Central Coast AVA
The King of Zin
Kent Rosenblum is sitting on top of the Zinfandel world. With no fewer than nine current bottlings of Zinfandels, Rosenblum Cellars (pronounced 'rows en bloom'), is on or near the top of every Zin lovers must-have list. Despite their growing popularity, a Rosenblum wine is still relatively hard-to-find. Overall production at the winery is a very small 18,000 cases divided among 13 different wines. And a significant amount of that is sold right at the winery.
Last year, production was just 12,000 cases. If you're lucky enough to find a Rosenblum Zinfandel, you will discover a superb wine made from one of only a handful of cherished Old-vine Zinfandel vineyards ranging from 40 to 100 years in age. Rosenblum 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 comprised of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Now, if you think that sounds pretty easy, consider the fact that Kent Rosenblum had (and still does) a full time professional practice as a Veterinarian! Doctor Kent Rosenblum and friends took care of their wine business at night, often making wine 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 had grown 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 7,000 square foot shipyard warehouse in Alameda, a few miles south of Oakland. He has since expanded into the warehouse next door, more than doubling his capacity.
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. Even owning his own vineyard, Kent still purchases 95% of the grapes used to make his wines.
Rosenblum Cellars makes mostly red wine. Sixty-Five percent of his production goes towards making eight or nine different Zinfandels a year. The next largest varietal is Petite Sirah at 10%, then smaller quantities of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, 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.
After waiting almost two years, Gold Medal Wine Club was fortunate to finally twist Kent's arm to allocate enough wine to feature to our Club members. In fact, one of this month's wines, the 1991 Holbrook Mitchell Trio (a wonderful blend of Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), is an exclusive pre-release tasting for Club members only! GMWC members not only have an exclusive first taste of this great wine, it is very likely not ever to reach retail stores, due to a very limited production of just 389 cases. The 1990 vintage was the first bottling of this new blend. It was universally praised throughout the industry, winning multiple Gold Medals as well as being awarded Best American Bordeaux-Style Red Wine, by Wine & Spirits Magazine. The H.M. Trio's partner in vine is a Rosenblum trademark Zinfandel, from the Richard Sauret vineyard located in the Central Coast area of California.
The forty-year old vines in this vineyard are in an ideal high elevation area. Kent had heard of reports of old vines in the area and "discovered" this 5-acre gem just a few years back. Wine magazines and critics agree this wine is an outstanding Zinfandel. Please enjoy this month's very special selections from Rosenblum Cellars.
Dr. Kent Rosenblum - Winery Owner
Making great wine started as a hobby for Dr. Kent Rosenblum. In 1970, he had just moved to California, when a few friends introduced him to a 1969 Concannon Riesling at San Francisco's famous Tadich Grill. He thought the wine was good, but he particularly enjoyed the social aspect of gathering with good friends and discussing wines. He and his friends at that moment, had essentially formed a wine tasting group, which would become the springboard for the creation of Rosenblum Cellars years later.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Kent's passion growing up was to become a Veterinarian. "I've always had a fondness for animals. I guess I saw myself as sort of a Dr. Doolittle," he says. "I had 32 guinea pigs, about 20 cats, some birds, dogs and a few other assorted animals!".
Kent achieved his goal of becoming a Veterinarian, receiving his degree at the University of Minnesota, in 1968. He spent a year at a veterinarian practice in Montana, before heading to California to open his own practice. His specialty is in orthopedic surgical procedures, particularly with small animals such as rabbits, mice and birds. He has a partner and one other associate who help run the practice.
The winery idea was born as Kent and his wine tasting group of 20 to 30 friends discovered over the years they too, could make very good wine right in their own homes. The early experimental batches of wine were all given away to family and friends. Soon, the demand for their wines outgrew the home hobby stage. So in the late 1970's, Kent and six other interested friends decided to form a winery to actually try to sell their wine! As a fringe benefit, they thought not only could they write-off the wine making equipment, they could also legitimately write-off trips to Europe's wine country!
Regardless of the motivating factors, the winery has been a phenomenal success from the start. Kent still regards his wine business as recreation. "At the clinic, every second you're totally involved," he says. "So at the winery, it's like taking time off from work!" The clinic is about a mile from the winery, so he constantly shuttles back and forth on his bicycle between the two locations. He sees no reason to end either venture, even as he sees the winery taking up more and more of his time. "I've got great people working with me in both businesses, and they are the ones that really keep it going," he says, thankfully.
The winery employs seven, plus Kent's wife Kathleen, who handles a lot of the paperwork and bookkeeping. "Kathleen also has a unique talent for knowing which of our wines will fare best in the marketplace. So she's our quality control!" quips Kent. Kent and Kathleen met while at the University of Minnesota. They have two children, both girls, ages 10 and 8. Kent's brother, Roger, also lends a hand on weekends, when he's not teaching computer skills at the University of California.
Kent Rosenblum has a simple, straight-forward response when asked how he would like people to remember his Zinfandel wine. "I want them to feel they've just had the best bottle of Zinfandel ever."