That Big Vineyard in the Sky, Part I

Found gold from Kent Rosenblum. | Lou Phillips

Recently I went to my cellar to grab some empty wooden wine boxes for a friend. One box felt suspiciously heavy and on investigation, I saw it held a few bottles of early 2000s single vineyard Zinfandels made by the recently departed Kent Rosenblum.

Rosenblum was one of the good guys in the wine biz and a hell of a winemaker. He was a pioneer of the urban winery movement; he started out in an industrial garage in Alameda. He was also a champion of identifying and helping to save some of California’s oldest vineyards.

The wine is found gold, but it also made me think that this was a good time to hand out some kudos to wine folk who have recently retired to the Big Vineyard in the Sky.

There must be something in the water — or wine — in the Santa Lucia Highlands that attracts or creates larger-than-life wine characters. Nicolaus “Nicky” Hahn is one Santa Lucia Highlands celebrity, who also championed this region and led the charge to have it classified as its own AVA, American Viticultural Area. Hahn also championed quality farming and winemaking techniques at a time when this area of Monterey was considered a high-volume, lower-quality wine region. Hahn Family Wines still makes some of the best quality and value wines with their Estate Pinot Noir and Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre real standouts.

Best mistake ever. | Courtesy Shafer Vineyards

Shafer Hillside Select is one of Napa’s iconic Cabernets and one that many see as bringing the powerhouse style that is Napa’s calling card in their high-price offerings. The late founder, John Shafer, would love to tell the story of how this all began with a mistake. You see, the Shafers were relative newcomers to the valley when their vineyard was ready to be harvested in 1978 and they were down the list to be able to get a picking crew when they wanted one. Consequently, the grapes hung while Shafer fretted. Weeks later when their brix/sugar had risen to scary-for-the-time levels, Shafer felt doomed. These were the only grapes he had so he had to make the wine nevertheless — and shazam, there came lightning in a bottle. Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, the progenitor of Shafer Hillside Select, was a critical and popular triumph. It was also a game-changer; when other Napa producers saw the accolades and dollars this new style garnered, they followed suit — and most still do to this day.

We will look at some of the other wine angels we have gained in the next edition or at TheTahoe; click on Wine Column under the Local Flavor menu. In the meantime, try some of the above masters’ creations.