Profiles in wine: Shauna Rosenblum reflects on a winery childhood; being the first woman winemaker at Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs winery

The Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Springs winemaker says 'wine is a form of art.’|

Shauna Rosenblum remembers her first paid gig in the wine industry. She was just 6 at the time.

“My dad paid me $3 an hour to empty the spit buckets in the tasting room,” said Rosenblum, who father founded Rosenblum Cellars in 1978. “That’s also when I first met (Ridge winemaker) Paul Draper — I emptied his spit bucket! Needless to say, I took the job very seriously.”

Little did the 6-year-old know that Ridge Vineyards was in her future, one that didn’t involve spit buckets.

A winery childhood

In July 2022, Rosenblum was named winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Springs, in Dry Creek Valley. But like most journeys, the road to get there was not a straight line.

Rosenblum’s father, Kent Rosenblum, was renowned for producing bold, juicy zinfandels at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda. Shauna said lending a hand at the winery was just a regular part of her childhood.

At age 3, she learned how to measure grape brix on a refractometer. At age 12, she helped on the bottling line. At age 16, she sat in with the blending team.

“It was around that age I decided I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the wine industry,” Rosenblum said, laughing. “Instead, I decided to go to art school.”

With a full scholarship to the California College of Arts and Crafts, she earned a bachelor’s degree in ceramics and art education, then a master’s degree in sculpture from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Ironically, the wine bug bit during an art chemistry class.

“We were combining different materials to create chemical reactions, and I realized it was the exact same process as wine blending,” she said. “I suddenly realized wine is a form of art. It was a life-changing moment.”

While Rosenblum wasn’t about to ditch her art career for wine, her epiphany got her thinking: Maybe she could do winemaking on the side.

In 2008, her dad shocked the family by deciding to sell Rosenblum Cellars to Diageo, a global alcoholic beverage conglomerate with more than 200 brands.

“When my dad broke the news, it was the first time I saw my mother cry,” Rosenblum said. “The winery had been a fixture of our lives for so long, and our family had watched it grow into something magnificent. It was like my parents’ third child.”

Rosenblum was relieved she hadn’t given up her art career for wine. She went on to teach art at an Oakland high school.

Then, her dad approached her with more shocking news: He wanted to launch a new winery.

“It took me a while to figure out if he was serious,” she said. “But he was.” When he asked if she wanted to help, she quickly agreed.

While her dad finished his contract at Rosenblum Cellars, the pair founded Rock Wall Wine Co., a new urban winery in the East Bay. Kent was busy, so he asked Shauna to order equipment for the new winery.

“I was like, ‘uh, OK.’ Then harvest came and I told him we needed to find grapes, so he asked me to take care of that. Then I told him the fruit was ready to pick, and he asked me to take care of that,” Rosenblum said.

“Before I knew it, I was doing everything at the winery, including making the wine.”

Over the next 14 years, Rosenblum served as winemaker for Rock Wall Wine, directing more than 50 grape contracts and overseeing all aspects of winemaking, from crush to bottling.

With a penchant for wines with higher acidity and lower alcohol, she began to dial back the jammy fruit characters she had previously highlighted and focus more on the precision of picking early. Uncommon varietals, like charbono, tannat, sagrantino and fiano, were a focus, along with plenty of zinfandel and sparkling and grapes sourced from far-flung places like Tracy Hills and Yolo County.

Her wines garnered high praise, receiving 90+ points from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, a Best in Class award from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and double gold awards from national competitions.

When Rock Wall’s lease came to an end, Rosenblum made the difficult decision to close the winery. The “insane rent” didn’t help, yet she felt like she had accomplished all she wanted to, she said.

“I pushed the envelope with new varietals and helped make wine an everyday pleasure instead of putting it on a pedestal,” she said. “It was time to say farewell.”

After Rock Wall closed, Rosenblum said, she wasn’t interested in starting a new winery. Unsure what to do next, she joked to her husband that a job at Ridge Vineyards was the only job she’d consider.

“One month later, I received an email from John Olney, the current winemaker at Ridge Vineyards. He said he wanted to stay in touch and invited me to visit the winery to check out the production facility at Lytton Springs,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Rosenblum joined Ridge Vineyards in July as winemaker at Lytton Springs, where she is the first woman to hold the position in the winery’s 60-year history.

Head winemaker John Olney, who has worked for Ridge Vineyards since 1996, has been a guide for Rosenblum, with a teaching style that reminds her of her dad, who died in 2018.

“John has been an amazing teacher and always says the exact thing I need to hear,” she said. “When he speaks ‘Ridge,’ I just get it.”

For now, Rosenblum said, she doesn’t want anyone to notice anything different about Ridge’s wines under her leadership. She just wants them to “taste like Ridge.

“Fortunately, I don’t feel a lot of pressure, because everyone has given me so much support and all the tools I need to succeed,” she said. “It feels so natural to be a part of Ridge, like I’ve been here all my life.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com.

Sarah Doyle

Wine & Lifestyle Reporter

Wine is the indelible heartbeat of Sonoma County. As the wine industry continues to evolve, my job is to share the triumphs, challenges and trends that affect our local wine region, while highlighting the people — past and present — who have contributed to its success. In addition, I cover spirits, beer and on occasion, other lifestyle topics.

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