She barely looks old enough to drink wine. Yet she runs a successful, highly regarded winery in the Russian River area of Sonoma County. “Roshambo” is California slang for the hand game rock-paper-scissors. The name honors three generations of the Frank Johnson family, who’ve grown wine grapes in Sonoma County since 1972. In 1999, the family decided it was time to build a winery and create a label of its own. Naomi was chosen to oversee construction of the winery and create the ambience that would be Roshambo. And the moment you see the winery, the moment you feel the vibe of the winery’s tasting room and art gallery, the moment you taste the wonderful wines... well, that’s the moment you understand just who Naomi Brilliant is.
Brilliant is the granddaughter of the late Frank Johnson, who over the years sold grapes to numerous Sonoma County producers, including Chateau St. Jean, Artesa, Rabbit Ridge, Ferrari-Carano and Pedroncelli. When the Johnson family decided to build its own winery, Brilliant relocated from Portland, Oregon, where she was studying art while enjoying a successful photography career. Fueled by the wishes of her grandfather and a natural ambition to change the wine industry, Brilliant took on the development and managerial duties of Roshambo, which she has crafted, through a combination of creativity and will, into one of the coolest and most interesting wineries to ever hit the scene.
According to Brilliant, Roshambo’s philosophy is to reach out to largely ignored age groups and lifestyles, in an effort to encourage a more diverse audience to enjoy wine. The winery will always strive for approachability via complete absence of pretense, as well as offer high-quality wines at reasonable prices.
This approachability is evident upon arriving at Roshambo. Words like spunky, suave, clean and modern bombard your mind. Upon entering, the retro-modern design of Roshambo’s tasting room and accompanying art gallery functions to clearly telegraph Brilliant’s intent to visitors. Intrinsically inviting, the facility represents the best in balanced, functional and comfortable design, and begs visitors to explore and interact.
The art gallery showcases artists from across the country, specializing in conceptual art by emerging artists of all media types, including full gallery installations and video artwork. Here you’ll find works that both provoke reaction and encourage viewer participation. Brilliant urges visitors to fully engage with the works, allowing the art to elicit internal dialogue. As Brilliant explains, “It’s the degree to which each exhibit encourages this dialogue, this simultaneous self-teaching and learning, that allows us to gauge our success.”
And the wines? Roshambo produces four varietals: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel and syrah. They’re unconventional with respect to California wines in that they’re not over-extracted, over-oaked monster “showpieces” that seem to be omnipresent these days. Each wine seems to offer a specific side to Brilliant’s personality: from a light and delicate sauvignon blanc, to a bold and aggressive syrah. Combine these wines with the Roshambo vibe and you come away with a totally unique experience that I guarantee you’ll never forget.