The sale of Rosenblum to Diageo is important on several fronts.
Rosenblum has been one of the state’s biggest champions of Zinfandel. In any given year it can bottle up to two dozen single-vineyard wines from this grape as well as other often underdog varietals and, perhaps more significantly, it has emphasized value, which all wine drinkers prize.
Rosenblum’s pursuit of special vineyards has led it both to great sites in Napa and Sonoma counties, with the likes of Lyons Vineyard Zinfandel in Napa Valley 2002 (93, $38) and Rockpile Road Vineyard Zinfandel 2003 (93, $29), from the Rockpile appellation in Sonoma County, to Paso Robles, with Richard Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel 2002 and 2003 (92 both years and $19).
Owner Kent Rosenblum and his former winemaker Jeff Cohn have unturned vineyard gems in areas as off the wine road as Solano County, east of Napa, with the England Shaw Vineyard. And it’s not just Zinfandel. The winery has excelled with a wide variety of grapes. Moreover, the evolution of the Rosenblum style—bold, opulent, powerful and expressive wines—pushed and tested the limits of ripeness, winning many fans. Rosenblum’s is not a style that appeals to everyone. Some find the wines overblown and sweet. Yet most of the time the wines succeeded in that style and appealed to many and, on the right occasion, they provided a full-blown wine experience.
Now Diageo buys entry into the Zinfandel market, which is new territory for the publicly traded company. It has big holdings in California, with Beaulieu, Acacia and Chalone. I hope Diageo keeps the focus on quality and value with Rosenblum, and doesn’t dilute the value of the brand or its wines. But this company, like all publicly traded companies, seeks growth and profits, typically through increased volume. When it acquired both Acacia and Chalone, it increased production, introducing an Acacia line of Acacia California wines under the A by Acacia label, which looked much like the Acacia label, which had previously focused only on Carneros-grown wines.
I expect Diageo will take a similar growth mentality with Rosenblum, which already makes 200,000 cases a year, but could easily make more. How soon that change will come depends on the quality of wines from 2005, 2006 and 2007; many wines from the latter two vintages are still in barrel. Moreover, whether the contacts for the single-vineyard wines remain intact may force Diageo’s hand and determine whether they will be continued or not.
Zinfandel also needs its advocates. It’s a distinctive and perhaps the most difficult red wine to grown and vinify. If Rosenblum’s wines decline in quality as volume grows, as Ravenswood’s did when a publicly traded company acquired it, fans of this label and wine will be disappointed.
Here’s hoping Diageo opts to improve on what is already a hugely successful winery.