Wine Culture

The Rosenblums pour their incredible Rock Wall Zins in Detroit

A well-known face was touring Metro Detroit wine shops this week.

Zinfandel czar Kent Rosenblum may have sold his Rosenblum Cellars with its blockbuster California reds back in 2008, but he never stopped making wine nor cultivating relationships with some of the best growers in the state. With daughter Shauna at his side, the two were in town to give a nudge to their new brand — Rock Wall Wine Company.

Without the Rosenblum name on the bottle, and production being small, word has been slow to leak out in Michigan — where Kent has hosted large tastings — that he still is in the wine business.

But is he ever, with Shauna playing a key role as the winemaker.

“I love my wines. They’re my babies,” said Shauna, 28, who has personality and a streak of creativity as big as any of her dad’s Zins.

Shauna virtually grew up in Rosenblum Cellars, and at age 2 was smelling tank samples.  By age by 3 she was learning to use a refractometer to measure sugar, by age 10 she was working on the bottling line and as a teen was blending wines.

Out of high school, however, she pursued art, not grapes. She got a bachelor’s degree in sculpture and a master’s in ceramics.

“Dad said if I wanted to weave baskets, he would support me,” she says.

“I had my ah-ha moment when I was in the ceramics lab one night,” she says.

Ceramics involves a lot of chemistry, just like wine. And it hit me that glaze-making is no different than winemaking. It took a different application for me to see the synthesis of art and wine.”

Kent acts as wine consultant and CEO at Rock Wall, which is on the island of Alameda, housed in a 40,000-square-foot hangar on the former Alameda Naval Air Station, which closed in 1997. The name is derived from a World War II-era rock wall that surrounds the base to protect it from torpedoes attacks.

The winery started out small, making 2,000 cases, and is now up to 10,000 — a minuscule amount considering that his former Rosenblum Cellars made 250,000 cases. Kent sees production growing to about 20,000 cases.

Rock Wall makes 36 different wines, many using grapes off the famous vineyards that Kent used at Rosenblum Cellars. Zin geeks will rejoice to see vineyard names like Rock Pile, St. Peter’s Church and Monte Rosso.

Shauna’s enthusiasm embraces a surprising number of grape varieties that are rare in California — Tannat, the national grape of Uruguay; Mourvedre, better known in the Rhone Valley of France; Montepulciano, famous in Italy; and now in barrels, a California Norton, the inky, huge-flavored dry red that’s best known in Missouri and Virginia.

The wines are fairly priced considering the quality of the grapes, especially the Zins off old vines — some more than 100 a hundred years old. The Carver Sutro Petite Sirah will set you back $50 — a true taste experience with tannins like velvet and intense flavors of ripe plums, blackberries and spice. It’s all about location: grown on the Palisades Vineyard in Calistoga — think northern Napa Valley.

For serious red wine lovers it’s nothing but good news that the Rosenblums are still making great wines.

A taste of Rock Wall wines

Rock Wall Zinfandel Jesse’s Vineyard 2009, $25: This big, burly Zin (16 percent alcohol) is all about mocha, blackberry, pipe tobacco, dark plum and black tea. The grower, whose name is Jesse, formerly sold to Turley Wine Cellars. Some of the vines are 120 years old.

Rock Wall Obsidian Red Hills Lake County Red Wine 2010, $25: It won Best of Class for all red blends regardless of price at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Obsidian is named for the shiny black volcanic soils of Lake County. This vineyard is owned by Nils Venge of Saddleback Cellars. Think red licorice, chocolate, cherry vanilla and cola flavors. Tannins are like velvet.  It’s 50-50 blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Just imagine that flavor combination

Rock Wall Sonoma County Reserve Monte Rosso Vineyard 2009, $40: This is a large, storied vineyard owned for years by the Martini family and now by Gallo, which rarely sells the grapes. It is known for its red soil that leaves its color on everything — especially your shoes. The heritage Zinfandel vines are more than 100 a hundred years old. Flavors are concentrated and intense: raspberry, creamy blackberry, vanilla and chocolate. The previous vintage was voted Best Zinfandel in California at the California State Fair Wine Competition.

Available at: Market Square, Birmingham; Red Wagon, Rochester Hills; Merchant’s Fine Wine, Dearborn; Cost Plus, Detroit; Village Market, Grosse Pointe Farms; Canopy, Brighton; Casa del Vino, Trenton; ml, Birmingham. The distributor is Galaxy in Livonia.