Rotta Winery in the 1940s.
Rotta wine jug.
Rotta Winery Tasting Room in the 1960s.
Grandma Romilda Rotta holding a bottle of Rotta Zinfandel Rosé.
Adolph Siot had purchased the land west of the town of Templeton, California, and planted the first Zinfandel vineyard in the area. Siot, the pioneer and original owner of the land, mentored the brothers, Joe and Clement Rotta, and Clement’s wife, Romilda. His successful vineyard encouraged Italians farming in the area to add vineyards to their other crops. Clement also learned his winemaking skills from Adolphe Siot who made his own wines and sold them locally. Clement Rotta built his own winery in 1937 in the Templeton Gap. He was one of the first in the county to be bonded after Prohibition ended. He had grown grapes all through the Prohibition years on the land he purchased from his brother, Joe Rotta, in 1925. Clement was introduced to winegrowing by working with his brother planting and harvesting the first Zinfandel vines on the steep hill above their home; he decided to purchase the land from his brother when Siot died and Joe wanted to find new job opportunities.
Clement and Romilda Rotta built the winery against a cut made for a retaining wall in the hillside just below the steep Zinfandel vineyards. There are no records of the architect or timelines of construction, but the buildings are significant for their unique “Central Coast” design and architecture. They may be the only “Central Coast” buildings designed in the 1930s that are still in existence in San Luis Obispo County.
The buildings were designed to have three gables which created a striking roofline which is the hallmark of Central Coast design. The three gables contained wood louvered vents in the center of each gable for air circulation. The middle gable may have been the first of the three to be constructed with a limestone retaining wall built at the back against the hill. The central gabled building contained two stories; the second floor had a door opening onto an exterior space for access. The adjacent gables were one story. The west gable section was known as the cask room, containing barrels and storage tanks. The other gable contained an office, a tasting area, and a place for bottling the wines. The bottles were washed with the water collected in the cistern built into the rear wall. The footings for the winery were constructed with poured concrete and concrete block (CMU – concrete masonry unit). The handsome structure was painted white with the bold winery name painted in black.
The four Zinfandel varietals produced by winemaker Clement Rotta were bottled in one-half and one-gallon clear glass jugs with the Rotta label. These wines were sold directly to the public by Clement’s wife. Romilda Rotta. Romilda was the marketing and sales force of the winery. Although the initial winery had a small tasting area where the barrels were kept, Romilda became famous as the principal sales representative for the winery. She provided service to the customer at all hours. She installed a bell near her front gate that rang when a customer drove his car across it, summoning Romilda to deliver a jug directly to the car window. If the customer wanted to linger, he or she was invited into the barrel room to sample the wines.
In the 1960s a novel tasting room was built at the entrance of the winery using an old, well-used 7,000-gallon redwood fermentation tank. It had a door that the visitor entered. If Romilda was not available to ladle wine from the barrel into the customer’s paper or plastic cup, he could help himself and fill his own jug, leaving the cash, $2.25 per gallon, in the cigar box on top of the barrel.
During the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s more and more people from all over California came to purchase the red wine by the jug. If they brought their own container, Romilda discounted the Zin by 50 cents. Surfers from Southern California, hippies from Big Sur and the Central Coast, as well as local Cal Poly students were faithful customers. The Rotta Winery and tasting room was always featured in the press, book, and magazine articles that began to praise the quality of the wines in Templeton, California. Groups often drove over 200 miles on a weekend to visit with Romilda and stock up on Rotta Zinfandel.
Rotta was the most popular tasting room on the Central Coast until Romilda’s death in 1976. The Wine History Project is collecting the stories of wine lovers who enjoyed their visits to Rotta Winery. We are also looking to photograph any containers that owners may still have been tucked away. Please contact Libbie@winehistoryproject.org.