As soon as we landed in sunny San Francisco, we headed North toward Healdsburg as we had a very special appointment at Rodney Strong Vineyards. We were warned about the traffic, but we didn’t expect it to be THAT bad. We breezed out of San Francisco and past Sausalito, but not long after that we were faced with a sea of brake lights.
We were late for our appointment, but the kind people at Rodney Strong were waiting for us with a warm welcome that included wine
The Rodney Strong tasting room is housed in a large, interestingly shaped building that sort of rises out of the vineyards like a giant dome.
After Joel greeted us and spoke with us about the wines a bit, Erik was the perfect tour guide and host.
We started out by tasting a few wines. After the traffic we faced and the long flight, I think we were both a little flustered, and a sip of the cool, crisp, Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay was the perfect cure. Neither acidic nor oaky, this Chardonnay had the perfect balance of crispness and roundness. It was really refreshing, an ideal wine for the hot sunny day that we were enjoying. We also tasted the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Reserve Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both were outstanding, and tasting them side by side while Joel and Erik talked about the wines made it more fun and educational to compare the two.
Following our tasting of the whites and the Pinots, Erik took us all around the property, and did an excellent job of explaining the behind the scenes action at Rodney Strong. The two major themes that stood out throughout the tour were sustainability and an exceptional focus on quality. From harvesting the grapes to going through each grape by hand to the extremely clean storage conditions, the amount of care shown for each step of the winemaking process is very evident.
The view from the top
This very special crusher releases the juice of the grapes gently so not to bruise or ruin the fruit, yet another example of Rodney Strong’s efforts to maintain the integrity of their excellent grapes. Oak barrels filled much of the large room.
The malolactic fermentation area is kept behind plastic and allows them to warm the room for just the barrels behind the curtain, accelerating the process by which malic acid is turned into a softer tasting lactic acid. Separating out certain barrels for this area protects the rest of the wine from the temperature changes.
After we had gotten a thorough tour of the winery, we went outside to the vineyard. Rodney Strong grows their grapes in a variety of appellations including the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill. You can read about and see maps of their growing regions on their website.
Those white flowers are the flowers of daikon radish plants which are used to prevent the soil from eroding. The daikon flowers also attract bees which help to naturally pollinate the grapes and other insects that eat insects that could be potentially harmful to the vines and the fruit. Once the daikon is cut down, it is left on top of the soil and decays there, serving as a natural fertilizer and allowing Rodney Strong to enrich the earth without chemicals and additives.
Erik explained a lot about the vines themselves as well as about the affects of the climate on the fruit. Frost, in particular, can be absolutely devastating because it burns the vines and can destroy an entire year’s grapes. To protect against this, they have alarms that sound when temperatures drop and a frost is possible. To avoid frost burning the vines, they actually spray water on them. Freezing protects them from the frost but doesn’t kill them! It was so interesting to see how nature and age old methods combine with modern technology to produce great wines.
After our tour, we returned to the tasting room to taste several more wines. I enjoyed them all, but my favorites were the 2007 Chalk Hill Chardonnay (me, choosing a Chardonnay as a favorite? Yes, its that good!), the 2007 Knotty Vines Zinfandel, and the Reserve Zinfandel. I came to Sonoma Valley on the lookout for great Zinfandels and was happy to discover them at Rodney Strong.
Thank you to Joel and Erik for showing us such welcoming hospitality! We will be receiving the wine that we bought at Rodney Strong in a couple of weeks as we mailed it to my house in NJ, and I can’t wait to start pairing these wines with food and sharing them with friends!