Frank Pesenti immigrated to the San Luis Obispo County from Italy in 1914. He started working in the York Mountain area, clearing timber and making charcoal for the railroads for fuel. He planted Zinfandel vines in 1923. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Frank founded his winery in 1934 on sixty-five acres, located on Vineyard Drive in Templeton. He worked with Aldo Nerelli, who later married Frank’s daughter, and joined the winery and family business.
The most popular grape in the area and among his Italian neighbors was Zinfandel. For years the Pesenti Winery was known for local sales of jugs containing generic table wines and Zinfandel, grown on the rolling hills, dry farmed and head pruned in the old-world style. Frank was able to expand his winery in 1941 and after World War II in 1947.
The quality continued to improve over the years; Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were made in the 1960s and sold in jugs if the customer requested. Zinfandel Rose became a favorite.
In 1968, Sunset Magazine designed a harvest tour bounded by Highway 46 West, Vineyard Drive and Highway 101. The tour included four wineries: Dusi, Rotta, Pesenti and York Mountain, an apple farm, and a pumpkin patch.
In 1994, the wine expert Gerald Asher writing for Gourmet Magazine, described Pesenti’s three-liter jug of Zinfandel, “the best of value in red wine in the world.” By the end of the 1990s, grandson Frank Nerelli was the winemaker, making premium wines. Vic Pesenti, his uncle, described the process: “our wines are aged in the redwood casks. Then with screw-on tops, we can bottle it and leave the bottles standing. With corks, you have to put the bottle on its side or the cork dries out and lets the air in. Then the wine spoils.”
Pesenti is now owned by Turley Winery and produces world-class wines.
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In the 1980s, Pesenti won gold at the New York wine competition with their 1984 Late Harvest Zinfandel. I loved that wine and it could still be the best wine I have ever tasted or purchased…..