It is not uncommon to see people leaving the entertainment or sports world to pursue wine. What else are they going to do with all that money? Brad Pitt, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Zac Brown, Johnny Depp, Dave Mathews, and David Beckham are just some of the more well-known people who have put their names behind new wines. But few of these new legacy wines, as they are called, last very long, and rarely do entertainers actually get involved in wine making.
One that has lasted, however, is Rodney Strong Vineyards. Did you know Rodney Strong was a professional Broadway dancer? While dancing in Paris for four years, he fell in love with wine. When he founded the winery that bears his name in 1959, he was one of the first to plant vineyards in prime Sonoma locations, such as Chalk Hill and the Russian River Valley.
After a tumultuous series of owners, long-time family farmer Tom Klein purchased the operation in 1989 and he currently farms about 1,250 acres of vines in Sonoma County. Strong, pictured below, died in 2006.
For the last 39 years, Rick Sayres (pictured below with Rodney) has crafted the wines for Rodney Strong Vineyards, producing award-winning wines that we have often reviewed favorably. However, last May, winemaking veteran Justin Seidenfeld, who has been with Rodney Strong for eight years, took over his duties.
In a recent interview, Seidenfeld said new technology allows him to remotely monitor the winery's annual production of 850,000 cases. An app on his phone allows him to control tank fermentation temperatures and pump-overs. This intense attention to detail is critical when each fermentation tank can contain one million dollars worth of wine.
Seidenfeld will be traveling to France to supervise the purchase of barrel lumber from 250-year-old oak trees. He will then oversee the seasoning of the wood for 2 to 5 years, and their transformation into wine barrels.
Justin also supervises “Innovation Kitchen” at Rodney Strong, where staff is constantly experimenting with various elements of the wine making process. Testing with different fermentation vessels, fermentation protocols, yeast and cooperage trials are all part of the process at Rodney Strong to live up to Justin’s credo that “passion plus practice equals progress.”
Among the four wines we tasted with Seidenfeld was the debut of a rosé worth seeking. The Rodney Strong Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County 2017 ($22) is light in color and, according to Seidenfeld, is modeled after the iconic French rosé Domaine Ott, which he believes is the best in the world.
The aromas and flavors are strawberry and watermelon. The wine was made as a rosé and not the result of saignee, or the bleeding off of red wine, like many rosés.
Seidenfeld prefers to pick the grapes for his rosé at a lower brix than the results from a typical saignee. His pinot noir is picked at 20-21 brix versus typical Russian River Valley pinot noir at 24-25 brix. The result is more strawberry and watermelon flavors and brighter acidity.
One of our perennial favorites is the Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2015 ($25). Always dependable and fairly priced, this wine, made from a blend of new and old-world clones, displays black cherry and integrated oak notes with a hint of spice.
We especially liked the new 2015 Upshot Red Wine Blend Sonoma County ($28). Old vine zinfandel dominates the blend with help from merlot, malbec, petite verdot, and riesling. Very smooth with bright cherry and berry elements. Drink now.
On a more premium priced note, we tasted the Rowen Red Wine Sonoma County 2014 ($56) made from grapes grown on the high elevation Cooley Ranch. This is a blend dominated by cabernet sauvignon (57 percent) that includes malbec, syrah and a dash of viognier and petite verdot. Very elegant with soft berry and cassis elements plus a whiff of violets. Although this wine is accessible now, it should evolve nicely over the next 10 to 15 years.
Pacherhof Sylvaner Vigne Vecchie Alto Adige Valle Isarco DOC 2015 ($25). This old-vine sylvaner from Northern Italy is a delicious tropical fruit driven white wine with mild acidity is delicious by itself but would do best with fish dishes.
Niro Pecorino Abruzzo Terre di Chieti IGT 2016 ($17). No, this is not the ubiquitous pecorino cheese that pasta lovers sprinkle on their pizza and pasta, but the name of a white grape grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Although little known, this grape can make delicious white wines and this example is no exception. Beautiful bright tropical nose and flavors with ample acidity to accompany food. A nice, long, satisfying finish.
Olema Cotes de Provence Rosé 2017 ($16). Instead of making rosé from local grapes, the Amici team behind Olema travel regularly to Provence to produce this incredibly delicious wine – one the best of the year, in our opinion. The recipe is classic Provence: grenache, mourvedre, carignan fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. Pale in color and dry, it boasts vibrant raspberry and melon aromas followed by strawberry and black cherry flavors. Perfect balance with the right amount of acidity to keep it fresh yet fruity.
Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($32). Well balanced, this lush chardonnay has apple, melon and lime flavors with good acidity and oak-infused vanilla and toast notes.
Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir 2016 ($55). This lively Santa Maria Valley pinot noir has forward black cherry, strawberry jam flavors with a dash of caramel and vanilla. Very delicious.