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.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Death To Wine Snobs

Snobs suck!

This 1997 episode from San Francisco's Bay TV features wine guy Lewis Perdue (60 pounds heavier than he is now) who believes that wine snobs are a lot worse than the anti-Christ. You don't have to study wine to like it. Hell, you don't have to study Snapple to know what flavor you like. What YOU like is what YOU like.

Pay no attention to those wine snobs behind the curtain.

They're just petty totalitarians who all like the same taste in wine and want you to feel inferior if you don't like their choices. The only thing you need to know about wine appreciation is to drink wine that doesn't suck and to spit out the wine that does.

NOTE: the wine brands seen in the segment have changed since 1997...some good ones now suck and some of the sucky ones are not bad at all. Trust your own taste.

Lew now writes about the wine business at, about wine drinking at, about wine and health at and about the books he's written at

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More Delicious East Bay Vintners/Passport 2011 Wines

The San Francisco East Bay areas of Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley--where the urban wineries movement began, and thrives with more than 20 wineries, some tiny, some large like Rosenblum--produces delicious fine wines and, even better, surprising wines from winemakers trying to step beyond the ordinary, and succeeding at it.

So though I visit many of these wineries at various times during the year, I love the annual Passport event where I get to round out my experiences and see what they've come up with lately.

I wrote last month about the two most dramatic winetasting experiences I enjoyed; now let's quickly review some of the others at this event. (All wineries can be found at the site.

Verve makes its white French Columbard from juice imported from France, an unusual approach that makes it the only winemaker here not using straight California grapes. French Columbard makes a tart, green wine that's refreshing, though it's not my personal favorite so I only gave it a B. Nice to see they're trying something different. They also produce a Syrah which is quite delicious -- A- -- and only $17 a bottle.

JC Cellars, another urban-winery pioneer, has a widening range of wines, having started with Jeff Cohn's favorite, Zinfandel, and now producing Rhone-like blends and more. I liked the 2007 Arroyo Seca-sourced Grenache, with 15% Syrah to round it out, though the fruit wasn't as dramatic as I expected from a Grenache.  Still it was tasty - A-. The 2007 Petite Syrah from Eagle Point Ranch in Mendocino is big and rich and tannic, and reached into every corner of my mouth; it's an A- but is priced at $45. This year's Imposter, a Rhone-style blend, is terrific - a solid A - much tastier than in past years: a round, broad, deep flavor and wonderful nose.

Sharing the same near-Jack-London-Square space as JC Cellars is Dashe Cellars, notable for their Zinfandels, like this 2009 Dry Creek Valley number at $24  and delicious. Their 2009 Grenache, $24, tastes amazingly like a really great Grenache -- Dashe's wife, it turns out, is from that area of France. Welcome, may I have another taste please? That great strawberry-based fruit flavor! The Dashe 2009 Reisling from McFadden Farms, $20, is a tasty winner -- A -- a touch off dry, just as it's supposed to be.

Urban Legend Cellars had a few more wines besides the wonderful Rose I mentioned earlier -- they poured a prerelease Tocai Friulano from Chiles Valley, $24, a typically odd-but-interesting Italian white, somewhat like a Sauvignon Blanc. They are also one of the few in this area to produce a Reisling, the 2010 Lake County, $18, and a delicious one at that -- a prerelease of their 2010 from The 80 Vineyard. It's rich, round and full, and slightly off dry, and completely delicious.  I also liked the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, made from organic grapes from Lake County, $18.

The Shaeffers like blends, and their Lolapalooza ($26), named after their calico cat, is made of mostly leftover Grenache with a small amount of Syrah and Mouvedre; the result is delicious, bright strawberry flavors.  Their 2009  Uptown blends Merlot and Cab well, though it's not really Bordeaux-like. It's sold in one-liter bottles with a "flippy" beer-bottle stopper -- $20, and you can bring it back for a refill for $16 at a time -- how's that for offbeat? It's a solid table wine, very drinkable.

The 2009 Tempranillo, from Clarksburg and priced at $24, has a peppery aroma, and is rich, with a big middle palate. Like most of the Urban Legend wines, it has a wonderful aroma.

Eno Wines was showing an 07 Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands -- a nice aroma, slightly tart, reasonably rich; $35. I liked it.

They also had an 07 Grenache from near Ukiah, also a bit tart, $25 -- this would work best  as a beverage wine, one to have with food. Their 08 Syrah, from a cool area of Sonoma, is also tart, but with rich fruit. They seem to like a tang to their wines. B+. I was thinking these two wines would make a good blend.
Irish Monkey has a big Merlot; B++. Good, though not my style.

From Cerruti Cellars I tasted a delicious Zin -- 2008 Flat Bed Red, a California blend, $15 only -- A- but, sadly, only 81 cases made. See? You really have to live in Northern California, or have wineries like this on your email list so you can grab them as soon as they are released! Their 2006 Clift Vineyard/Oak Knoll Cab, at $40, OTOH, was just OK to my taste: B.

I missed many fine wineries this year--Tayerle, Prospect, Stage Left, Periscope, Urbano. If you ever have a chance to tour East Bay wineries, you should not miss them. You'll find a complete list at, along with a map, when they are open, and whether they have tasting rooms (not all do, but that's rapidly changing -- bring a crowd and they'll probably open doors just for you!).

God, isn't wine the most wonderful thing?