San Luis Obispo County
A solid reputation for producing high quality, approachable wines
It doesn’t seem too long ago, but in 1980 when the Rosenblooms bought 479 acres of ranch land in San Luis Obispo County, there were only a few wineries operating in the area. It was a time when the wine world was still focusing almost exclusively on Napa and Sonoma. Virtually no one had heard of San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles as great grape growing regions. The Rosenblooms were nervous too. But everything they saw and researched and tested told them they were in the right place.
“We brought in all sorts of people who studied the climate and the soil on the property,” says Larry Rosenbloom. “For instance, they identified 21 different soil types to which we carefully matched the appropriate grape varieties,” he adds.
The site is situated at an average elevation of 1,700 feet—highest in the county. During the growing season the daily temperature differential is often as great as 40-50 degrees. The consistent daytime heat in the upper 90s contributes to optimal sugar-level ripeness in the grapes. The coastal influences bring in the fog and cooler temperatures in the evening which helps hold the acid levels. The result is a high quality grape crop, critical in producing a well-balanced wine.
Creston Vineyards started in 1980 as a partnership of two families. At first, the property retained its original name, Indian Creek Ranch. But later they changed the name to Creston Manor to impart a more European flair. Then ultimately in 1991 the ‘Manor’ portion was dropped.
Of the almost 500 acres of property they purchased, just over 100 acres were initially planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
In 1982, 1,200 cases of their first commercial wines were produced at their new winery facility which had just been completed. These inaugural wines were the same three grape varietals the Rosenblooms planted in their own vineyard but were, for obvious reasons, made with grapes purchased from other vineyards in the county. As soon as the wines started showing up at the various wine industry competitions in 1983, they began racking up the medals.
In 1984, the Rosenblooms took sole possession of the winery and vineyards when the other partnership family lost interest. Larry and Stephanie knew they were on the right track however, and searched for ways to expand the operation. They brought in a number of investors over the ensuing years, one notably, was Alex Trebek. The Trebeks and the Rosenblooms had already known each other for many years, having met one evening while playing backgammon at a friend’s house. Alex grew up in a wine and food environment in Canada, and is an avid wine enthusiast and accomplished chef. The two families shared many common interests and became good friends during the 1970s and early 1980s.
In 1986 Alex became financially involved in the Creston operation and over the years has bought out several other limited partners to become the winery’s largest investor. As a result, Alex Trebek is now a major spokesman and figurehead for Creston Vineyards.
As their estate vines matured during the 1980s, the wines they produced were made from fewer and fewer amounts of grapes from other vineyards. In 1991 Creston bottled their first 100% estate produced wines. Today, all of their white wines and most of their reds are grown and produced at the Creston Vineyards and Winery. By the end of the decade, the transition into all estate wines will be complete.
Currently the winery produces two Cabernet Sauvignons, a “regular” and an ultra premium top-of-the-line “Winemaker’s Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition they produce a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot, Chardonnay, and a proprietary blend of Semillon and Chardonnay called Chevrier Blanc. Future offerings may also include a Sangiovese, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.
Creston Vineyards has earned a solid reputation for producing high quality, approachable, value-priced wines. Their many wine competition awards are testaments to that well-deserved repute. During the Reagan and Bush presidencies, Creston wines were chosen to be poured at their respective inaugurations. The winery commissioned artist James Paul Brown to create a portrait of Reagan (and then Bush), to be used for the label on the wine at the inaugural dinner. The artist-label concept was so well received that now every wine at Creston has a different James Paul Brown painting for its label, and the painting is also different for each vintage.
Wine production has risen exponentially since the first vintage in 1982. The Creston label accounts for nearly 35,000 cases a year. Their goal is to reach about 50,000 cases by the year 2000. The winery facilities also make a number of private label wines to the tune of about 65,000 cases a year. “With the private label business helping the cash flow, we can afford to take our time with the high quality Creston wines,” says Larry Rosenbloom. “We’re in no hurry to rush those to the marketplace.”
Creston Vineyards' Wine Labels
Like many who have ended up in the business, Larry Rosenbloom grew up with wine at the dinner table. ‘I remember my father had a great curiosity about wine,” Larry says. ‘He wasn’t a wine professional or even a collector of wines, he was just really interested in the wide variety of wines,” he adds.
But unlike many who grew up with wine at the dinner table, Larry founded and orchestrated his own successful winery. Born and raised in New York, Larry’s family moved to southern California in the mid 1940s. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating there in 1953 with a Political Science major. ‘I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with a Political Science background,” he recalls. ‘At one point in time I thought about being a politician,” he says half-heartedly.
Instead, Larry and his father, who was General Manager of a lighting fixture manufacturer, planned to start their own lighting manufacturing business. That plan however came to an abrupt halt when his dad died suddenly at the age of 53. Since Larry had little real experience in lighting manufacturing, his search for employment turned eventually to the insurance field.
‘I guess you could say I fell into the insurance business,” Larry says. That direction proved fortuitous for Larry who quickly mastered the occupation. After gaining experience with several insurance firms Larry started his own insurance brokerage firm in 1958. His company handled all types of corporate insurance and soon took on a number of national accounts. To handle the servicing of these clients, he opened offices in a handful of major cities like San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, and New York. In 1973 he sold his company to a larger New York insurance firm. ‘I couldn’t resist the offer!” he points out. Then becoming restless again a couple of years later, he started yet another insurance brokerage company.
‘My thoughts turned to the wine business in the late 1970s after I had open heart surgery,” Larry reveals. ‘I always had a strong interest in wines and I wanted to do something that I felt was idyllic.”
The numbers made sense too. In the late 1970s the California wine boom was in full swing. For awhile even after his entry into the wine business, Larry kept his hand in both occupations. Finally in 1986, he sold his insurance business to concentrate full time on the vineyards and winery.
Today Larry and Stephanie Rosenbloom live in the L.A. area and commute to the winery in San Luis Obispo county on a regular basis. A big chunk of the day-to-day operations is handled by General Manager and Winemaker, Vic Roberts, who has been with the winery since its inception. The Rosenblooms are still the General Partners and concentrate on marketing Creston wines throughout the country.
Alex Trebek - The price was right
Alex Trebek is a major stockholder in and celebrity spokesman for Creston Vineyards. Not many wineries have celebrity spokespersons. In fact we can think of only a few right off the top of our head. The Smothers Brothers have their own winery, as does Pat Paulson. Francis Ford Coppola is another one. Beyond those we’d have to look it up to jog the memory banks. Anyway, Alex Trebek didn’t get involved with a winery because he had a few bucks lying around to spend. He grew up around fine wine and food as his father was an accomplished chef for a hotel/restaurant in Ontario, Canada. He attended college at the University of Ottawa, graduating with a degree in philosophy.
Alex’s career path however, steered him toward broadcast news, joining the Canadian Broadcast Company as an announcer and newsman. He covered national news and special events for both of CBC’s radio and television divisions. As an indicator of things to come, he also began to host a popular TV game show for high school students. His break to the U.S. market began when he auditioned and landed the spot as host for a new TV show called Wizard of Odds. Other shows followed and in 1984 he landed the job as host for the game show, Jeopardy! Admitting he had little idea the show would be as popular as it’s turned out to be, Alex comments, ‘I did feel it was the right show for me because it rewards people for their knowledge, an old-time value I heartily endorse.”
Commenting on the show Alex says, ‘I am constantly amazed at the breadth of knowledge of our contestants.” He attributes the show’s popularity to several factors. ‘First, it’s the kind of show people never have to apologize for watching. It’s also a show that tests people deep inside. We all want to find out how much we know. Also,” he says, ‘people enjoy acquiring information in an entertaining manner, which Jeopardy! provides.”
Aside from appearing on the show, Alex serves on the USO World Board of Governors. He also travels frequently to help raise money for World Vision, an international organization whose purpose is to help children of Third World nations. He’s a board member of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation and hosts the annual National Geography Bee. Not stopping there, he is also on the board of the National Advisory Council for the Literacy Volunteers of America. Whew!
When he’s not doing all of those things, he lives in Studio City with his wife Jean, and their children, Matthew and Emily. And like his father, Alex is also a talented chef.