Flavorful Wines Arise From Inhospitable Conditions



A review of several Rosenblum wines.


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  October 18, 2006


Rosenblum Rockpile RoadLovers of big, flavorful wines should make a pilgrimage to northern Sonoma County. There, the Rockpile AVA, a recently designated American Viticulture Area, includes more than 15,000 acres extending from Dry Creek Valley to the Mendocino County line above Lake Sonoma. The name fits perfectly since the shallow soil is studded with rocks and water is scarce. Only a few hundred acres within the Rockpile region can support grapevines, and the farms are located miles apart. These remarkably inhospitable conditions are the source of amazingly complex and well-structured wines — including the award-winning Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel 2003.


Jack Florence Sr., owner of the Rockpile Road vineyard, is a spry, self-declared ‘‘old hand” with a quick smile and a farmer’s weathered hands. Florence was working in the Dry Creek region when he decided to find a new site for Zinfandel. He says he ‘‘fell in love with the view from Rockpile Mountain,” and decided it was ‘‘worth going from a monthly salary to one paycheck per year.” His son was making sacramental wines from 120-year-old vines growing next to a church. Florence liked the flavors and obtained permission to use the clones at his new property.


At Rockpile Road, the vines are oriented east to west at an elevation of more than 1,000 feet — which is above the fog that arrives in September and October. In the autumn, Florence walks out his front door and up the hill a quarter of a mile to the vineyards, passing out of the fog line into bright sunshine. He credits the increased sun exposure at the end of the growing season with allowing the grapes to ‘‘catch up and pass” the other vines in Sonoma. Florence also carefully tends the vines, dropping fruit to reduce yield ‘‘since Zinfandel tends to produce too many grapes.


‘‘We cherry-pick the best clusters,” Florence says, ‘‘to get the grapes to reflect the uniqueness of where they are grown. The tannins are softer, and the flavors more intense in Rockpile fruit.”


He grows Petite Syrah and Syrah with the same rigid standards.


Kent Rosenblum makes 48 different wines, and his wife claims he has never met a grape he doesn’t love. The Rosenblum single vineyard bottlings are particularly prized and Florence credits that success to ‘‘Kent and [his winemaker] Jeff Cohn’s efforts to understand the grower’s perspective. They will drive more than two hours from San Francisco to visit Rockpile Road during growing season.


‘‘That amount of involvement is unusual,” Florence says.


Distributor Gus Kalaris hosted a tasting of several of Rosenblum’s recent offerings. We started with a wine named after Kent’s wife, the lovely Rosenblum Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier 2005 ($16), that has fig and apple aromas with crisp acidity and lingering melon and peach flavors. Florence poured several vintages of the Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel, including the earthy and strawberry scented 2002 that had smoky red fruit and spice flavors. The exceptional 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel is lush and beautifully integrated with earthy, blackberry and raspberry scents and flavors. The first-rate 2004 ($30) has oak and dark fruit aromas with dark berry and plum flavors and a touch of minerality.


The intensely purple Rosenblum Reserve Rockpile Road Petite Sirah 2004 ($45) has leather and dark fruit scents and flavors along with chocolate and spice notes. Another excellent wine is the Rosenblum Syrah Reserve Rockpile Road Fran’s Vineyard 2004 ($45), with earthy, red fruit aromas and nicely balanced red and blackberry flavors, along with firm tannins, and some oak and white pepper notes.



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