The Swiss-Italian Immigration
In 1888, at 19 years old, Silvio Franscioni and his family were facing hardship. Jobs were scarce and opportunities were few and far between in their small town of Moghegno, Switzerland. Silvio immigrated to the United States where opportunities were plentiful. He came through Ellis Island and his brother followed suit a few years later.
On arrival, the American government sent immigrants to various destinations. The Swiss were known as cattle and dairymen so they went to the Salinas Valley where dairies and agriculture had taken hold. In fact, tens of thousands of Swiss-Italian immigrants from the Ticino region settled in Monterey and also Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties over the next 50 years. Many of our winegrowing neighbors like our Franscioni cousins and the Pisoni, Caraccioli and Manzoni families to name a few, came to the US in the same manner.
By 1890, Silvio had saved enough money to rent farmland in Gonzales. He purchased 980 acres of the Soberanes Ranch west of Gonzales in partnership with his brother Aquilino for 50 cents an acre in 1907. They grew barley, raised cattle and their families. Silvio had eight children including Joe, Gary’s father.
Born to Farm
Joe Franscioni, like most children of ag families, joined the business at a young age. In high school, he milked cows at 3 am, went to school and then back home to milk the cows again. After graduation, he began farming with his brother Red. They dry farmed Navy and Pinto beans. Later, with modern irrigation, came sugar beets and potatoes.
After Silvio passed, the family divided the farmland between the children. Silvio Jr. inherited the family land across River Road and brothers Joe and Red got the land west of River Road in today’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Years later, Joe and Red divided up the properties west of River Road. With the flip of a coin, Gary came home from school to learn they owned what is now Rosella’s Vineyard.
Row Crops to Grape Farms
After attending Cal Poly University, Gary took over the family farming. He met and married Rosella, and for a decade they grew sugar beets and potatoes. In the 1980s, they moved into broccoli and romaine. But competition and slim margins stressed family farms. Gary and Rosella began diversifying, planting 24 acres of lemon orchards.
Although the Spanish planted grapes at nearby Mission Soledad in the late 1700s, wine grapes were first planted in the Santa Lucia Highlands in 1973. By the late 1980s, the SLH became a hot spot for growing cool-climate Burgundian varieties. Gary and Rosella planted the original 15 acres of vines at Rosella’s in 1996 and by 2000, added 35 acres of grapes and one acre of avocado trees.
The Salinas Valley’s history from the early indigenous peoples, Spanish and Mexican settlers to its Swiss-Italian immigrants, is a rich tapestry deeply tied to the land. Like our neighbors, we’re proud of our family’s roots and the multicultural ag industry that endures here. Today, with Adam and Nick on board, the fourth generation of Franscionis are writing the next chapter of ROAR and the family’s history in the Santa Lucia Highlands.