Paso Robles AVA
Four generations of farming experience highlight the growing traditions behind the wines at Pianetta Winery.
The roots of the Pianetta Winery go back as far as the early 20th Century when the patriarch of the Pianetta Family, Ernesto Pianetta, emigrated from the small town of Bulgetta near Lake Como in breathtaking Northern Italy. That was 1918 and Ernesto settled in Oakland and eventually began acquiring ranches for farming grapes around the Freemont and San Leandro areas. That acreage ultimately grew to over 1,500 acres and made Ernest and his descendents major growers on the East Bay farming scene.
Ernesto’s son John became part of the business and, in due time, a winery was erected on the property. It was there that John Pianetta, Jr., first learned the basics of the wine business from his father and grandfather.
“Like most Italian families, the Pianettas were a close family and shared many things,” recalled John Pianetta, Jr. “My father had learned from his father and he passed along everything to me. When I went away to college, I always had in the back of my mind to one day return to growing grapes in some manner or fashion.” Skip forward to January 1996, and John Pianetta, Jr., is able to fulfill his long time vision of getting back in the wine business. Nearing retirement from his career as an airline pilot, Pianetta selects a 95-acre tract just north of Paso Robles for his new vineyard project. The area is known as Indian Valley and Pianetta feels the extra heat generated there is just what he needs for his Cabernet and Syrah vines to flourish and produce the type of fruit he needs to make heavy reds, his favorite type of wines.
The vines are planted in three phases, beginning in 1997 and concluding just after the turn of the millennium. The grapes from Pianetta Vineyards are immediately successful and are soon sold to a number of Napa Valley giant wineries including Robert Mondavi Winery and Franciscan Oakville Estates.
In the back of John Pianetta Jr.’s mind is his long time dream of producing his own wine. In 2004, a grand total of 369 cases are released to the wine world and Pianetta Winery becomes a real entity. A 2800-square foot winery is constructed and the business slowly evolves.
“With all our acreage, we still sell almost 80 percent of our fruit,” explained Pianetta. “We have a great working relationship with our wineries and they love the type of fruit we are able to produce. I can’t see much changing for the foreseeable future, unless our own production happens to grow.” Pianetta Winery currently produces around 2,800 cases of wine, but has the capacity to expand to between 5 and 6,000 cases should the necessity arise.
“It all depends on the marketing and the overall condition of the wine industry,” Pianetta explained. “The current recession has put most wineries’ plans on hold, and it’s mostly the same with us. I hope we can grow slowly and continue to produce exceptional wines.”
So far, Pianetta Winery’s releases have been greeted with laudatory marks by the nation’s wine press and judging panels, a truly significant sign in an uneasy economy.
John Pianetta’s daughter Caitlin, 26, is the fourth generation of her family to become part of the wine business. An AgBusiness graduate of Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, Caitlin has responsibility for several aspects of Pianetta Winery. She handles all the marketing chores and runs the winery’s dual tasting facilities (a wine bar at the winery itself and a tasting room operation in downtown Paso Robles just off the square). Caitlin also aids her dad around the winery and helps put the final blends together that constitute Pianetta Winery’s releases.
“I am very proud of Caitlin’s inputs,” added John Pianetta, Jr. “She really knows her wines and is determined to see us become even more successful. When we expand, it will be through her efforts.”
Pianetta Winery is typical of the small family-owned and run wineries that make up the backbone of the modern California wine business. With only five employees (including the Pianettas), Pianetta Winery is tiny in comparison to many industry giants. As this month’s Gold Wine Club Selection, we are happy to introduce this excellent small winery to our members.
We know you will enjoy Pianetta Winery’s hearty wines.
Map of the area
About the Vineyard
It’s almost amazing how far the Central Coast region has progressed as one of California’s top wine producing areas. Given the wide variety of growing conditions found in the south around Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and the wildly diversified environs of more northern Monterey County, it is easy to see just how the Central Coast has become the darling of the post millennium wine focus.
Now, the microclimates of the Central Coast have jumped into vogue to compete with their northern neighbors in Sonoma County and Napa Valley. The acreage that comprises Pianetta Winery’s estate holdings originates from such a microclimate. Located on the eastern slopes of Indian Valley and just north of the historic mission town of San Miguel, Pianetta Vineyards is located above the Big Sandy River that winds its way through the valley.
The vines are exposed to the sun in the day along with an easy afternoon breeze during the growing season that provides optimum conditions for the fruit. The heat aids the growth of the red varietals and produces the heavy flavors that mark the Pianetta Winery’s distinctive whopping red wines.
John Pianetta - Winemaker
Unlike many modern day winemakers with specific academic credentials, John Pianetta describes himself as ‘an everyday winemaker that has learned my trade from a number of professionals while on the job.” Pianetta credits his close association with a number of Napa Valley wineries (including Robert Mondavi Winery and Franciscan Oakville Estates to name a couple) that allowed him to gain great insight to the fine art of winemaking.
He also singles out winemaker Robert Cook (Estancia Winery and Franciscan) as particularly helpful in making him a complete winemaker. Pianetta has also taken a number of classes that have aided certain aspects of his winemaking expertise.
John Pianetta, Jr. - Owner
When John Pianetta, Jr., left his family’s East Bay home to attend the University of Santa Clara in the mid 1960’s, he had no idea of just what waited ahead for him in his business career. He graduated with a degree in mathematics and physics and entered the United States Navy.
John Jr., became a Navy pilot and flew the A-7 Corsair II for two tours off the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) during the Vietnam War. After his Navy career ended, he became an airlines pilot for American Airlines and finally retired in 2005 after 26 years of service. He felt a calling to his roots in California’s grape growing regions and began seeking a suitable property sometime after the turn of the century.
Pianetta spent a long time in search of the perfect land. Included were visits to Napa Valley, the farming areas around Chico and Lodi, and also the eastern San Joaquin Valley around Merced. While he considered citrus and nut farming, he eventually came back to his first love—growing high quality varietal grapes. John Jr., finally settled upon an appropriate piece of land (approximately 95 acres) in the Central Coast region just north of Paso Robles. The time was around the beginning of the Central Coast wine explosion and Paso Robles was arguably the center of attention for the entire area.
‘I admit that part of my decision was based on my personal tastes,” Pianetta offered. ‘I am a lover of big, hearty red wines with great flavor and incredible color. I wanted a growing area with enough heat and a drier climate that aided canopy issues. I am also a fan of allowing the fruit to hang as long as possible so as to be able to achieve ultimate ripeness. The long hanging actually energizes tannic acids. To me, that is where the flavor is stored and the reason the wines are able to achieve greatness. Indian Valley had all the right growing and climate features so I went out and bought the property I really wanted.”
While Pianetta admits the resulting wines tend to be a bit higher in alcohol, he feels that he is able to achieve the fruit/acid balance necessary for great wines. ‘There must be a balance in the field and a balance in the winery,” Pianetta added. ‘The two are absolutely necessary for a good wine.”
Pianetta is also pleased that his winery has established a reputation for bigger, full-bodied wines. A loyal following has developed that insures John Pianetta and his substantial wines will be around for a long, long time.
The modest Pianetta doesn’t feel his winery’s accomplishments are all that spectacular. ‘We don’t think we’re that big of a deal,” he ended. ‘What’s more important is that we are making wines that are really appreciated. That’s what makes all our hard work worthwhile. It’s very fulfilling to all of us.”