Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is Kent Rosenblum Buying A Winery?

By Mac McCarthy

Sources tell us that Kent Rosenblum, founder of famed Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, California, is shopping for a winery in the Jackson Valley, in Amador County, California.

Angela Kooken, VP of Administration at Renwood Winery in Plymouth, California, acknowledged that the winery is in talks with a potential purchaser, but would not name the other party or comment further.

Calls to Kent Rosenblum have gone unreturned. So it's still a rumor at this point, though an intriguing one.

Financially trouble Renwood has been under a bankruptcy-court-approved receiver for the purpose of working out a consent agreement among a number of parties so that it can be sold [see coverage in Wine Industry Insight].

Renwood has two facilities. Their main facility and tasting room, on Steiner road near Plymouth in Amador County, in the hills northeast of Sacramento, is a fairly well-appointed production facility. The secondary production facility, on Buena Vista Road in Jackson Valley outside Ione, was characterized by an observer as an "aging lifestyle winery," like many other wineries in Jackson Valley. Renwood has vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley, and also 56 acres at Buena Vista Road. This property has Zinfandel, Chardonnay grafted to Syrah, and five acres of Mourvedre, plus Souzao used in Renwood's port wines. They have recently added Nebbiolo and Barbera to this vineyard.

Since he sold his eponymous Rosenblum Cellars in 2008 to beverages giant Diageo for $105 million, Kent has shifted his attention and offices to Rock Wall Wines, a winery and custom-crush facility on the island of Alameda operated by his winemaker daughter, Shauna, and his brother, Roger.

Rosenblum became a pioneer in developing California Zinfandel as a fine-wine grape when he opened his winery in 1978 in an aircraft hanger on the Alameda Naval Air Station -- and thereby also pioneering the concept of urban wineries. Kent recently expressed to this reporter his disappointment with how the winery has been run by Diageo since the sale -- though Diageo's Chateau & Estates Division also runs well-regarded California wine brands such as Beaulieu, Chalon, Acadia, Provenance, and Sterling. In the past two years, Diageo has been selling off top-notch Rosenblum Cellars vintage wines at heavy discounts (and likewise the wines of Chalon, Acadia, Provenance, and Sterling in quarterly sales), apparently clearing out the warehouses. Some longtime Rosenblum fans claim to detect a decline in the quality of recent vintages of the Rosenblum Cellars wines. Meanwhile, Rock Wall's new wines show great promise and range; one may look forward to the products of Kent's possible new venture in the Sierra Foothills.

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