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06.11.2010

Requiem for a Winery. Transition to a Wine Brand.

Let me make this clear. I don't intend to write about every Bay Area winery that shutters its doors. Though for the next year or two I'd certainly have a lot of things to write about.

But I am choosing to note the sad (and all too common) denouement of Rosenblum Wine Cellars, whose parent company Diageo announced its intention to close the popular winery in Alameda last rosenblum_image.jpgmonth and shifted production for the brand, which will continue to exist, up to the BV facility in Napa.

I wrote a story last year year entitled How to Kill a Wine Brand. I only need to write that story once.

The sale of Rosenblum for more than $100 million was, of course, a triumph for founder Kent Rosenblum, who built a wine brand from nothing to become one of the darlings of the California wine industry. Under the terms reported at the time, Rosenblum and his operation were to be left alone to do their thing.

But that was before the wine industry fell off a cliff. And Diageo doesn't have a strong track record of allowing its acquisitions to be truly independent, as opposed to simply brands in the portfolio.

So while it's not entirely a surprise that the beloved Alameda winery will no longer host the thousands of loyal customers in its big hangar of a space, and will no longer incubate other small wine labels as it has done for years, it certainly is a damn shame.

Of course, bottles bearing the Rosenblum label will continue to show up on store shelves for the coming years, and there's a chance that they may still be just as good as they used to be. But they certainly will lack some soul that they once had, even if you can't really taste the difference.

Comments (13)

06.11.10 at 11:48 PM

It's late on Fri night so this will be short.

Rosenblum was sold because its many investors were aging up and many wanted the chance to cash in.

Kent Rosenblum has a three year support deal with Diageo that will run out next February.

He has also started a new winery in Alameda called Rockwall. His agreement with Diageo limits his volume at Rockwall for a few years yet, but Rockwall is reacquiring the rights to some of the best Zinfandel vineyards including Monte Rosso, Harris-Kratka, St. Peter's Church and others. I don't remember the date that the production cap expires, but it does end.

The new Rockwall facility, which is an old hangar on the former Alameda Naval Air Station, is currently host to something like ten small wineries.

The Rosenblum label will certainly change focus, and it may not achieve the quality it once had. In that sense, it is a loss, but I am comfortable that Rockwall will carry the torch for small vineyard Zinfandel, and that is probably a plus because Kent Rosenblum has been freed of the production heavy emphasis that was taking over at the Rosenblum winery before it was sold.

Dan Scheve wrote:
06.13.10 at 12:41 AM

It's late on a Saturday night - oops - it's early Sunday morning, June 13 2010

I don't get angry at much these days - there are just too many choices. The way that Rosenblum winery dissolved into a Diageo production is certainly one of our current choices for anger.

Kent and his wine enterprise inspired - and continue to inspire many wineries - including the one we started in 2006 and just recently chose to shut-down. Our experiences with the vineyards that Ken chose continues to be one of the greatest joys of our lives.

There is still a torch to carry for small vineyard Zinfandel. I still feel its heat...

Thanks Kent!

Dale Cruse wrote:
06.13.10 at 10:36 AM

I'm very sorry to read about this. Rosenblum has been a well-known brand for year & I wish it well.

Stephen Weinberg wrote:
06.14.10 at 3:15 AM

I agree with Charlie Olken. As a former distributor for Rosenblum I enjoyed working with Kent and his Team to build the brand but he was smart to take the $$ and move on. Just like Kim Crawford he served his time on "the Board" and is now free to start his next wine venture without worrying about how to pay the bills!!! Steve Weinberg

A.C. Houston wrote:
06.14.10 at 8:00 AM

Wow, that is big news, maybe good for the winemaker, maybe not as wonderful for his followers. I have loved Rosenblum zins - only had the pleasure of drinking a few bottles, but so good. Chalk Hill changing hands now, also, I read.

06.14.10 at 11:16 AM

I am not sentimental about Winery's they come and go.I don't care for brands it's sort of disingenuous what makes great wine is the energy of the wine maker there use of materials and smarts.

Jolan wrote:
06.14.10 at 12:48 PM

Alas! Rosenblum has always been a solid choice. I do wonder if the shift in production will have a tangible, tastable effect.

Stevie wrote:
06.14.10 at 3:12 PM

If you ask me, it's no loss.

Al Frank wrote:
06.14.10 at 6:15 PM

We'll see if the quality holds up, time will tell.

Gence wrote:
06.14.10 at 9:37 PM

Diageo bought Rosenblum to counter and mimic what Constellation did with and to Ravenswood. History will repeat itself as corporate greed gobbles up brandable boutique classics, sad, but true.

06.15.10 at 11:00 AM

There are a couple of points worth remembering even as we regret the change of status of the Rosenblum brand.

Both it and Ravenswood had become commodity wineries long before they were sold to big corporations.

Sure, they both had, and Ravenswood still has, long lists of high-quality single vineyard Zins in their portfolios, but they had both become multiple hundred thousand case wineries with large cash flows based on low-priced blends that neither Joel Peterson at Ravenswood nor Kent Rosenblum had much of a hand in their making.

So, their sales to big companies were not the purchase of boutique wineries.

And, please do note that Kent Rosenblum is going to be back as a major player in single-vineyard Zinfandel and host to small, startup wineries at his new venture in Alameda called Rockwall. That is a name that Zin lovers will get very used to seeing as production at Rockwall ramps up.

Mart S. wrote:
06.17.10 at 8:02 PM

Well said, Charlie. The fact that Kent Rosenblum's passion in wine is still there, then it's actually a move for the better. Cheers!

JK wrote:
06.25.10 at 11:24 AM

Thanks to the many on this thread that have complimented the wines we have made over the years. Iíve been here for nearly ten years and we have a great team, a fantastic group of growers, and together they deserve most of the credit. And I can assure you that we will continue to make great wines with the recently announced move of production to Napa from our Alameda winery. While Alameda has rich history in our beginnings, its limitation as a production facility were becoming increasingly evident. This move will only have a positive impact on our wine, not the other way around. If for no other reason than the fact that most of our fruit will be almost an hour closer to the winery. Personally, I genuinely think this is an exciting opportunity.
And as for the nostalgia and the great memories many of us have had, weíll be keeping the tasting room right where it always has been, in our old hangar in Alameda.
-John Kane, Winemaker, Rosenblum Cellars

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