As September and California Wine Month come to a close, one winery deserves the honor of being recognized as a pioneer and leader in sustainability while pushing forward with an innovative mindset. That winery Rodney Strong Vineyards played an essential role in establishing Sonoma County. Observing the growth and alterations made over the years becomes part of a winery’s legacy. Like anything, a winery often needs to reinvent itself or change to keep up with today’s standards. Of late, Rodney Strong wines have gone through some rejuvenation.
My first encounter as a wine writer with the Rodney Strong wines was in 2019, during two different tastings. The first introduced winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld and Rowen Wines at Los Angeles. The second shared the Rodney Strong wine portfolio with a group of wine writers from LA Wine Writers.
Rodney Strong Wines – Wine Media Conference and Rosé
This year on two occasions, I became privy to the latest changes at Rodney Strong Vineyards. The first was at the Wine Media Conference in Eugene, Oregon, which featured some Rodney Strong wines. We were exposed to several wines during the conference, including one of my favorites, the Rosé. This wine is a superb example of the winery’s commitment to working the vineyard because it reflects the time and energy put into making this Rosé unique. The grapes are grown intentionally for Rosé yet showcases layers, an aspect atypical of Rosé. Part of what makes this Rosé unique is the tunneling that occurs on the vines. The leaves are pulled from behind, allowing some light into the canopy.
Rodney Strong Wines – Wine Media Conference – Knotty Vines
At the Wine Media Conference, we were also introduced to the Knotty Vines Label. Olivia Wright created this wine to capture the interest of a younger generation of people. Knotty Vines represents Rodney Strong’s entry-level wines produced intentionally capturing the interest of the young at heart, using the words knotty vines to express an image of those gnarled and twisted vines yet alluding to the naughty or wild side in each of us. Like each of us that, “When you let temptation take over, you experience electricity course through your veins.” Perhaps that same experience goes through the grapes of those knotty vines that make up each bottle of wine.
Rodney Strong Wines – LA Wine Writers Luncheon
This year also brought an independent tasting to Los Angeles with writers from LA Wine Writers. The purpose of this marvelous tasting at the Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood was to showcase the ongoing changes reflected in Rodney Strong wines today.
The Legacy of Rodney Strong
It began approximately 60 years ago when Rodney Strong had the vision to purchase property, plant vines, and grow grapes. It started in 1959. The winery became the 13th boned winery in Sonoma County. Rodney had just retired as a dancer, having danced with some of the biggest names in dancing, including Martha Graham and George Balanchine. One has to wonder if those elegant dance moves transcended into his wines.
In 1962 Rodney purchased a vineyard that later became Chalk Hill, famous for its Chardonnay. By 1968 he bought land in the Russian River Valley, where he planted Pinot Noir. Two years later, he built his winery at the Russian River location. Rodney hired Rick Sayre to take over winemaking in 1979.
Due to Rodney’s influence, three AVAs, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley.
Tom Klein and Rodney Strong Wines
For over thirty years Tom Klein, who now owns Rodney Strong Vineyards, has taken the winery on a forward-moving journey that includes protecting and preserving the environment of both the vineyards and the winery through sustainable and innovative practices. Tom’s commitment to Sonoma makes him a leader in sustainability. It is seen through the various appellations they grow grapes, including Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Russian River Valley, and Northern Sonoma.
Justin Seidenfeld – Head Winemaker
Justin Seidenfeld joined the Rodney Strong Vineyard’s team in 2010. He is now the head winemaker, who oversees every aspect of the winery and vineyards. His approach is holistic, trying to keep everything in balance through quality and sustainability. In today’s world, Justin looks at the latest to create water savings, energy savings, and of course, to improve the wine. Justin’s perspective is about philosophical management because he feels he “needs to do by hand to gain the seeing eye.”
Rodney Strong wines center around the theme of community. This premise includes the Sonoma community, the Rodney Strong community, as its team of workers becomes part of the family, and finally, it is the sense of social community. We all benefit from the latter, taking each sip of wine. Sharing a glass of wine bringing our lives together is all part of fulfilling that commitment.
Rejuvenation includes renovating the winery tasting room and updating the labels. Excluding the Sauvignon Blanc and the Rosé as floral labels that entice you to sample the wine will remain, but the other labels have become streamlined, very simple, direct, and unified.
Today Rodney Strong buys specific trees for producing their barrels because they want a tighter grain from a more dense forest.
Rodney Strong Wines – The Whites
Sauvignon Blanc Charlotte’s Home Sonoma County: This Sauvignon Blanc showcases bright and crisp flavors of tropical fruit and grapefruit, accented by hints of vanilla. A portion of this wine, 15%, ferments in barrel with malolactic fermentation in new French oak. The wine spends three months in barrel.
Chardonnay Chalk Hill Sonoma County: This wine ages for eleven months, 25% new French oak. The wine exhibits creamy and crisp textures with flavors of Meyer lemon and pear.
Rodney Strong Wines – The Reds
Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County: The clay and loam soils of the Santa Rosa plane accentuate this Pinot Noir. The wine displayed bright fruit, mostly cherry accented by hints of spice and floral aromas.
Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County: The grapes for this Cabernet Sauvignon grow on hillside vineyards in the Alexander Valley. The Cabernet Sauvignon combines small portions of Merlot and Malbec and aged 24 months in French oak, 50% new. On the palate, find flavors of dark berries with hints of pepper on the finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyard Brothers Vineyard Alexander Valley Sonoma County: Brothers Vineyard is one of the hottest vineyards that Rodney Strong Vineyards own. The Cabernet Sauvignon aged 26 months in French oak, 54% new. The wine exudes flavors of black cherry and chocolate.
The evolution of Rodney Strong Wines continues and, like the first sixty years, will continue to evolve as they continue to be stewards of Sonoma County.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer participated in a hosted wine luncheon. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.
Featured photo courtesy of Rodney Strong Vineyards.