Rodney Strong Vineyards
Rodney Strong Vineyards- Wine's Enthusiast's American Winery of the Year
Rodney Strong Vineyards is dedicated to crafting Sonoma County wines that reflect our passion and creativity. Join us to experience Sonoma County – taste our award-winning wines, take a tour or join us for one of the many events held throughout the year.
Nestled in the sweeping vineyards of Russian River Valley.
- Named Wine Enthusiast’s 2013 American Winery of the Year.
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Rick began his winemaking career at the age of 19 as an assistant winemaker and cellar master at Simi Winery in Sonoma County. He had the opportunity to train under the world-renowned winemaster André Tchelistcheff, who instilled in his young trainee a deep passion for the art of winemaking and a desire to not only master his craft, but continually push the boundaries of creativity. “André taught me that a winemaker must live with his wine,” Rick recalls, “from walking the vineyards to the careful craft of guiding the wine into bottle. Even the smallest details can have a lasting effect.”
When Rod Strong decided to take a step back from the demanding role of winemaker, he called upon Rick Sayre, who joined the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979. In more than three decades in the cellars, Rick has guided the wine collection to include world-class Reserve, Symmetry and Single-Vineyard releases, an outstanding line of Estate wines and best-in-class Sonoma County wines that continue to please vintage after vintage. His voracious appetite for new winemaking knowledge has taken him around the world, including trips to the wine regions of France, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.
Widely acknowledged as a true wine pioneer, David Ramey’s efforts over the years have helped raise the bar for all American winemakers, and brought California to the forefront of the international wine world. His groundbreaking work with indigenous yeasts and malolactic and barrel fermentation techniques yielded a new California wine style that was richer, more lush and silky smooth – creating a benchmark now emulated by winemakers throughout the state.
David helped establish a number of wineries now considered exceptional: Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Today, David makes his own wines under the name Ramey Wine Cellars and continues to consult for a number of wineries. “Working with Tom Klein and the Rodney Strong team is such a pleasure because of their total dedication to wine quality,” he says. “Couple that with their outstanding vineyards in the eastern hills of Alexander Valley and you have a truly winning combination.”
Raised in Sacramento, Greg Morthole attended the University of Wyoming, where he earned a B.S. in Natural Sciences. He entered the wine industry as a Laboratory Analyst at Vinquiry in Windsor, California, then moved to Chalk Hill Winery in 2003 to become an Enologist. Greg joined the Rodney Strong Vineyards team in 2005, when he accepted a position as Lab Director. His innate acumen for winemaking became immediately clear to his peers, and he quickly ascended to an appointment as Associate Winemaker in late 2007. In the spring of 2010, he was promoted to Winemaker, overseeing all aspects of operations and winemaking in our “Winery Within the Winery.”
With a quiet demeanor and a determined attitude, Greg’s energetic style illustrates how enjoyable he finds winemaking to be. “Making the Reserve and Single-Vineyard wines here is an honor,” he says. “I get to work with some of Sonoma County’s best vineyards. It is exhilarating.”
Justin Seidenfeld’s winemaking career began in Sebastopol, California, where he was an intern at Iron Horse winery in 2005. There, the regular work of the cellar kicked off a quick rise in winemaking responsibilities that landed him a job in 2006 at the venerable Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, California. Justin started working for Rodney Strong in the spring of 2010.
As a harvest enologist at Mondavi, Seidenfeld walked some of California’s premiere vineyards and gained a comprehensive understanding of quality land and viticulture. Continuing on to become an enologist, he took that experience into winemaking and supervised the winemaking of Estancia, Clos du Bois, Simi and others within the Constellation portfolio. Additional responsibilities included overseeing small lot Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir winemaking.
At Rodney Strong, Justin will work alongside longtime winemaker, Rick Sayre, in the winery’s main cellar. Seidenfeld graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology.
Justin lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Dena and daughters Madison and Lila. He enjoys golfing, playing with his daughters and working on his house. As to his inspiration to become a winemaker, Justin notes, “people recalling the occasions that wine makes better and memorable is the reason I make wine. Hearing about how and when someone enjoyed a wine I made inspires me.”
A fourth generation California farmer, Tom earned a business degree from Stanford and spent the first part of his career as a management consultant at the San Francisco office of the prestigious global management firm McKinsey & Company. One project during this time was evaluating a small winery in the Russian River Valley called Rodney Strong Vineyards and, in a chance meeting, he was introduced to founder Rod Strong and winemaker Rick Sayre. Already developing an interest in wine, this encounter planted a seed that would grow into a lifelong passion.
In 1984, Tom returned to Klein Brothers International, his family’s agricultural products trading company. He travelled extensively in his position, and had the opportunity to research the wine industry in many parts of the world, all the while developing his palate and his passion for wine. In 1989, Tom and his family purchased Rodney Strong Vineyards and began a pursuit of excellence that would put their wines on the world stage and make the winery a leader in the movement towards sustainability. In his own words, “We are committed to quality in every aspect: in the top-flight wines we strive to produce, in the Sonoma County lifestyle, and in the talented people we employ. We are always seeking new ways to fulfill this commitment.”
Director of Winegrowing
Like many on Rodney Strong’s team, Doug McIlroy grew up in Sonoma County agriculture. With a B.S. in Plant Science and a B.A. in Economics from the University of California at Davis, Doug has more than 30 years of winegrowing experience, and has honed his knowledge and skills as a grower relations representative at some of Sonoma and Mendocino counties’ finest wineries. Doug joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 2001 and now oversees all viticultural practices at our fourteen estate vineyards as well as grower relations and long-term contracts with neighboring vineyards.
Doug’s relentless pursuit of quality has him out walking the vineyards on a regular basis. A constant evaluation of wine lots with winemaker Rick Sayre allows him to work closely with the winemaking team to assess the fruit, quality benchmarks and adapt growing practices. “Every vineyard site has a maximum potential for quality and I’m driven to achieve that through viticulture,” he shares. “I believe that tending vines should be based on a strong understanding of plant physiology, which in turn will produce significant and meaningful increases in wine quality.”
Doug is also the winery’s quiet champion in the area of sustainability. He has instituted numerous green practices in our estate vineyards, initiated grower sustainability compliance and helped lead the winery to carbon neutrality in 2009.
Working on his parents’ raisin farm in Fresno, California, Bob Steinhauer developed a love for grapes at an early age. Today, Bob brings more than 40 years of winegrowing experience as a consultant to the Rodney Strong team, as well as a Masters in Plant Science from Fresno State and numerous accolades in the industry. Bob’s expertise and extensive knowledge of the Sonoma County wine region has been tapped for the Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon releases as well as other Reserve wines.
Bob spent a good part of his career at Beringer as Senior Vice President of Vineyard Operations. He managed grape acquisition from more than 400 growers throughout the state before leaving Beringer to consult for multiple winegrowing programs in both Napa and Sonoma County. In 2008, Bob was honored by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture for his contributions, earning a prestigious Merit Award.
Wine Grower Relations Manager
Like many on our team, Ryan Decker’s family history in farming extends back generations. His great-great grandfather came to California during the Gold Rush, then settled in Alexander Valley in 1858 as a rancher and farmer. Five generations later, the passion for working the land is alive and well in the Decker family. Raised in Healdsburg, Ryan began work for Rodney Strong in 2002 as part of the hospitality crew. He honed his palate with Director of Wine Education Stefen Soltysiak and returned to Fresno State to earn a B.S. in Viticulture in 2006.
Ryan returned to Rodney Strong in 2006 as Vineyard Specialist for the winegrowing department. Working directly with Doug McIlroy, he helps develop and implement the farming plan on all 12 of our estate vineyards. He collects and analyzes all viticultural data used to make daily farming decisions. As the point person for our sustainability program, Ryan guided the winery and vineyards through the California Certified Sustainable Winegrowing program that led to Rodney Strong Vineyards becoming one of the first Certified Sustainable wineries in the state.
Practices & Techniques
Certified Sustainable Vineyards and Winery
In 2010, we achieved a milestone in sustainability when our vineyard practices were officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrower’s Alliance. This statewide certification program provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices. Our commitment to sustainable farming is an ongoing responsibility that combines environmental health, economic feasibility and social equity.
For many years, we have been taking steps to reduce our environmental impact. We began by implementing sustainable farming practices, then installed solar power and earned our Fish Friendly Farming® certification. Becoming carbon neutral was the logical next step. By reducing our carbon footprint and carefully purchasing carbon credits, we have lowered our winery and vineyards’ carbon impact to zero, making Rodney Strong Vineyards the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma.
Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) has become a natural extension of our commitment to sustainable farming. From soil conservation to the use of cover crops, we have implemented core FFF practices that help conserve and improve the natural creek banks along permanent and seasonal waterways. Restoration and re-vegetation of creek banks is an essential part of the FFF program, removing invasive non-native species and establishing native plantings that reduce erosion and provide shade for migrating steelhead and salmon.
Solar Power Program:
In 2003, we installed solar panels on the roof of our barrel building. After six years in operation, the system produced 5.47 gigawatt hours of electricity, which helped avoid the release of 2,904 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – the equivalent of not driving 6,067,304 miles.
System Peak Capacity: 766 kW
Solar Electric Panels: 4,032
PV surface area: 80,000 square feet.
While pursuing our goal of growing the best wine grapes possible, we honor our commitment to be good stewards of our natural resources. This means as we go about our business, we are continually conscious of protecting or even improving the general ecosystem.
Soil conservation includes using the most effective runoff management and erosion control, reducing soil compaction, careful soil analysis to minimize amendments, composting grape pumice to return to the soils as organic matter, minimal tillage and the intelligent use of natural cover crops. These techniques ensure exceptional soils in our vineyards.
We employ drip irrigation to lessen water use in conjunction with advanced metering devices that closely monitor water levels in soils and vines. We take important steps to prevent erosion to keep silt and fertilizers out of the local watershed. Where we farm along creeks, we practice Fish Friendly Farming, which includes removing harmful vegetation and use of native riparian plants.
Intelligent use of natural cover crops greatly reduces dust from vineyard activities. Our vineyard roads are wetted down or treated with environmentally safe wetting agents. We have completely eliminated the burning the winter prunings, chipping the canes instead. We minimize tillage to reduce our use of fossil fuels.
We have minimized adverse effects to threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species, leaving sensitive areas undeveloped. We have built deer corridors to provide natural movement for wildlife to waterways. Walk the vineyards and you’ll spot bluebird and owl nesting boxes to encourage natural pest management. And large areas of our properties are left as green open space.
Economic Feasibility and Social Equity:
Farming practices in our vineyards must make economic sense. Fortunately, many excellent conservation methods, when applied successfully, can decrease input while enhancing sustainability. Long-term viability is key. In pursuit of social equity, we consider our neighbors in all vineyard practices. Our farming practices create jobs and support local businesses. And our seasonal and full-time vineyard workers are provided housing.
Estate Vineyards / AVA
66 Acres | Established 1971
Rising nearly 360 feet above the Alexander Valley floor just west of Jimtown, “The Crown” is undeniably one of Sonoma County’s best-known Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. First released as a 1974, Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon became Sonoma County’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Roughly 66 acres are planted, primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon (with just three acres of Merlot). Soils here are predominantly well-drained gravelly loam derived from river sediments and volcanic activity. In Block 1, found at the very pinnacle of the hill, the soils are deeply red and produce the most intensely flavored grapes. One of the first parts of the valley to feel ocean breezes in the afternoon, The Crown expresses Cabernet Sauvignon in a quite Bordeaux-like style, with ripe flavors centered on red fruit, generous round tannins and beautifully balanced acidity.
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Blue Wing Vineyard
151 Acres | Established 2001
This vineyard in the cool Sonoma Coast region is located in the southern tip of Sonoma County. The site offers fairly deep clay soils, and is subjected to windy conditions in the afternoon. Vine growth is notably slow and limited, producing just the right amount of leaves to ripen a normal crop load, without any excess vigor that might otherwise create canopy management issues.
Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
141 Acres | Established 1997
The Brothers Ridge vineyard is found in the hills just east of the small town of Cloverdale. Its 141 acres are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small blocks of Merlot and Malbec making up the difference. Soils are well-drained loam supported by sandstone, fractured shale and ancient greenstone. With elevations approaching 1,000 feet, vineyards are planted on west-facing slopes, perfectly situating the vines to capture the full warmth and light of the afternoon sun. Cabernet Sauvignon develops well into the chocolate and black fruit profile, with immense body, firm structure and exceptional richness.
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec
52 Acres | Established 1973
Located in the southern end of the Alexander Valley, the deep sandy loam soils of Bud’s Ranch are ideal for Chardonnay, producing soft, rich and ripe flavors that border on tropical. Bud’s Ranch is named in honor of Bud Klein, proprietor Tom Klein’s father.
Chalk Hill Vineyard
48 Acres | Established 1998
With roots in this area going back to 1965, Rodney Strong Vineyards was the first to release a Chardonnay with the “Chalk Hill” name on the label. Officially established as an AVA in 1983, Chalk Hill was named for its reflective white soils. The result of ash deposits from an ancient volcanic eruption, soils here are shallow, fast draining and slightly acidic. Cooled by ocean influences delivered via the Russian River Valley, vines are naturally low-yielding, producing intensely flavored wines with a distinct “petrichor” character – a word that officially refers to the scent of rain on dry earth. Our founder Rod Strong used to describe it as the more down-to-earth “tongue on stone.”
45 Acres | Established 1971 | Replanted 1991 and 1994
Tucked between Alexander’s Crown and a bend in the winding Russian River that flows through Alexander Valley, Charlotte’s Home was named for Rod Strong’s wife Charlotte. Here, the deep soils and gravel pockets favor Sauvignon Blanc. Charlotte's Home vineyard must be harvested in several passes: the gravel areas ripen first, giving ripe pear and melon character. Later-ripening vines on deeper soils provide lively crisp citrus flavors to the blend. Charlotte's Home continues to provide the heart of the perennial favorite Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc.
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc
40 Acres | Established 1979
Cut in half by Gill Creek, the Hubbard Ranch vineyard has gravelly Cortina soils and is planted to seven acres of Sauvignon Blanc and 30 acres of classic head-trained Zinfandel vines. A recent planting included Petite Sirah and Touriga Nacional. Touriga is considered one of the finest grapes in Portugal and intended for use in the “True Gentleman’s Port” program, named for a beloved member of the Klein family.
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Touriga Nacional
Russian River Valley
194 Acres | Established 1972
Jane’s Vineyard, named in honor of Tom Klein’s mother, is planted to 30 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, 57 acres of Chardonnay, and 107 acres of Pinot Noir. The soils here are shallow and highly acidic, stressing vines into naturally producing smaller berries, which translates into more concentrated flavors.
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Soils: Shallow and acidic
33 Acres | Established 2002
This property once grew specialty bamboo for making premium reeds used in wind instruments. Now planted to 22 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and 11 of Cabernet Sauvignon, soils here are predominantly gravelly loam, with deep black bands of heavy clay cutting through like ribbons.
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon
26 Acres | Established 1996
Bordering Sausal Creek, this very gravelly vineyard is on the locally famous Cortina soil series, esteemed for production of Bordeaux varieties. We grow Merlot here, which often finds its way into our Meritage, Symmetry.
River East Vineyard
Russian River Valley
19 Acres | Established 1968
When founder Rod Strong acquired this Russian River Valley property back in 1968, it was a prune-plum orchard. He replaced the fruit trees with a state-of-the-art winery and a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard. Warm air rising in the interior valleys of north Sonoma County gently pulls cool ocean air and fog deep into the Russian River Valley each night, helping to naturally balance acidity here. Jane's Vineyard was named in honor of proprietor Tom Klein's mother, Jane Klein.
Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
125 Acres | Established 1994
Acquired in 2003, Rockaway Vineyard is planted almost exclusively to Bordeaux varietals, with just a bit of Syrah. On the eastern slope of Alexander Valley just above Geyserville, the property rises to an elevation of 750 feet, with the contour sloping northeast and southwest. Soils here are fairly acidic, comprised of gravelly clay subsoil over fractured sandstone. This well-drained, low pH earth encourages the development of small clusters, giving us a high juice to skin ratio that is ideal for making bold, concentrated reds. An excellent site for our single vineyard designated program, the first vintage of Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2005 vintage (released in 2008).
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah