutter on the local census in 1920. However, there was more money to be made in the charcoal industry, so he soon became proficient in an industry that manufactured fuel for residential and commercial use as well as also providing one of the key ingredients, charcoal, for the manufacture of gunpowder.
Amedeo was an outgoing and social man. He made many friends in Templeton; he developed a close relationship with Joe Venturini who worked in the charcoal industry with him. Joe was also born in Italy in the year 1885. While living there as a young man, he married his sweetheart, Santa. They soon had a daughter, Sundina, later known as Sunny. There were no jobs in Italy, so Joe made the decision to go to the United States to find work and a better life. Joe’s wife was pregnant with their second child, so Joe emigrated alone, and planned to send for his wife and children when he was settled. Unfortunately, their son was born and soon died after Joe left for the United States. Joe arrived around 1912, prior to the outbreak of World War I; he enlisted and served in the American Navy during the conflict. He became a United States citizen after the Great War. He had an aunt in Pennsylvania who provided a bedroom and the support he needed in his new country. After the war ended, Joe went to work in the coal mines of Kentucky, saving his wages to bring his family to America.
In 1919 Joe sent for his wife, Santa, and daughter, Sundina. When they arrived in America, the family traveled to Joe’s aunt in Pennsylvania. Soon, tragedy struck while Joe was working in the coal mines in Kentucky. He was injured in a mining accident, his leg crushed when it was run over by eight coal cars. The family was devastated. Although Joe recovered, he was not able to return to the mines.
Joe’s aunt knew Amedeo Martinelli, although it is not known whether they came from the same village or had met in Pennsylvania when Amedeo first came to the United States. She called Amedeo and asked him if she could send Joe to Templeton to join him to find lodging and a job. Amedeo agreed and Joe traveled to Templeton, but his wife and child stayed behind with his aunt.
Joe went to work in the charcoal industry with Amedeo and was able to send for his family to join him in 1921. They settled in Templeton; Joe and his wife soon had three more children: Attilio, Yolanda, and Alberto. Joe continued working in the charcoal business with the help of Santa and Sundina. Sundina collected water and poured it over the charcoal to cool it. Santa helped fill and sew the sacks of charcoal closed.
Planting Zinfandel Vineyards
Amedeo, still a bachelor, had saved his earnings to buy land to plant a vineyard and cherry orchard. Although the Prohibition era had been in effect for six years, he planned to establish his own winery. He bought 25 acres on Ridge Road in Templeton in 1926. He wanted his dear friends, the Venturini’s, to live nearby and have their own land. It is unclear whether Amedeo sold half his parcel to Joe or just offered Joe and his family the opportunity to use the land for their own crops. Amedeo may have actually sold the property and offered to take a note payable over time to finance the sale to Joe; the Martinelli family members remember finding copies of promissory notes among business papers after Amedeo’s death.
Both men built their homes and planted Bing cherry orchards among their Zinfandel vineyards in the Italian tradition. Amedeo had experience in farming. He planted Zinfandel vines, most likely sourced from another local Italian vineyard, on the side of a mountain. Influenced by the Italian tradition, he planted Bing Cherry trees, pistachios, pears, apples, pomegranates, persimmons, and wild berries. The vines were planted 10 feet on center, dry-farmed and single hedge pruned. Amedeo built his home and winery with stone cellars for barrel storage beneath each building. He established the Martinelli label and became known for producing fine wine.
Joe Venturini planted a 10-acre vineyard and 5 acres of vegetables on his property. He sold his fruit and vegetables door-to-door in Paso Robles, Atascadero, and Templeton from his 1927 Model A Ford Truck.
Amedeo, in his mid-forties, married Joe Venturini’s 16-year-old daughter Sundina (Sunny) in 1926 or 1927. According to family legend, Joe insisted on the marriage because the two were quite enamored with one another. Sunny was an extremely hard worker. She worked with Amedeo in the vineyard and winery, making and bottling the wine. She delivered Martinelli wine directly to customers up and down the Central Coast from the rumble seat of her car. It was typical of Italian families to have multiple businesses. Amedeo and Sunny opened a restaurant in Atascadero with Sunny managing the enterprise.
The first Martinelli grape harvest was in 1929 or 1930. We know that Amedeo produced wine annually by 1930 in spite of the restrictions that limited wine production to 200 gallons per household during the Prohibition years (1920 to 1933). There are newspaper accounts describing the Federal Agents raiding Martinelli winery and dumping his wine, by the barrel, into Atascadero Creek. The most famous story that circulated stated that the Feds had their pictures taken as a photo op by the press while hacking holes into barrels, showing wine running down the sides of the barrels. “The newspapers which printed the picture failed to mention that the pictured wine was sour and that the lawmen later joined Amedeo in sampling the delicious product of untouched barrels.” In reality, Amedeo maintained a friendly relationship with the local and federal agents.
As soon as Prohibition ended, Amedeo bonded his winery #3971. He produced at least wines: Fine Zinfandel, Fine Claret, and Fine Burgundy. He was interested in quality, perhaps the first of the Italian growers to focus on fine wine. He and Sunny sold Martinelli wine to individual customers up and down the coast of Central California; he sold his surplus Zinfandel grapes to the Pesenti Winery.
Amedeo was a popular man as well as a good winemaker. He enjoyed playing cards and gambling with his dear friends Joe Dusi and Roy Gerardini. Joe Dusi owned a vineyard. Roy was the constable (sheriff) in Cayucos; he was born and raised in this small beach town. His father and uncle had an automotive shop there. Roy served in World War I; he was a pilot. These two men would mentor and support Amedeo’s young widow and children in the 1960s and 1970s enabling them to maintain their vineyards and grow premium grapes.
Amedeo played solo or poker every Saturday night with Matt Iversen, Frank Pesenti, Dr. Gif Sobey, Ben Bierer, and Otto Kuehl. The game rotated from home to home. When it was Amedeo’s turn to host the game, Sunny would prepare a large meal for the card players over a wood stove by lantern light.
Unfortunately, the marriage did not last; Amedeo and Sunny divorced and divided the property, (dates unknown). Amedeo retained 10.8 acres, his vineyard, home, and winery. Sundina became the owner of the restaurant in Atascadero and the Venturini family retained the property they lived on that Amedeo had purchased in 1926.
Amedeo was married a second time to a woman named Dina, born in 1886. The date of the marriage is unknown. She had suffered from migraine headaches and mental illness for many years. Although Dina Martinelli was a recluse, Amedeo continued his social life, card games and friendships. Amedeo did not have children with either of his wives. Dina died in 1953. She is buried in a crypt in the San Luis Obispo Cemetery.
Amedeo continued to grow his grapes and produce quality wine. He bottled his wine in ½ or 1-gallon jugs, which were washed and recycled. In a lucky streak, he won a local restaurant in a card game in 1958.
Rina Martinelli in kitchen making pasta.
Rina Martinelli marries Alfred Melera in 1972.
Marriage to Amorina (Rina) Fossati and a New Family
In 1958, Amedeo took a trip to Posina, Italy. Family legend has it that Amedeo was yearning to have a family with children who would continue his legacy in the vineyard and the winery. Amedeo was 77 years old when he met and fell in love with Amorina (Rina) Fossati, mother of five children. Rina was born on January 6, 1918, in a small Italian village and like many Italians, she had struggled to survive the invasion of Italy by German forces. She had bartered for food and spent time imprisoned in a concentration camp. Following World War II, starvation continued to plague Italy as people struggled to return to their homes, replant their gardens and care for their children. Rina often traveled for days, spending the nights sleeping in trees, in search of food for her children and her neighbors. Rina never married but gave birth to five children. Rina struggled to survive the economic hardship. The children, three girls, and two boys were placed in orphanages or in the care of nuns.
Bruno, born on January 13, 1949, spent seven years in the orphanage in Bologna. He was placed there at age three and by age nine was hospitalized with severe frostbite to his hands and feet and failing health. The hospital found Rina and she arranged for him to be sent by bus to Posina. Bruno had no idea that he had a family. When he arrived in Posina, he was greeted by two much older siblings, a half-brother and a half-sister, Agnese, with whom Bruno maintains a warm and loving relationship. His two younger half-sisters had been reunited with Rina and their siblings. Finally, Rina was able to bring all her children home to Posina in 1959. Bruno never knew his father, Anselmo, a former policeman in Posina who died after Bruno’s birth. Bruno has heard many wonderful stories about him, warming his heart over the years.
Amedeo, who still owned the restaurant recently won in a game of cards, decided to propose to Rina. When she accepted his proposal, he returned to Templeton and sold the restaurant to raise the cash to bring his new family to America. When he returned to Posina, Amedeo and Rina were married by a judge on September 9, 1959. Amedeo then started the legal proceedings to adopt the three youngest children. The older son and daughter, already adults, preferred to remain in Italy. Amedeo adopted the three younger children, Marie, Bruno and Silvana. Rina and her youngest daughter, Silvana, flew to the United States with Amedeo in April 1960. Eleven-year-old Bruno and his older sister, Marie, followed on December 24, 1960. When Bruno boarded the plane dressed in his shirt, shorts, and sandals, he had no other possessions. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for Bruno and Marie to fly alone for the first time, speaking only Italian and just getting to know one another.
All three children were enrolled in the Templeton School; Bruno was enrolled in both in kindergarten to learn English and at the fifth-grade level. Bruno attended Templeton Schools with locals Steve Pesenti, Mike Dusi and his wife Joni.
Bruno is a charming storyteller; he tells the story of bringing his sack lunch on his first day at school with salami, cheese, French bread, and Zinfandel wine. One of his classmates reported the lunch details to the Principal. She was shocked to learn that this was the typical Italian school lunch that his mother provided.
Amedeo died unexpectedly in January 1961 of cancer, a few months after Bruno and Marie arrived in America. He was buried on January 16, 1961, in a crypt in the San Luis Obispo Cemetery, next to his second wife Dina. It was a terrible shock. Rina was in charge of the house, vineyards, and her children. She spoke little English and knew almost nothing about growing grapes and maintaining fruit trees.
Amedeo had signed his first will in the early part of the twentieth century leaving his assets to a nephew in Italy. His second will was signed during his second marriage but his wife, Dina, predeceased Amedeo. Amedeo drafted a third will after meeting Rina, but it was not signed before his death. Litigation followed and ultimately the court divided the assets 1/3 to Rina and 2/3 to the three adopted children. Rina was assigned the responsibility of running the Martinelli Vineyards. Rina had developed close relationships in the Templeton community, especially Caterina Dusi. Rina had expenses to handle and borrowed $7,000 from Caterina Dusi at 7% to pay her legal expenses and debts. Rina then went to work, closing the commercial winery and focusing on growing and harvesting the cherries in the spring and the grapes in the fall. She repaid the debt to Caterina in three years and continued to celebrate a wonderful friendship with Caterina.
Rina, Marie, and Bruno Learn the Vineyard Business
Amedeo’s dear friends, Joe Dusi (known to the children as Uncle Joe) and Roy Gerardini, stepped in to help Rina learn and manage the vineyard business. The vineyard was well established and produced premium Zinfandel grapes.
Joe Dusi trained Rina, Marie and Bruno to prune, hoe and harvest the vineyards. Marie and Bruno worked alongside their mother in the vineyard before and after school. They started before sunrise and worked until the time to catch the school bus. The children left school at 2:30 and returned home on the bus at 3:00. Rina served them the main meal of the day at 3:00 and then all three worked in the vineyard until nightfall. Weekends included long full days of vineyard work. Roy handled all the business aspects and found buyers for the grapes each fall. Pesenti Winery had a long history of purchasing the harvest. Zinfandel typically puts out a second growth of grapes. Rina used the second growth to make wine for the family and friends, bottling it in the gallon jugs. Bruno’s favorite memory is riding in Uncle Joe’s 1949 Ford Pick Up Truck.
Marie was an excellent student and studied hard to maintain an A average in high school. She often studied at night under the blankets with a lantern. When she graduated from Templeton High School in 1963, she enrolled at Santa Barbara City College, supporting herself. She remembers being dressed for work in a paisley dress and very high red heels the day she heard that President Kennedy had been shot. She followed friends to the Student Union where they gathered to listen on the radio until the news of his death was broadcast.
She met her future husband, Dominic Palmer, on August 15, 1964. He was already working as a camera loader at MGM. He had studied photography at Brooks Institute of Photography. His career flourished and he became the Director of Photography at MGM. They married and moved to the San Fernando Valley, raising two children, and buying a home. Marie returned to community college at Pierce College in Woodland Hills in 1976. She transferred to California State University at Northridge and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts on June 3, 1977. In August 1977, Marie entered law school at the San Fernando Valley School of Law and graduated in December 1980. She took the California Bar Exam in February 1981 and received the news that she had passed the Bar on Memorial Day Weekend. Marie describes the Friday afternoon parties with fellow students; Marie would make the pizza dough before class and then share pizza and Rina’s Zinfandel with her classmates.
Marie’s first job was with the District Attorney’s Office in Alhambra. She continued practicing law until 2017 in Los Angeles County. She recently retired to Florida.
Bruno worked with his mother in the vineyards until he joined the Navy in 1970. During high school, Bruno met Coach Simmons who encouraged Bruno to develop his athletic abilities. Bruno loved volleyball and became a top player. His passion for the sport and his ability to mentor and inspire young players, boys and girls, led to a coaching career for local teams in San Luis Obispo County over the next 48 years. He has coached many championship teams.
Bruno became an American citizen in 1965 and graduated from Templeton High School in 1968. He attended Cuesta College in the fall of 1968 and enlisted in the Navy in 1970. Bruno had the experience of returning to Italy while he was in the Navy. His ship docked in Naples and he was thrilled to see his homeland once again. When he returned to Templeton, he found a job with the Templeton School District maintaining the buildings and grounds. Bruno had met Debbie Martin at a basketball game in Atascadero when he was home on leave from the Navy. She was still attending Templeton High School. His first letter to her from the ship told her “I am going to marry you.” He proposed and they announced their engagement on January 16, 1972. They were married at the Presbyterian Church in May 1972. Debbie’s mother made her wedding dress and the two bridesmaid dresses in three weeks.
Debbie was a city gal and had never spent any time in a vineyard. Bruno and Debbie decided to develop careers independent of agriculture. They raised two children, son George and daughter, Deanna. Bruno changed careers and to work in the San Ardo oil fields to support their growing family. Debbie opened her own hairdressing business in Paso Robles. They lived independently of the family vineyard until 1986.
Maintaining the Martinelli Vineyards
Rina continued to maintain the vineyards and sell the majority of the grapes to Pesenti winery. She hired workers and consulted with Joe Dusi and Ray Gerardini on the vineyard management and business decisions. She remarried to Alfred Melera. He preceded her in death.
In 1986 when Rina, age 68, was no longer physically able to manage her property, Bruno and his family moved to the Ridge Road property to care for her and maintain the vineyard. They purchased a mobile home and moved it onto the property. Bruno took over the management of the vineyards, continuing the dry farming and hedge pruning, caring meticulously for the old vines. His care enabled this historic vineyard to thrive. Bruno sold grapes primarily to Pesenti Winery. He was in charge of marketing and selling the harvest. He acquired additional customers including Adelaida, Chimney Rock, and York Mountain wineries. Bruno occasionally sold to new wineries opening in the 1980s including Arciero Brothers on Highway 46 East.
Rina suffered from diabetes and heart problems. She required a quadruple bypass on September 30, 1991. Caregiving was difficult but all three of her children helped at various times. Tensions began to develop among the siblings during this time. Rina died on December 28, 1998, and was buried on December 31, 1998, in the Templeton Cemetery.
Bruno and Debbie moved to Paso Robles in June of 1999. Bruno was immediately hired to manage the vineyard next door to the Martinelli Vineyard, the original Venturini property, which he enjoyed until he retired. He loved the work and describes both vineyards as his pride and joy. His cheerful personality and his wonderful storytelling continue to be enjoyed by all who know him. Bruno and Debbie have retired; they purchased a new home on Creston Road. Bruno is currently growing pomegranates.
Selling the Martinelli Vineyards
After Rina died, Marie bought her siblings’ shares of the property and became the sole owner of the vineyard. She hired professional management and asked Bruno and his family to leave the property. Marie Martinelli listed the property in 2013 for $1,300.000 and sold the property in 2014 to Larry Turley, owner of Turley Wine Cellars. Turley maintains this historic vineyard and has restored the Martinelli buildings on the property. Marie retired and moved to Florida.
Turley Wine Cellars continues to make complex award-winning Zinfandel sourcing grapes from the Martinelli Zinfandel Vineyard and other historic vineyards. Larry Turley purchased the Pesenti Vineyards and Winery in 2001. The Turley Wine Cellars tasting room has been restored and showcases the history of Zinfandel and the three families that planted the old vines and farmed in the Italian tradition: Pesenti, Nerelli, and Martinelli.
Bruno Martinelli, 2014.
1881: Amedeo is born in Giulianova, Italy, and baptized a Catholic.
1885: Joe Venturini is born in Italy.
1886: Dina Martinelli is born.
1910: Joe marries Santa in Italy.
1911: Santa and Joe Venturini have a daughter Sundina born in Italy.
1912: Joe Venturini emigrates to America, first visiting his aunt in Pennsylvania and then working in the coal mines in Kentucky.
1914-1918: Joe Venturini serves in the American Navy during World War I. He probably obtained citizenship by serving in the military.
1918 circa: Amedeo emigrates to America through Ellis Island and travels to Columbus Ohio with his brother Emilio. He lived in an Italian Tenement House with a “housemother’ running it.
1918: Amorina (Rina) Fossati is born on January 6 in Italy.
1919: Santa Venturini and daughter Sundina emigrate to Pennsylvania from Italy.
1919: Joe Venturini moves his family to Kentucky. Joe is working in the coal mines and is severely injured when eight coal cars run over and crush his leg.
1919: Joe’s aunt arranges with her friend Amedeo for Joe Venturini to move to San Luis Obispo County to work in the charcoal industry.
1921: Joe Venturini brings Santa and Sundina to Templeton with Amedeo Martinelli’s help.
1926: Amedeo Martinelli purchases the property of 26 acres on Ridge Road. He plants Bing cherry trees and other fruit trees among the Zinfandel vineyards in the Italian tradition, builds his home and winery with barrel storage beneath both buildings.
1926/1927: Amedeo Martinelli divides his property into two 13-acre parcels; Joe Venturini moves his family onto one parcel, plants a vineyard, orchard builds home.
1927: Amedeo married Sundina Venturini.
1929: Amedeo celebrates his first harvest of Zinfandel. He produces his first vintage of quality wine, bottling it in ½ gallon and 1-gallon jugs with screw tops and the Martinelli label.
1929-933: Amedeo produces wine all through Prohibition. He is raided several times by the FEDS but shares his wine with them.
1934: A. Martinelli Winery is bonded at the end of Prohibition. No. 3971. The label states that Fine Zinfandel Wine, Produced and Bottled by Amedeo Martinelli.
1941: Camp Roberts is opened for armed forces to train for World War II.
1941: The United States declares war against Japan and Germany.
n.d.: Amedeo and Sundina are divorced.
n.d.: Dina and Amedeo Martinelli are married.
1949: Bruno Fossati is born in Italy to Rina and Anselmo Fossati.
1952: Bruno Fossati is placed in an orphanage.
1953: Dina Martinelli dies and is buried in a crypt at San Luis Cemetery.
1958: Amedeo travels to Italy and meets Rina Fossati.
1958/1959: Amedeo wins a restaurant in a card game and sells it for cash which he uses to bring Rina and her three children to America.
1959: Rina Fossati reunites her five children in Posina, Italy.
1959: Amedeo and Rina are married in Posina, Italy, on September 9, 1959.
1960: Amedeo adopts Marie, Bruno and Silvana Martinelli in Italy.
1960: Rina and Silvana Martinelli travel with Amedeo to Templeton in April 1960.
1960: Marie and Bruno Martinelli arrive in Templeton on December 24, 1960.
1961: Amedeo Martinelli dies in January 1961 and is buried on January 16th in the San Luis Cemetery in the crypt next to his second wife Dina.
1961: Joe Dusi trains Rina Martinelli and her children to prune, hoe and harvest the vineyard.
1963: Marie graduates from Templeton High School and enters college at Santa Barbara City College.
1968: Bruno graduates from Templeton High School.
1968: Bruno enrolls in Cuesta College.
1970: Bruno joins the United States Navy for a two-year tour of service.
1972: Rina Martinelli marries Alfred Melera.
1972: Bruno coaches volleyball teams throughout the county for the next 48 years including JV Boys Volleyball, Girls Volleyball and for the Girls and Boys Club, winning many championships.
1977: Marie graduates from California State University in Northridge with a Bachelor of Arts and enters San Fernando Valley School of Law.
1981: Marie passes the State Bar Exam and is hired for her first job at the District Attorney’s Office in Alhambra.
1986: Rina is too ill to manage the vineyards. Bruno and his family move onto the Marinelli Vineyard property and Bruno manages the vineyards through 1998.
1991: Rina has a quadruple by-pass operation.
1998: Rina dies on December 28 and is buried on December 31 in the Templeton cemetery.
1999: Bruno and Debbie Martinelli relocate to Paso Robles.
1999: Marie Martinelli buys her sibling’s share of the Martinelli Vineyard and buildings.
2000: Bruno becomes vineyard manager for the vineyard originally owned by Joe Venturini on Ridge Road, next to the Martinelli Vineyard.
2002: Bruno and Debbie Martinelli celebrate their 30th anniversary with a trip to Europe and a visit to Bruno’s family in Mayo, Italy.
2013: Paso Robles is declared Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
2014: The Martinelli Vineyard is listed for sale at $1,300,000 and sold to Larry Turley.
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