The winemaker’s daughter shares her philosophy of winemaking.
If it’s true that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, then Shauna Rosenblum is exhibit A. The co-founder of Alameda’s Rock Wall Wine Company with her late father, Kent Rosenblum, the Zinfandel whisperer and founder of his own namesake winery, Shauna grew up in the wine biz. But like many members of the second generation in a family enterprise, she wasn’t giddy about the prospect of going into the family business. She thought of it as a dirty, smelly endeavor. Instead, she pursued a career as a sculptor and made a go of it as an art teacher in Oakland when in 2008 her father asked her to join him in a new winemaking venture. Because he was too busy working for Diageo, the alcohol conglomerate that bought out Rosenblum Cellars, Shauna immediately became, as she puts, it a “one-woman” show at Rock Wall. Her first move was to take the new venture in a different direction than her dad’s usual focus by hitting the ground running with a line of sparkling wines — and even today bubbly makes up half of Rock Wall’s production. Ever since those early days, Shauna has continued to prove that despite having a wine industry legend as a father, she’s very much her own woman.
What’s the major difference between you and your dad’s winemaking styles?
I think my style is a little bit lighter and a little bit more restrained than my dad’s. He was definitely picking [grapes] based on ripeness and wanted to have alcohol content and maybe a little residual sugar, where what’s really important to me is the flavor in the wine, balance, and acidity. If a wine doesn’t have acidity, I don’t think it’s a successful wine. Acidity is the portion where when you put the wine in your mouth and your mouth waters. So for me, the wine has to have great aromatics. It has to be well balanced, but it has to have a really beautiful mouthfeel too.
Beer is having a huge moment. What can winemakers learn from brewmeisters?
As a lot of millennials are becoming winemakers, I feel we’re very cognizant of the fact that beer labels are a lot more fun than wine labels. So I think my generation is really trying to make wine a little bit more casual, a little bit more approachable, and make it fun. I mean, wine is really fun.
What about canned wine? It’s out there, but are you ready to embrace it?
I think it’s a pretty genius approach to people who have active lifestyles. Millennials are all about the experience of going to the beach, or hiking, or this, that, or the other thing. It’s not always super convenient to lug a bottle of wine with you. So I think cans are becoming really popular. I have yet to put wine in a can, because I was waiting for the first generation of people putting wine in a can to figure it out. I think we’re almost there, so once the industry hits a healthy decision about canning wine, I would love to put some rosé in a can.
I remember when screw caps first came out in wine 15, 20 years ago, and people were horrified. Eventually they came around, and now Australia uses almost exclusively screw caps. All of my white wines except Chardonnay are in screw caps. It’s a convenient way to go, but the technology initially for screw caps was pretty bad. They were putting screw caps on the wine without the protective liner. Basically, people were figuring it out. So, I’m waiting for other people to figure it out so I can jump on the technology and do it right the first time.
How do you learn how to recognize notes of cinnamon, asparagus or whatever while imbibing a vintage? Is that even something the average wine drinker needs to worry about?
It’s super subjective. Basically anything you read coming out of Rock Wall, I wrote. The tasting notes are something that are incredibly subjective because that’s what I smell and I taste in the wine that I’m making. Some people may smell and may taste those same things, but tasting is so personal, and some people don’t care at all. “Blackberry? I don’t get blackberry in this.” That’s OK. I think one of the best things going about wine tasting is you can’t be wrong. If you say, “This wine smells exactly like my grandmother’s attic,” there is nobody on Earth who can dispute that. If it smells like that to you, then that’s what it smells like.
There might be nobody on Earth who would want to drink it either. How was your palate trained?
My dad was training my palate my whole life. We would be camping in our vineyard when I was five or six years old, and we’d be roasting marshmallows. He’d grab a graham cracker and some marshmallows. We’d roast the marshmallows and put it on the graham cracker with the chocolate, and he’d say, “Smell that. That smells like an American oak barrel.” We’d put some fruit on the s’more and he’d say, “Smell that. That American oak barrel and those berries, that smells like Zinfandel.”
Just my whole life, everything was all about, “Smell this. Experience this. What does it smell like? Does it smell like fresh strawberries, strawberry jam? Does it smell like stewed strawberries? Does it smell like dehydrated strawberries?” So really deconstructing aromas in everyday life definitely informs the way we taste and interpret wine.
It is fascinating to see how some people do interpret drinking wine, and some people are like, “I don’t smell any of that, but I like the way it tastes.” That’s really all you need to know.