Winemaker lauds ‘pinch-yourself profession’ while leading Renwood tour
Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyards, which long has coveted zinfandel grapes in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, is raising its profile in the Mother Lode with the purchase of Renwood Winery in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley.
For an undisclosed price, Rombauer is acquiring Renwood’s production facility, tasting room and 20 acres of estate vineyard. Renwood will continue to operate the site through February, after which it is to be rechristened Rombauer Sierra Foothills.
Privately held Rombauer is believed to make around 300,000 cases of wine a year, while Renwood made about 70,000 cases from this past fall’s harvest.
Rombauer, best known for its muscular chardonnay, also makes five zinfandels that are growing in popularity, though they constitute just 15 percent of the winery’s yearly output, said Bob Knebel, the winery’s president and CEO.
The winery’s late founder, Koerner Rombauer, began to buy zinfandel grapes in the foothills in 1997, and about nine years ago bought out of bankruptcy Renwood’s Twin Rivers vineyard in neighboring El Dorado County. Today, Rombauer farms mostly zinfandel at that 148-acre vineyard.
“It makes perfect sense for us to have a production facility close to the fruit source,” Knebel said in explaining Rombauer’s motivation to acquire Renwood. “With capacity restraints at our Napa facilities, we asked ourselves where it would make the most sense to expand. We tried to buy (Renwood) eight and a half years ago, when we bought Twin Rivers, but it was not to be.”
During the earlier bankruptcy proceedings Argentine businessman Alejandro Pedro Bulgheroni bought Renwood’s production facilities for about $11 million and invested an additional $5 million to upgrade the estate vineyard, bring in thousands of new oak barrels and make over the tasting room.
Bulgheroni’s group, Ren Acquisition Inc. of Napa, is retaining the Renwood brand and Renwood Ranch Vineyard in Amador County, a 453-acre spread planted to 135 acres of vines, mostly zinfandel, said Joe Shebl, Renwood’s winemaker since 2013.
Shebl said he doesn’t expect to stay on the site after its transition to Rombauer this spring. In addition to his Renwood responsibilities he’s the winemaker for Fiddletown Cellars and consults for several other wineries in the foothills.
“I think they will continue with the same cellar team (at Renwood), but they don’t need another winemaker,” Shebl said. “This will give me more time to focus on Fiddletown Cellars, which hopefully will be my bread and butter going forward.”
The winemaker for Rombauer Sierra Foothills will be determined during the transition this spring, said Knebel, who also noted that he anticipates that many of Renwood’s 20 employees will continue to work there.
In a prepared statement, KR Rombauer, second generation proprietor of Rombauer Vineyards, said, “My dad loved the Sierra foothills and always envisioned Rombauer crafting more wine from this outstanding grape growing region. … I am sorry Koerner isn’t here today to see the purchase come to fruition but I know he would be extremely pleased.”
The Rombauers — Koerner and his wife Joan — joined the wine trade with the release of a 1980 cabernet sauvignon that they had made partly in their garage.
Rombauer Vineyards farms around 670 acres of vineyards, mostly in Napa Valley.