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Napa Wine Brand is Music to the Ears
— An Interview with the Winemaker of R&B Cellars —
Just as with their passion for music — referenced in the artwork of the vibrant blue labels on their wine bottles — love of wine comes across lyrically and resonantly in person with Kevin and Barbara Brown, the husband and wife team behind R&B Cellars. Sitting down with the couple in the living room of their spacious and charming Victorian house in San Francisco's bucolic suburb of Alameda, I spoke with them about R&B's portfolio of wines, their respective styles, and their relative position among California wines. I took keen interest in having Kevin share not only his winemaking experience, but also, given his prior background in wines sales, his perspective on the market as a whole and what he felt were the best approaches for the consumer to make the most out of an oftentimes confusing wine-buying experience.
NM: I hope I'm not overlooking the obvious, but why 'R&B'?
BB: Rhythm and Blues!
KB: All the paintings on the labels — we own all those paintings — were done by a friend of ours, Mimi Stuart. I was at Rosenblum Cellars for a while, for 14 years, and we used to do open houses. They used to have local artists or jewelers or sculptors or whomever come and show their wares and things, and be able to sell them. And so, Mimi was there, at one of these open houses, and I saw these paintings that she called her "musical gems." And some of them are fairly small, but the inspiration for the Reserve Cabernet was the big blue one behind the piano there…
BB: Which is going to turn into the Cab label, in the next bottling.
KB: …that one's called The Lyric of the Vine. And I love them, so I made a deal with her where I bought I think 14 of them; the one big one and all these little guys. What's really cool is that when I called her up to ask her about using her work on our labels, she was totally into it! So, now when she does shows and things like that, if she can, she'll get a case of this or a case of that, so she can have them at her openings to show the wines.
But the other aspect of the R&B: where that came from is, as I said, I was at Rosenblum — Kent Rosenblum is a good friend — and that's where I learned to make wine. I was a hands-on learner; I wasn't somebody who went off to Fresno or Davis and took courses. I mean, I did my reading and the rest of it, but I learned it all by doing, and I did it there [at Rosenblum]. Kent and I actually began R&B together, but we knew we couldn't call it 'Rosenblum and Brown'… because that would be trading on the [already established] Rosenblum name and we didn't want to do that. We wanted it to be something like a fun deal that we were doing on the side. The only thing we made was a Reserve Cab, and we made little bits of it; we made a couple hundred cases.
BB: It was just a really fun side project, you know, that they did. It wasn't our main job or anything. It wasn't until we decided to expand the winery…
KB: …we were doing the '03 vintage…
BB: …the '03 vintage, right. And then we ultimately bought Kent and Kathy [Rosenblum] out. So, R&B is now Rhythm and Blues. But it makes sense, because we're jazz musicians — not R&B musicians, of course, but jazz musicians.