Blending history, family, and wine

Friday, August 31st, 2012


Rotta Winery

Driving up the road approaching Rotta Winery, you come to a signpost that says “Historic Rotta Winery Tasting Room…established 1908.”  This is only the beginning of the story of Rotta Winery.

Rotta actually has its wine roots tracing back to 1856, when Adolph Siot began what is arguably the first wine producing vineyard in the Paso Robles area. Since 1908, the winery has been the longest-running, family owned winery in Paso Robles.

It was in 1908 that the winery was sold to the Rotta family, and that is when the story of Rotta Winery begins. For 104 years the Rotta family has been producing wine in Paso Robles. The current owner, Mike Guibbani, is the grandson of Clement Rotta, who purchased the winery from his brother in 1928. Rotta has the distinction of being in Paso Robles since the beginning, and has helped the area become what it is today:  a destination wine region.

Upon arrival, guests park by a water cistern dating back to the middle of the last century.  Entering the more modern tasting room and winery, which is actually constructed in part from wood salvaged from the original 1900’s winery, is like walking into a time capsule. Hanging on the wall to your right is a wonderful wedding picture of Grandma and Grandpa Rotta, Mike’s grandmother and grandfather. There is also a one page drawing of the original winery. Directly in front are display shelves filled with an assortment of articles, awards, medals, photographs (one being Mike and his grandchildren) and bottles of Rotta’s award winning wines. To fully exemplify the history of the winery, there are bottles of wine and jugs of Zinfandel, Rose, and Muscat which were produced over 50 years ago on display.

Although Mike didn’t grow up in Paso Robles, he spent his summers visiting his grandparents. Over the years, he fell in love with not only the area, but also the dirt and the vines. Completing a 30-year career as a fire captain, Mike decided it was time for his second career: continuing the legacy of Rotta winery and wines.

There are 21 acres of grapes planted at Rotta, producing Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Mike also sources grapes, including merlot and primitivo, from several well-regarded vineyards in the area. There are currently 13 wines on the Rotta wine list: mostly reds but some whites, including a Vermentino, a crisp, aromatic white which is perfect for a warm summer afternoon.

Perhaps the most distinctive wine Rotta produces is their Black Monukka Dessert Wine.  Described as “liquid crème brulee,” this is a wine that is a Rotta exclusive.  You can only buy this wine from Rotta, at the winery or through the wine club.  It is truly a melt-in-your-mouth dessert sherry.

It is obvious, from the moment you drive up the road to the signpost, tasting room, production room and then the bottling area outside, that attention to detail is of utmost importance.  Mike has done a masterful job of getting the most out of the equipment, the space, and of course, the vines. The vines are all head-trained, which requires considerable attention and is very labor intensive – but Mike wouldn’t have it any other way.

In addition to the history of the land and the long-standing production of wine, family is the third ingredient that comes together to make Rotta such a unique winery. With a son in the Central Valley (also a firefighter) and daughter in Hawaii, Mike hopes that after retirement from their “day jobs” that they, too will continue the tradition of Rotta winemaking. And, with five grandchildren, Mike can envision a fifth generation to continue the Rotta name and the winemaking tradition.

Mike’s enthusiasm for the dirt, the vineyards and his love of making premium wine, and being able to share this with everyone who comes into the winery, is infectious. When asked what is most important to him (other than making good wine), he simply says hospitality, history and family. Mike and Rotta Winery exemplify hospitality and friendliness – everyone who comes to visit is “family.”

The best way to ensure yourself a supply of Rotta’s wines is by joining their wine club.  There are three different levels in the wine club to choose from. The wine club currently has about 1,200 members, who account for a majority of the 6,000 to 8,000 cases currently produced by Rotta. The balance is sold mostly through the winery and to selective retail outlets.

Mike’s 5-to-10 year plan is to slowly nurse production up to 15,000 cases, and to grow the wine club to about 2,000 members.  Not too large to ever lose that personal connection with the people and the land, but large enough to be self-sustaining and wel-prepared to continue a longstanding family tradition.

Rotta is the type of winery that when you arrive, you know you are home. Cozy, friendly and laid back, it is steeped in family, tradition and history. The tradition of the area, the vines, winemaking, and family, are all interwoven into a detailed tapestry that is then lovingly put into a bottle. Whether you are sipping wine in the tasting room, or outside as the breeze blows through the Templeton Gap, you will know that Rotta is definitely a meritage of history, family and wine.

Rotta Winery open 10:30am-5:00pm daily and  is located at 250 Winery Road, in Templeton. For more information, please visit or call (805) 237-0510. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

— Don Sonderling

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