The Orange County Wine Society is greatly honored to have Shauna Rosenblum, winemaker and President of Rock Wall Wine Company, as our Virtual Winery Program presenter on January 22. As most of our members well know, Shauna comes with a history of wine in her blood as the daughter of well-loved and sorely missed veteran OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition judge, Kent Rosenblum, founder of Rosenblum Cellars. Today, Shauna heads up the Rosenblum family venture, Rock Wall, with the mission of having fun, while making the best wines from the best regions and sharing the experience with others.
Shauna, now also a veteran judge at the OCWS-run OC Fair Wine Competition, is creating her own legacy with award-winning wines such as her 2016 and 2017 Zinfandels which both garnered Gold medals at the 2019 commercial competition, followed by her 2017 Cabernet Franc, 2015 Syrah and 2015 Tannat all taking Silver.
Shauna was interviewed by Alameda Magazine in September of 2019 and has graciously consented to allow us to publish a portion of that interview for our members in our Wine Press. Following are excerpts from that interview that, interestingly and entertainingly, ask some out of the norm questions and give us a little more insight into a great winemaker’s passion and thinking:
“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.”
As the winemaker at Rock Wall since 2008, Shauna’s wines have earned many 90+ point scores from such notable publications as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine. She was also recognized as one of the “Top 10 Female Winemakers in California” by Haute Living in 2017 and in 2018 was recognized as one of the “40 under 40” by Diablo Magazine, as one of the “Top 10 Spirited Women in the Bay Area” and was featured in the CBS special, “Women in Wine.” If these accolades are not enough to encourage you to reserve a spot for her presentation, then I suggest, if you are not already familiar with Rock Wall wines, you place an order, do some tasting, and confirm that attending this Virtual Winery Program is a MUST.
For information regarding sign-ups, please see the Winery Webinar Program article in this issue of The Wine Press. If you have any questions, contact Rich@ocws.org.
– Fran Gitsham, Contributing Writer