There are plenty of former Minnesotans heading up California vineyards.
While driving through Sonoma last week, my wife asked, “Why do you think there are so many Minnesotans making wine out here?”
I didn’t have a great answer, and mumbled something about Midwestern work ethic and common-sense values and people wanting to flee our winters for the good life. What I do know is this: They make good wines. And it’s time to catch up with a few who have been profiled previously in these pages.
Like Kent Rosenblum.
The St. Paul native who morphed from veterinarian into vintner is back in the Twin Cities market with a newish label, Rock Wall. And more than the name on the bottle has changed.
In February 2008, Rosenblum sold his eponymous label to Diageo, in the process nabbing a Great Timing Award. “We just didn’t know that at the time,” he said of cashing in just before a crash. “The more time went on, the smarter we looked.”
He agreed to a noncompete clause (no more than 10,000 cases a year for five years at his new winery) and brought in a new winemaker: his daughter Shauna.
While Shauna was earning a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s in sculpture, “somewhere in there, she realized that art was a little like winemaking,” Kent said over lunch in Minneapolis earlier this month. “She jumped in and after six months was making wine. I’m now CEO and chief cook and bottle washer.”
That has enabled Kent to spend more time in outdoor pursuits — fishing, skiing and hunting are his faves — but he’s still heavily involved in dealing with 53 growers and steering steady growth that has seen the brand go from two states in 2011 to 34 now.
Making wine with the next generation has proved edifying for Rosenblum. “I learned from Shauna that bigger isn’t always better,” he said. “She makes lighter wines. The zins are a little more feminine and fruity. We found that letting them bottle-age for a while helps.”
Zinfandel plays almost as big a part in the Rock Wall portfolio as it did at Rosenblum. The “Jesse’s Vineyard” Contra Costa Zin is rich but refined, big but pretty, as are the zin-infused blends Obsidian and Rock Hound (named after Shauna’s blind pit bull.).
Also in this market: a yummerific sauvignon blanc from Lake County and a tannat called, aptly enough, “The Palindrome.”
Recent research has shown that tannat has more of the beneficial compounds called OPCs than any other wine. “So it’s healthy,” Rosenblum said. “But, of course, I think drinking wine is healthy for you, period.”
Moving on up
When last we looked in on Bloomington native Shane Finley, he had launched his own eponymous label and was an assistant winemaker at cult pinot noir house Kosta Browne. Now he’s head winemaker at Lynmar Estates, whose excellent pinot noirs and chardonnays are, alas, not available in these parts.
But his Shane portfolio continues to steadily grow, with stellar pinots and syrahs, and his rosé is one of my favorites every year.
During a winery visit last week, Finley made a good point about frequent analogies between chefs and winemakers: “A chef creates a recipe, then has to repeat it night after night. We have to deal with different conditions all the time in the vineyard and the cellar.”
More Minnesota connections
Elsewhere: Rocca Family Vineyards has landed. The superlative wines crafted by former Rochester denizen Mary Rocca have finally reached the Twin Cities market. They are spendy but way worth it. … Anoka native Andy Cutter has changed the brand on his Gennaio Sangiovese to conform with his Duxoup labels. For those of us who like some herbs in our fermented grape juice, the 2011 Duxoup Charbono is one fabulous wine. …
Retired Valspar magnate Angus Wuertele sold the Terra Valentine label to his winemaker, Sam Baxter, but will continue to operate the Wuertele Vineyard on Spring Mountain. … Gustafson Family Vineyards, owned by Twin Cities landscape architect Dan Gustafson, has opened a tasting room near the tony square in Healdsburg at 34 North Street.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @decantthis.