Northside SF
Winemaker Profile
Shauna Rosenblum: Rockin’ the vine at Rock Wall Wine Company
Shauna Rosenblum and her father, Kent, in the tasting room at their new Rock Wall Wine Company

If your dad is the King of Zinfandel, would that make you Princess? Shauna Rosenblum, the 27-year-old daughter of Kent Rosenblum of the world-renowned Rosenblum Cellars of Sonoma, would love to think so. One thing’s for certain: She has inherited her dad’s irrepressible passion for winemaking. In the early days, Rosenblum’s father was a veterinarian who began making wine in bathtubs and garbage cans in the basement. “When they were cold-soaking the grapes, there wasn’t enough room in our refrigerator, so my parents stored them in his office freezer – along with the dead cats and dogs waiting to be cremated,” recalls Shauna. Wisely this information was omitted from the label.

Although Alameda was home to the Rosenblum family, they spent a lot of time at their vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Winemaking came as naturally to Shauna as riding a tricycle. By age 2, she checked refractometers and by 3, she’d sing, “Tank sample, please!” as her dad carried her through wineries. As Shauna got older, she worked at Rosenblum after school and during summers. “I just loved it! When I was 12 my dad would hire all of my friends, and we’d work on the bottling line, earning candy money,” says Shauna. She began sitting in on the blends with master winemakers when she was 15.

Even sitting around the campfire was a classroom. “We would roast marshmallows, and my dad would say, ‘Smell the marshmallow. Put it on that chocolate with a graham cracker. Now smell that – that’s a French oak, medium-toast barrel right there!’ Then he’d have me compare it with a Zinfandel. He’d always be associating smells from every day life with wine smells, so now I have a great vocabulary to describe what I’m tasting.”

There were some unusual – if not controversial – “benefits” to having a prominent winemaker as a dad. Shauna’s high school friends hung out in her art studio, which was conveniently located next to the wine cellar. “A few times we snuck bottles of wine, but we got caught when we drank one of my mom’s expensive Zinfandels. She said, ‘I can’t believe you drank this – and you didn’t even enjoy it!’ Sure I had my rebellious moments, but it’s hard when your parents are so wonderful.”

“My dad always said, ‘Do whatever makes you happy. If you want to weave baskets for a living, then we support you,’” explains Shauna. So she pursued her undergrad degree in ceramics, but during a chemistry class, a light bulb went off. “I was making additives and writing notations and I thought, ‘This is just like winemaking! Winemaking is an art!’” She described it as “a grand, dizzy blur of science and artistry.”

After receiving her master’s degree in sculpture in 2008, Shauna became a teacher in Oakland earning $16 an hour and held three additional jobs just to survive. Her father sold Rosenblum that year, but he asked Shauna to work at his start-up winery. She was eager to help. First she tore up the wood floors of the two 20,000 square-foot airplane hangars housing the winery. Next he had her taking deliveries, stenciling barrels, and setting them up for crush.

“Months later he said, ‘There’s fruit coming in. Can you crush it and put it in the macro bins?’ So I did. Then I put it in a cold soak, pulled it out, inoculated it with yeast, pulled it through fermentation, did a malolactic fermentation, pressed it off, and put it in a barrel. Before I knew it, it was November, and I’d made an entire vintage of wine! Looking back I’m pretty sure that was my dad’s sneaky plan.”

By the end of harvest, Rosenblum made Shauna winemaker. Although she felt pressure to succeed due to her father’s reputation, she rose to the challenge. Today she makes several luscious wines – including Petit Syrah, Chardonnay and her award-winning Zinfandel – with fruit from 36 vineyards. “It really comes full circle when you see people drink your wines and have that look of joy on their face that says, “This is [expletive] delicious!”’ which sounded oddly cute from an effusive, 20-something winemaker.

Yes, Shauna has a way with words. She loves “evocative descriptions” for her wines, “like ‘toasty marshmallow’, ‘caramel cream’ and ‘raw pipe tobacco’. My uncle is my proofreader, and he returned one description, saying, ‘This reads like a bodice-ripping thriller – tone it down a notch,’” Shauna recalls with a laugh.

When it comes to harvest, however, she’s all business. “It’s glorified janitorial work in its best sense. We work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. It’ll kick your butt, but we’re like one big family, and everybody believes in what we’re doing,” Shauna says.

“There is definitely a rock ’n’ roll element to Rock Wall [Wine Company]. Music is always playing, and we’ve been known to sing and dance at work. When my dad’s here though, it’s all Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I guess rocking out is our form of joie de vivre!”

Like her father, there’s a method to her madness. “I feel if I’m putting my good energy into the wine,” she says, “people are definitely going to taste it.”
Sandy Fertman Ryan is a San Francisco-based writer. E-mail:

March 2012
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