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2012 Best Merlot: Rodney Strong Vineyards

Author: Michael Keel
May, 2012 Issue
Rodney Strong Vineyards’ history runs deep—all the way back to 1959, when Rodney and Charlotte Strong opened a tasting room in Tiburon. In 1961, Rodney moved to Windsor to operate Windsor Farm Associates, from which he purchased wine for his Tiburon tasting room. Fast forward to 1989, when Klein Foods Stockton bought Sonoma Vineyards, which included 1,200 acres of vineyards, the Windsor Vineyards mail-order and telemarketing business and Rodney Strong Vineyards, the winery's premium-end wine sold through retailers. In 1999, a new 100,000-square-foot barrel house was completed. All barrel and case storage was brought in-house from other outside storage facilities. In 2003, Rodney Strong Vineyards signed a deal with Powerlight in Berkeley, Calif. to install the largest solar energy system in the world of wine. Today, a small-scale winery within a winery is used to make single vineyard and reserve wines. Rodney Strong Vineyards is living history built on progression, family and pride.

Most recently, 250 acres of new vineyards have been planted, mostly with Bordeaux varietals, near the Rockpile AVA.

Rodney Strong Vineyards is owned by the Klein family, which understands agriculture and has vineyards that supply of 40 percent of its needs. Winemaker Rick Sayre says, “Attention to detail is imperative—starting in the vineyard and through every step of the winemaking process. This has taken years of refinement and learning. We embrace new technology and use it to find our sweet spots in the vineyards.  Great sites grow great grapes, which makes my job pretty nice.”

Sayre explains they’ve learned the better Merlot grapes are found at lower elevations and are juicier and less tannic. He firmly believes the best grapes are grown in Sonoma County and wants the wine to express the black cherry, cola, soft tannins and long finish that begs a second glass.

Sayre started in the wine business at age 19, worked 10 years at Simi and is now going on 33 years at Rodney Strong [See “Better with Time,” Special Wine Issue 2011]. Sayre says, “I fell into this, in a way, and absolutely found my calling—1973 was a wonderful time to be mentored by Andre Tchelistcheff after he retired from Beaulieu Vineyard and started consulting at Simi. I feel it’s my turn to mentor and hope to be around to see a few more wines and students who can help express my passion.”

Sayre continues: “I like watching people enjoy the wine we make.  It really adds to the moment of sharing a glass with friends or over a meal. Wine can create special moments—sometimes the moment makes the wine. I like to see both. I’m just a part of a great team that’s passionate about what it does. Winemaking is a long and patient process. I love it when it all comes together.”


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