Wine Country Personality: Rodney Strong

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RStrongHIGHRES.jpgFifty years ago, Rodney Strong started a winery that would ultimately become his namesake Rodney Strong Vineyards, in the northern Sonoma County town of Healdsburg.  It didn't start out that way, first blending wines and selling them with his wife, Charlotte from their home next to the Tiburon yacht club.  Their first wine was actually labeled Tiburon Vintners.

They did move here, though, and Rod became a significant influence in Sonoma County's budding wine industry in the 1960s and 1970s.  It's a fact, as dancer in his younger years, attending the School of American Ballet in New York and traveling to France to dance at the Lido, that neither he or anyone else would have predicted.  When he arrived in the county, the name changed to Windsor Vineyards, then to Sonoma Vineyards and eventually to Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1982.  Along the way, Rod was one of the first to plant pinot noir in Russian River Valley, the first to produce and release a Chalk Hill chardonnay and the first make a single vineyard cabernet in Sonoma County from Alexander's Crown in Alexander Valley

Tom-Rick #1Smaller.jpgTwenty years into his wine adventure, Rod hired Rick Sayre as winemaker.  Together they navigated public ownership, pushed for Chalk Hill AVA status and maintained the winery's reputation and drive for quality.  Then, ten years later, Tom Klein and his family, who had been farming in California for three generations, purchased the winery along with the nearly 1,000 acres of vineyards.

A lot has happened recently at this mainstay Sonoma County winery.  As an early adopter of solar energy, Rodney Strong Vineyards was one of the first wineries to install solar panels and is poised today to become one of the first to be carbon neutral, offsetting the greenhouse gases released as a byproduct of winemaking by taking a number of mitigating steps, including buying carbon credits from the Sonoma County Water Agency. Along the way, there's also been Green Winery Awards, Green Power Awards, and a commitment to Fish Friendly Farming.  The driving force behind these initiatives, as Klein says, "is the desire to conserve and protect the environment in all our operations."

Tom further commented that, "our winery remains grounded and committed to making world-class Sonoma County wines and being one of California's most respected wine companies." In the early 2000s, he added to his wine-growing and winemaking team with some talented individuals including Doug McIlroy in the vineyard and Gary Patzwald and David Ramey (consultant) in their winery within a winery.  Built in 2005, this "winery within a winey" is where long-time winemaker, Rick Sayre and the team craft small-lot wines with grapes from recently acquired and replanted vineyards in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill. They carefully identify and farm "sweet spots" in the vineyards and meticulously tend the grapes with specialized equipment in the new winery. Their most recent release from the winery within a winery harkens back to Rod releasing Sonoma County's first single vineyard cabernet.  The 2005 Rockaway is a new single vineyard cabernet from Alexander Valley, where the winery believes cabernet grows as well as anywhere.

50 years of Rodney Strong Vineyards:  A gentleman dancer had a winemaking vision that led to him Sonoma County.  Today, under Klein family ownership, this remains a winery Sonoma County is proud to call our own.

AA-NewTRShotOct2007.jpgRodney Strong Vineyards
11455 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA 95448
707.431.1533
www.rodneystrong.com

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4 Comments

Rodney Strong wines are so consistently good, it's nice to learn more about them after enjoying their wines for about 12 years!

Been there done that and will continue in that manner. Just love their wines.

It is wonderful to hear Rodney's story. I understand he and Todd Williams were friends as well. I love to hear about people who changed course in their lives, taking on a new challenge, a new subject to master. His wines are exceptional. Thanks for the article about Rodney.

To: Rodney:

Are you by chance Jane Graff's son?

I knew Jane and Russ at Incline and I remember buying wine from WindsorVineyards with personal labels on the bottles.

That would have been 1975 or so? Would love to know how Jane is, if she is still alive, etc.

The gal at the Hampton Inns gave me a bottle of the Windsor Cabernet Sauvigonon and it was with a personal label. It would be fun to send wine to some of my friends.

Hope this note gets to the right person. Sorry to be so vague but it has been a long time.

Jan Hopkins

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