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Off The Vine: A Typical Day at Alameda's Favorite Winery

By Paul Rowe

Winemaking is an age-old art embraced by Northern Californians. For many, it is a hobby. For Winemaker Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company, it has evolved into a way of life. Boasting a tasting room open seven days a week, a lot of work goes into producing wine at Rock Wall.

"With more than 40 wines, I make something for everyone's palate," says Rosenblum. "When you come to the tasting room, you and a friend get a free glass of wine, discounted tickets to all of our awesome events, discounts on wine year-round, and we even send you a birthday shopping spree card for 40% off again! With all our different wines to explore, you'll have your work cut out for you."

Rosenblum also has her work cut out for her. She makes over forty wines from over sixty vineyards, so she is always coming up with new blends and wines to keep wine-lovers interested and excited. Among these celebrated wines are Rock Hound, Zin Nymph, T-Rocks, Super Alamedan, and the Palindrome.

A die-hard wine-lover herself, Rosenblum speaks passionately about oddball varieties that many folks outside of wine country haven't heard of. "Just because you haven't heard of it, doesn't mean it won't be delicious," Rosenblum reminds us. "Teroldego, Fiano, Norton, Tannat, Montepulciano, and Aglianico are a few unique varieties in my arsenal."

A typical day at Rock Wall during harvest season is magical. "After making my way to visit each vineyard individually, I assess the grapes and their maturity, and decide when to pick," says Rosenblum. "We send picking bins out to the vineyard, and the crew picks the many thousands of pounds of grapes into picking bins which are stacked back on our truck and make their way back to the winery."

Rock Wall takes its grapes from some of the most sought-after vineyards in California, including Monte Russo and Alegria, centenarian vineyards with vines measuring 115+ years old. "The older the vines, the more flavorful the grapes," says Rosenblum.

"Once the grapes arrive, we weigh-in each bin, which is roughly 1,000 pounds each. If the grapes are red, we proceed to sanitize macro bins and dump the grapes into our crusher and de-stemmer, which picks the berries off the stems and lightly crushes them," says Rosenblum. These choice grapes are crushed and placed in a giant "cold room" for a nice cold soak to encourage tannin and color to develop. After a couple days of soaking, they are brought out into the sun to warm up and inoculate with a chosen yeast isolate.

"After a two-week fermentation, we press the wine out of the grapes, choose our barrel program, and barrel down the wine," says Rosenblum. "That is for one ton...so do that 450 times, and that is any given day during harvest."

That's a lot of work, but it's a labor of love for Rosenblum. "My parents opened Rosenblum Cellars in the Bay Area almost 40 years ago because they had day jobs in the Bay Area and making wine was just a hobby. Then it turned into what we called a 'hobby gone wild' and catapulted into a winery producing 250,000 cases annually," says Rosenblum. In 2007, her parents sold the Alameda winery to focus on producing small-lot, artisan wines.

When her dad asked her to help him start the smaller winery, Rosenblum had just finished her Master's degree in Sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute. Having had a lot of prior experience, she agreed.

"I went and checked vineyards, decided what yeast and barrels I wanted to use, and brought the grapes in," says Rosenblum. At this new winery, Rosenblum was able to put her own twist on all the knowledge she learned during her lifelong installation of winemaking lessons.

"Before I knew it, I had made an entire vintage of wine by myself, and I was obsessed," says a passionate Rosenblum. "I had so much love and ownership over the 60 tons of grapes that would soon become the initial 2,000 cases of wine from Rock Wall's first vintage."

This year marks Rock Wall's eighth harvest with Rosenblum at the helm, and she's as infatuated with winemaking as she was on her first day in the vineyard. She is even a Club Member of her own winery.

"I make certain wines that are only allocated for Wine Club, and sometimes they sell out immediately - so if one isn't a wine club member, then, tough luck," says Rosenblum. "So, I got smart, took the stress out of it, and now I make sure I get a bottle of everything - even the allocated wines."

Winemaking in Northern California is strenuous work. A rewarding glass at the end of the day makes it all worthwhile.

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Paul Rowe is a graduate instructor of writing and master's student of Literature at...

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