In Memory of the ‘King of Zinfandel’ Kent Rosenblum

Kent Rosenblum with wine glass

Tributes have been pouring in since it was announced that Kent Rosenblum, the good natured veterinarian from Minnesota turned winemaking icon passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday night from complications following knee replacement surgery.  He was 74. Kent, a pioneer in the modern California Zinfandel movement,  was just a vet living in San Francisco’s East Bay when he started making wine in his basement in 1972. “Kent always said that wine was a hobby that got out of hand,” his brother Roger recalled. Little did he know, his ‘hobby’ would make a huge impact on the wine world.

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In 1978, Rosenblum Cellars opened in Alameda, California; a place known more for its docks and shipyards than for winemaking. But then again, Kent Rosenblum, “The King of Zin,” always did things a little differently from the status quo. While most winemakers eyed locations in Napa or Sonoma at the time, Rosenblum Cellars settled into an old warehouse in Alameda, an island community and the site of a former Naval airbase off Oakland. It was among the first urban wineries in California to become a popular tourist destination.

When most of the established wineries in California were focused on their estate-grown wines, Kent chose to explore some of the unrecognized and underappreciated grape-growing areas of Northern California. He met families who had been growing grapes for generations; dedicated growers passionate about their vineyards, who worked tirelessly to grow the best grapes possible from old vines their families had planted years before.

Their efforts showcased the difference between mountainside and valley floor grapes, the importance of soil types and their influence on the taste of a wine. Kent was fascinated by the character and complexity of the Zin grapes produced by these old vines, and was determined to capture this spirit in a bottle.

Kent took grapes back to Alameda and began to make wines, acknowledging the contributions of his friends by placing the vineyard’s name on the bottle. Working out of a factory building near the docks, Kent and his crew looked more like longshoremen than winemakers. But the wine they made spoke for itself.

From single-vineyards in Sonoma and Alexander Valley to strictly selected regional blends, Rosenblum has made more than 50 Zinfandels earning 90 or more points from Wine Spectator. It’s an eye-opening track record for Zin lovers, but at Rosenblum, guided by commitment and craft, delivering sumptuous wines is just business as usual.

Rosenblum made a range of wines, but Zinfandel was his first love. “Zinfandel and old vines were really the core of what he did,” said Peterson. “He recognized California’s historic vineyards, which was unique at the time.” A champion of vineyard-designated Zinfandel, Rosenblum at times produced 20 to 30 different bottlings from across California in a single vintage.

He also helped inspire new generations of winemakers. “As one of the three R’s [Rosenblum, Ridge and Ravenswood], his wines of the 1980s and early ’90s helped fuel my passion for Zinfandel,” said Mike Officer of Carlisle, one of today’s top Zinfandel producers. “That led me to abandon my software career to specialize in making Zin.”

While he was among the cultish R’s, Rosenblum’s style was distinctive and ripe. “He made wine that was very Kent Rosenblum,” said Peterson. “I always thought Kent’s winemaking verged on miraculous. The wines were uber-ripe and could have been a disaster, but he made them great.”

In 2008, Rosenblum and his wife Kathy sold their winery to Diageo for $105 million, in a move that surprised some. “We didn’t really have a plan to sell the winery,” Kathy said. “But they came to us with too much money to say no.”

That same year, Rosenblum founded Rock Wall Winery with Shauna. “Basically, Dad wasn’t done making wine,” she said. “I’m completely honored I was trained by the best.”

Kent Rosenblum was born in Mason City, Iowa, July 29, 1944, but was raised in St. Paul, Minn. He met his wife Kathy while attending the University of Minnesota. They were married in 1969, and the following year they moved to Alameda.

Rosenblum will be remembered for his humor and humanity as much as his wine, friends and family say. “Kent was a terrific human being, very kind and very generous,” said Officer.

Rosenblum is survived by his wife, Kathy, daughters Shauna and Kristen, and granddaughter Skylar.

Zinfandel Legacy Case

In honor of Rosenblum’s Zinfandel Legacy we are offering this Zinfandel Case with a portion of the profits donated in his name to the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter. (Case includes 3 bottles each of the following wines)

2013 Valdez Zinfandel Sonoma County  

(discovering the hidden gems of “Old Vine Zinfandel”, Kent worked with Ulises Valdez to produce some of the greatest Zinfandel in the state) WSI 93 The 2013 Valdez Zinfandel is a fresh wine with notes of licorice, black berries, and hints of cracked black pepper, with a long lingering finish. Fruit for this wine is sourced from 3 different Sonoma County AVAs Dry creek, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley.  

2015 Titus Zinfandel Napa Valley   

WSI 93 The flavor profile, with a gorgeously opaque royal purple core gives way to a clear ruby red rim. Toasted oats and brown sugar notes curl around juicy cranberry-raspberry on the nose, reminiscent of a crisp just out of the oven, followed by balsamic strawberry reduction, faint rose petal and just a hint of the saddle. On the palate toast, oak and macerated strawberry are crowned by a high, bright ribbon of caramel, and robed in red delicious apples and watermelon candy. It is long and lean on the palate, with medium body and an everlasting finish showing considerable ageability in the tannins.

2014 Lamborn Family Zinfandel “The Earthquake Vintage”   

WSI 94  Heidi Barrett notes “Rich aromas of layered raspberry, cherry, pepper and spice are accentuated by multidimensional vanilla, driven by medium toast American oak. The richness fully reveals itself on the palate with a long and lovely mouthfeel that lingers for minutes. The ideal growing season is showcased by this mountaintop Zinfandel, with its seductive red to dark fruit, elegant spice, and perfect balance. Drink and enjoy now, but expect this one to last well over a decade. One of our favorites!”

2016 Gamba Zinfandel “Messana Vineyard” 

The St. Peter’s Church Vineyard was one of Kent and Ulises’ early discoveries.  From the historic Bastoni ranch in Sonoma County, we are pleased to announce the premiere release of our limited production Messana Vineyard Zinfandel from Gamba Vineyards and Winery.  The hilltop block is where you find our Messana Vineyard designate, an area that struggles for water in the ancient volcanic ash. It is planted to the famed St Peter’s Church clone, producing a Zinfandel of intense depth and varietal character.  Just 4 barrels produced

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