Shauna Rosenblum was born and raised in Alameda, CA, which is a small island off the coast of Oakland.
She finished her BFA degree in Ceramics from CCAC in 2006. In 2008 she earned her MFA from SFAI in Sculpture. Now, she is a professional Winemaker, making 12,000 cases of wine annually in the Bay Area at Rock Wall Wine Company, located in Alameda, CA. She considers grapes to be her artistic medium and her wine is her art. Shauna was recently named one of the 10 Top Female Winemakers in California by Haute Living, so we decided to catch up with her and see what she’s up to. Here’s what Shauna had to say!
Hi I’m Shauna, (MFA Sculpture, 2008).
Conceptual art, performance art, ephemeral art, fermentation art, whatever you want to call it, making wine is an art. Making wine is the perfect synthesis of science and art.
Every move I make with the grapes requires a decision. That process of decision making is one of the most powerful parts of this art form. Just like working with clay, I can shape it this way, or I can shape it that way. My underlying philosophy in ceramics has always been that the “clay is going to be whatever it is meant to be. I am the catalyst to help manifest what it should be.” I apply that same philosophy to winemaking and really let the chemistry and the flavors of the fruit guide my decisions to make the best wine possible. And…Who doesn’t love a lil’ scientific data to inform ones art-making processes?!
My Master’s thesis at SFAI explored the concept of women bodies as containers. I made functional ceramic vessels that incorporated women bodies. One piece was titled, “You’re too fat, you’re too thin, cookie jar.” It was a very curvy woman’s body that had her mouth being sewn shut. The opening for the cookie jar was tiny, so one could only grab a cookie if their hands were very thin/small. I also created a two-foot tall functional vase that showed a woman turning from a mermaid to a woman as her tail disappeared, she gained the rest of her female body parts. Her facial expression showed jubilation, but she also donned a fully grown Pinocchio nose indicating that the metamorphosis she was supposed to be thrilled about undergoing was not her true feelings.
I brought the concept of the female as a container into my wine cellar, and I’ve named all of my tanks after women I admire: Oprah, Martha, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling and, of course, Beyoncé. I also have a row of tanks bearing the names of my fave fictional heroines; Arya and Sansa, Katniss and Primrose and of course, Gem. I know, “it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.”
SFAI: What projects have you been working on recently? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about or inspired by at the moment?
Shauna Rosenblum: YES. My art has become far more about observing the world around me and engaging with that observation. This concept really informs the wines I decide to make, and the label copy I create for the back label of each one of my wines. My earlier art was far more about making objects, which came from my craft based undergraduate training.
I love making sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is Champagne, but we call it sparkling wine because it is made outside of Champagne, France. Only sparkling wine made in Champagne France can be called Champagne. I pick these grapes much earlier than the rest of my grapes, to keep the bright acidity intact. The acid in wine is what makes your mouth water when you taste it.
I have also started doing a deep dive into mastering Italian varietals such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Fiano, and Teroldego. I study the varietals, the vineyards, the soil, the weather, the growing cycle and the outcome of the fruit as I make it into wine.
Studying the vineyard sites at this level inspired me to write a paper about climate change and the effect on agriculture and the economy. I decided to focus on three different micro-climates: Castro Valley, (in the Bay Area) Lodi and Oakville (a small section of Napa that grows world-class Cabernet Sauvignon) and explore the temperatures and degree days each micro-climate experienced in 1990, 2000, and 2017. What I found is that the climate is definitely shifting. Shocker! Somebody alert the President.
The findings were slightly different than I anticipated, though. Thirty years ago, experts would have said that someone was nuts to grow grapes in the Bay Area, because our climate was too cold.
The ideal climate for Cabernet is hot days and then a diurnal swing to very cool temperatures at night. That creates the best flavors and acidity in wine.
In 2017, Oakville experienced temperatures similar to Lodi in 1990, as in hot days, and nights that didn’t cool off as much. In 2017, Lodi experienced weather patterns similar to Oakville in 1990, which was hot days and very cool nights.
The largest diurnal swing occurred in Castro Valley. In 1990, the weather did not get hot enough during the day for enough days in a row, to grow quality Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2017, Castro Valley had the most ideal climate of the three areas, bearing the most hot days that dropped to very cold nights. I plan to reexamine these criteria for a 2020 data set as well.
One thing I always loved about making ceramic sculptures was at the end, I had created an object. Something to hold, something tangible. When I create a wine, I feel the same sense of enthusiasm which is activated and furthered when I pour the wine for someone and they love it.
SFAI: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
SR: I find inspiration in everything around me. My 4-year old daughter and her observations about the world are definitely a source of inspiration for me. The way she sees the world is so refreshing. We will see an ant crawling on the ground and follow it for as long as we can, observing its movement and trajectory. Nature is a big source of inspiration for me as well. The way the sunlight spills through windows in the ethereal way it does. The way that cloud formations interact in fluidity.
I love being inspired by the mundane. The way my hair collects on the shower wall and reminds me of cubism. The art of fermentation is absolutely fascinating for me.
Being alive is an art. The way the living mourn the dead is an art. We are art. Art is everywhere and art is everything.
SFAI: What is your process for creating your work?
SR: When I am creating a wine, it all starts in the vineyard. I will usually pick the fruit in September, but the process for making that wine starts in March. In March the vines start to come out of dormancy from the winter months. The vines flower and bloom and we start obsessively monitoring the weather for wind and rain which can disrupt the grape vines process by knocking flowers off the vine. We monitor the growth of the grapevine all season long and by July I need to be in all 40+ of the vineyards I work with measuring sugar content. Once I taste the fruit, and run labs on it checking for pH, total acidity and Nitrogen content, I decide when to pick the fruit, if it is physiologically ripe. We pick the fruit at midnight and bring it to the winery in Alameda.
When I add yeast to the grapes or juice, that is the beginning of the transformation. The yeast is alive, and its only desire in life is to eat sugar. The yeast will eat the sugar in the grapes and produce alcohol and CO2. I punch the grapes down multiple times per day. The grapes will change within a single day. At 8 am, they are in a different phase of fermentation than at 8pm.
A complete alcoholic fermentation takes about 14 days.
Depending on the wine, I either put the grapes through the crusher, or I foot stomp them. On a Pinot noir, if I want to make sure the finished wine has spice notes, I will footstep the grapes with the stems still in the bins and begin the fermentation. I taste the fermentation every day and once I have the mouthfeel and flavor profile I want, I will press the wine off of the skins and the stems. Too much stem contact can create a vegetal flavor. Just the right amount of stem intact can create a lovely spice component that can only come from the aforementioned process.
If I am making a Chardonnay, I will put the grapes directly into the press and press the juice out of them. Then I rack the juice down to French and American oak barrels and I inoculate (add yeast) to each single barrel. I put those barrels in a cold space and ferment them “low and slow” at 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the temperature low, slows down the yeast and on a white wine fermentation that pace keeps the fruit qualities and the acid intact. If I fermented them at room temperature, the yeast would get too excited and eat through the sugar like it was is last meal. The result would be a Chardonnay that lacks fruit depth and intricate flavors. It is all art.
SFAI: Are there any opportunities to come and see your space?
SR: I would love for you to come to the winery and come check out the space, the wine and our stunning view of SF.
On June 29th, we are having an event called Urban Sip. We will be pouring 30+ wines from our portfolio paired with some of our fave Bay Area restaurants. Click the link to see deets: http://www.rockwallwines.com/events
Our Tasting Room is open 7 days a week and so is our restaurant partner Scolari’s. Click the link to check out the website: http://www.rockwallwines.com/Tasting