Frank Nerelli in Zinfandel vineyard on the Pesenti Winery, 1952.
Frank Nerelli standing in Zinfandel vineyard at Pesenti Winery, 1952.

Frank Nerelli, born on April 7, 1949, grew up in the Nerelli family home just above the Pesenti vineyards. Frank began working at the winery at the age of ten; he harvested grapes in redwood lug boxes, pruned vines, stuck labels on jugs and applied sealant to wine bottles. Frank also farmed grain and other crops on the Pesenti family farm; he was the only one of Frank Pesenti’s twenty grandchildren who continued to work at the Pesenti Winery until it was sold to Larry Turley in 2001. There is a strong tradition among Italian sons and daughters to join their fathers and grandfathers in the family businesses. Frank served in the armed forces after high school and returned home to work with his father, Aldo, his uncle Vic and his grandfather Frank in the vineyards and on the farm. Pesenti Winery was famous for its jug wine throughout California. In the 1970s, as the demand for higher-quality wine increased and Paso Robles became known as “a grape-growing area with potential,” Frank Nerelli pondered his future in local winemaking. He wanted to select the right variety to make in his own style. His passion was Zinfandel, the “heritage grape” of the county. He knew that Zinfandel presented a real challenge for both growers and winemakers. To quote Frank many years later, “It is worth it if you like a challenge.” When Frank became the winemaker at Pesenti Winery, his father and uncle wanted Frank to continue in their traditional winemaking style, rather than experiment with new varieties.

Frank had purchased his own land from his uncle Victor (Vic) Pesenti in 1972; Vic had purchased the same parcel from his father in 1947. Frank built his home and planted barley and walnuts on the land immediately. He spent the next four years preparing the soil and doing research on the best Zinfandel clone to produce premium grapes in the Templeton Gap. He found that clone in Amador County. Frank replaced his crops with dry-farmed, hedge-pruned Zinfandel vines that he had grown in his own style to produce rich and very complex Zinfandel wines. Frank’s vineyard style was in vogue during the first half of the twentieth century, but it is rarely seen today. The vine was the most important part of his meticulous vineyard management. He carefully observed each plant and made adjustments in his methods when necessary. Today, he still works in the vineyard alone, except at harvest time. Frank worked at Pesenti Winery as winemaker for more than three decades. The sale of the winery to Larry Turley in 2001 gave him the financial freedom to pursue his own dreams. Frank established his own winery, ZinAlley Winery, elevating the winemaking traditions of the Nerelli and Pesenti families in his small family-owned winery. He is well known for his unusual, elegant Zinfandels and Ports. Frank can usually be found in the tasting room or in his vineyard right outside the door.

Partial Pesenti Family Tree