Ron Rosenbrand didn’t need a fire to cement his legacy at Spring Mountain Vineyard in Napa. By that awful late September night in 2020, he had already logged almost 20 years as a premier grape grower at one of the region’s most historic properties.
Two fires engulfed Spring Mountain, which “essentially vaporized” most of the estate’s historic buildings. It could have been worse, but Rosenbrand helped direct firefighters to several historic structures hidden from view. In the end, the main winery, the caves, and legendary Miravalle mansion were saved. Meanwhile, Rosenbrand’s home, just a short half-mile away, burned to the ground. Fortunately, his family escaped unharmed.
“Without Ron, there would be no Spring Mountain Vineyard,” Dermot Whelan, Spring Mountain Vineyard’s vice president of sales and marketing, says. “This is meant literally. While several historical buildings and many vineyard blocks were destroyed, we would have lost everything were it not for Ron Rosenbrand’s heroic actions in the face of such adversity.”
It was an act that put the exclamation point on his nomination as one of Wine Industry Advisor’s most inspiring people.
His body of work already draws the admiration of many. Born and raised in Napa Valley into a winemaking family, his passion for grape growing blossomed at an early age. His father, Theo Rosenbrand, made wines at Beaulieu and Sterling Vineyards that, to this day, are revered by wine collectors. What Theo passed along to his son is the importance of the vineyard in making great wines. Ron would go on to study viticulture, graduating from the University of California at Davis in 1981.
After studying French viticulture in the Jura, he returned home, where he has spent more than 30 years growing grapes, initially at Charles Krug before joining Spring Mountain Vineyard in 2003.
Asked who inspires him, Rosenbrand speaks first of his father, who arrived from the Netherlands with his mother in 1954 to pursue the American Dream. Hired by Joe Heitz at Beaulieu Vineyards, Theo began as a cellar worker and eventually advanced to winemaker under the tutelage of world-class vintner, Andre Tchelistcheff.
“My dad was responsible for crafting the BV George De La Tour Cabernet Private Reserve for 10 years among many other wines,” Rosenbrand says. “I found that out when I started working for Spring Mountain Vineyard; my dad told me the grapes for the beautiful Cabernets he made at BV came from part of the Spring Mountain Vineyard owned by the Draper family back then.”
Over time, he found others who helped encourage him, including Peter Mondavi and a string of colleagues at Spring Mountain: former boss Tom Ferrell, owner Jaqui Safra, and current boss Don Yannias.
“Great, great tremendous men who gave me a great opportunity to grow phenomenal grapes,” he says. “Always so kind, encouraging, and helpful—especially when things were tough.”
He has been an innovator in developing environmentally safe farming methods, perfecting the use of predatory insects and bluebirds to naturally eradicate and control pests in the vineyard. Those interests led to alliances with University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Santa Cruz to develop the bio-friendly protocols that are used at his winery and elsewhere. His work was recognized in 2010 when the California Environmental Protection Agency gave Spring Mountain Vineyard its Innovator Award.
Jac Cole crossed paths with Rosenbrand at Charles Krug and Spring Mountain before leaving in 2013 to launch Hindsight Wines as part of his own consulting business. He says working with Rosenbrand was like “taking a masters class in viticulture.” “I learned more in six months working with Ron than I did in four years of college,” Cole says. “He never lets his ego stop him from learning more, no matter the source.”
While his career journey logically could have involved making wine, Rosenbrand says he has no regrets. “I grew up on a ranch in St. Helena and we had room for a large garden,” he says. “I loved growing produce and the enjoyment of growing awesome vegetables and the flavors that could be achieved if I did a good job. Delicious! I also loved being outdoors and really couldn’t fathom being stuck in a winery building all day long.” Instead, he’s out managing 135 vineyard blocks that he says “has amazing soils, perfect sun exposure, and awesome climates. So fun and exciting and challenging especially when Mother Nature throws you curve balls.”
In baseball nomenclature, the fire was much more a pitch thrown at his head, forcing him to react quickly and decisively. Yannias says Rosenbrand took “his commitment and dedication to a new level when he almost single-handedly saved the winery” from being destroyed. “To understand that he did this while his own home was burning to the ground is astounding and mind-blowing.”
Adds Whelan on how much Rosenbrand means to the business and the people who work there: “I refer to Ron as the soul of Spring Mountain Vineyard. He doesn’t see his role at SMV as a job, rather a life choice that he’s fully committed to.”
About Wine’s Most Inspiring People: Each year, Wine Industry Advisor chooses 10 individuals within the wine industry who showcase leadership, innovation, and inspiration. For the first time in 2021, WIA opened up the submission process to the industry at large. With over 100 nominees, the editorial team selected the top 10 individuals who they felt has truly positively impacted the US wine culture over the past year. Read more here.