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Wine: Will Rosenblum still be Rosenblum?

Wine may seem like a drink, but it's really all about mythology. Oenogeeks love the story of the scrappy winemaker defying all odds to make hand-crafted, artisan wine with character and personality that shows up the big corporations and their non-descriptor plonk. The problem is, those big corporations tend to buy out the smaller winemakers, and then the once-revered labels become mere brands.

Rosenblum Cellars is the latest example. The revered, even iconic zinfandel producer was sold two years ago to the Diageo drinks conglomerate, a sale that gained founder Kent Rosenblum and his investors a reported $105 million. Rosenblum himself, along with winemaker John Kane, remained with the operation, and consumers saw little if any change.

Last month, however, Diageo announced it was moving Rosenblum's production operation from its winery at the northern end of Alameda island on the east side of San Francisco Bay - hardly marketing friendly wine country. Rosenblum Cellars wines will now be made at Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley, another once-revered winery now owned by Diageo.

Rosenblum himself reacted bitterly. "I think this is what happens when you let bean-counters run a company," he told WineSpectator.com. The Alameda tasting room will remain open, though another in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, will close.

He shouldn't be surprised, though. Many of California's most venerable wine names are no longer owned by the people who made them famous: Mondavi, Farrell, and Sanford, to name a few.

Consumers shouldn't abandon Rosenblum wines just yet, unless they are concerned about the mythology -- in this case, the story of a veterinarian wine lover who scoured California for patches of old Zinfandel vines. Kane will make the move to Beaulieu and continue making the wines for now. But the consolidation of Rosenblum Cellars with other properties owned by Diageo is a major step toward reducing this once-beloved winery to just another brand.

-- Dave McIntyre
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  June 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, wine  
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Comments

You didn't mention Ravenswood. Constellation destroyed the cult following and dumbed-down the wines.

Posted by: jcalder1 | June 14, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

We at Ravenswood would beg to differ with the above comment. While I can’t speak to the cult following, I can speak to the wines. Ravenswood wine is made by the same people, in the same place, using the same techniques that were used pre-acquisition. While there are those that believe that Constellation has somehow “dumbed down” the wine, this is certainly not how the people who make these wines experience them. There is not anything nearing the consensus that jcalder seems to believe. Not that scores are the end all and be all of an argument like this, but third party validation is certainly one thing to look at. In the last 2 years, Ravenswood wines have had more than 50 scores of 90+ points or greater from a wide range of wine critics. It is unfortunate that some people are unable to see past their prejudice against ownership to the core people and values in a winery like Ravenswood.

Posted by: jpeterson1 | June 16, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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