Rosenblum Cellars turned from winery into a brand this week, as its owner Diageo announced that it's closing the Rosenblum winery in Alameda.
The move was inevitable after Kent Rosenblum sold the winery to Diageo in 2008. The reason a big company like Diageo buys a winery in the first place is not to make small lots of single-vineyard Zinfandel -- Rosenblum has already cut back on those. No, it's to sell a million cases of Rosenblum Vintners Cuvee Zinfandel in grocery stores around the country.
There's nothing wrong with that; it's the model for success in the U.S. wine business, and I'm never going to tell a company to not make money. And Diageo makes better mass-market wine than some companies: its Provenance brand is particularly good.
But as a wine lover, I don't want to drink a wine made by buying cheap grapes in the Central Valley, adding Mega Purple for color and reducing the alcohol to cut the tax bill.
Yet that's what sells, and not just because it's cheap. You can buy a good, honest red wine from Spain or Portugal or Argentina for the same price as one of these generic "brands."
Why do U.S. consumers want "brand" wines?
There's an analogy to food. Wines like Turning Leaf are like Taco Bell, while Rosenblum is turning into Applebee's. People like the assurance of a familiar name. In many parts of the country, Taco Bell and Applebee's will drive Mary's Local Diner out of business.
I'm a bad American; I have never eaten at Applebee's. I like comfort food, but I want to know that it's made in the kitchen from local ingredients, not prepared in a factory somewhere, freeze dried and microwaved in the back. I'm willing to accept variability in my food in pursuit of that locally cooked experience.
If you feel the same way, you have to think about whether you want to buy mass-produced factory wine brands, or try something less uniform, even if you're not sure exactly how it's going to taste.