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Rosenblum Cellars - Russian River


Sweepstakes Award at the 2001 Monterey Wine Competition

Kent Rosenblum is sitting on top of the Zinfandel world. With no fewer than sixteen vineyard designated Zinfandels, Rosenblum Cellars (pronounced ‘rows en bloom’), is on or near the top of every Zin lovers must-have list. Since we last featured a Rosenblum wine (in 1993) the winery has grown substantially. Production has increased from 18,000 cases of a dozen different wines, to 70,000 cases of three dozen wines. Despite the growth in overall size, each bottling is still produced in small quantities, making most of his wines still relatively hard-to-find.

Today, Rosenblum buys premium grapes from over 40 different vineyards. He searches throughout northern and central California for the best hillside-grown Zinfandel grapes he can find. “Each vineyard has it’s own fingerprint. We try to bring out the best qualities that make that particular vineyard a great one,” Rosenblum says.

The Rosenblum Cellars’ story reads like a rags-to-riches tale. In 1977, Kent and a few friends decided to take their home winemaking hobby a little more seriously. They bought bigger tanks to fit into Kent’s basement in order to increase production, only to be rebuffed by a neighborhood coalition. They ended up renting 600 square feet of space in a “lively” part of west Oakland, in the location of a late 1800’s hangout called The Dead End Bar (good thing he wasn’t superstitious!). With a $15,000 loan, Rosenblum bought an old dairy tank to use as a fermenter, a hand crusher, a basket press, and 20 barrels, then went to work. The following year, Rosenblum Cellars cranked out their first commercial wines—400 cases total, of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Now, if you think that sounds pretty easy, consider the fact that Kent Rosenblum had a full time professional practice as a Veteranarian. Doctor Kent Rosenblum and friends took care of their wine business at night, often making wine till well into the early morning hours. “It took forever to do a ton of grapes with the hand crusher!” he recalls.

After five years in Oakland the winery moved to a 1,500 square foot space in nearby Emeryville. Production grew to 1,500 cases, so it was time to stretch out a bit. Demand for his cult wines continued to grow in the Bay area literally by word-of-mouth. By 1987, production was up to 5,000 cases and it was time for yet another move to a larger space. This time he settled into an old turn-of-the-century shipyard building, nestled right on the San Francisco Bay. The view of San Francisco, the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge is magnificent.

From the beginning, Rosenblum Cellars has bought grapes on contract from numerous top notch vineyards. Although he acquired 52 acres of Chardonnay and Merlot vineyards in the Russian River area, Kent maintains there is a huge advantage in not having proprietary vineyards. “There is much more flexibility from a business standpoint,” he says. “It also allows us to use the best grapes from the best vineyards each year, instead of being somewhat tied to using your own grapes,” he adds.

Rosenblum Cellars makes mostly red wine—Zinfandel to be precise. Other noteworthy varietals he produces include, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mourvedre, Semillon, Chardonnay, and even a sparkling Gewurztraminer. Each wine he produces is made with a minimal amount of machinery and manipulation. The grapes are pampered throughout the winemaking process. They are hand-bucketed, crushed in small vats, hand punched, unfined and unfiltered. Great care is taken to produce a rich wine with lots of varietal fruit characteristics, great complexity, and as Kent puts it-a soft “mouthfeel”.

It has never been difficult for Kent Rosenblum to sell his wines. From day-one he has had to allocate his sales. Even with his initial 400 cases back in 1978, buyers were limited to just 2 bottles per person. As soon as he produced enough wine to enter into the major competitions, they instantly began winning top awards. Now, on a larger scale, the winery must still allocate and limit case purchases to wine-hungry stores and distributors.



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