Rodney Strong Vineyards has been a household name for more than 10 years for us. I was fortunate to meet winemaker Justin Seidenfeld 3 years ago at a blending seminar in Dallas, where I learned to love the wines that much more. In May 2013, I visited the winery for the first time, and was so excited to see firsthand all of the sustainable practices Rodney Strong was implementing in their winemaking. When they invited me out this winter for a press trip to learn more about the winery and the wines, of course I said yes. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about one of their favorite wineries? I was honored to be one of 5 journalists on the trip.
Our Sonoma trip began with dinner at John Ash & Co at the Vintners Inn with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to spend more time with Justin and see what he’d been up to and what was new in the winemaking industry since I’d last seen him a little over 3 years before. Turns out Justin has been up to quite a bit. We got some great wine education about what makes Rodney Strong’s Chalk Hill Chardonnay—among others—stand out among some of their wines.
The terroir and soil have a lot to do with it, we learned. Justin had also worked with a company in Montréal, Quebec, to develop a square fermenting tank to not only maximize the space in the Rodney Strong winery but to also maximize the fermenting process in the barrel. He worked with the scientists at UC Davis to perfect the exact size to optimize fermentation in the right size and shape tank. We learned more about that the next day on our winery tour. Dinner was amazing, and we were staying at the Vintner’s Inn for our two nights in Sonoma. It was certainly a beautiful choice.
Rodney Strong’s Chef Tara Watchel prepared a fabulous quiche and some other items to go and we took out luxury box breakfasts out to the vineyards at Chalk Hill to learn about the viticulture and vineyards from Grower Relations Manager Ryan Decker. Ryan spent the morning with us educating us about various vineyard blocks and vineyard sites and how they affected the various varietal and grapes that were selected for different blends. We visit Chalk Hill, the Estate blocks, and Rockaway (and we enjoyed some Rockaway wine at the top of Rockaway). Our morning culminated with and incredible Italian lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville.
After lunch, we returned to the winery to do a tasting and tour with tasting room manager Ron Washam and Justin. Ron walked us through most of the wines in the tasting room and took us on a tour of the facility. Justin met up with us and showed us his new stainless steel fermenting tanks that he helped develop. The technology and thought that went into this is crazy. So much science!
After the tour and tasting, we had dinner with another winemaker, Greg Morthole, at Jackson’s Bar and Oven. That was another incredibly delicious meal with great conversation and wine education. It’s so much fun to learn from people who really love what they do.
Our last day in Sonoma was spent with Head Winemaker Rick Sayre. The first part of the morning we learned about the history of the winery and winemaking at Rodney Strong with Rick and Director of Education Rachel Voorhees. That education was followed by a fun and friendly competition and blending seminar. This was similar to what we did in Dallas when I first met Justin. We learned about Rodney Strong’s Meritage blend Symmetry, and then were set on our own to create a blend that Rick would judge. My blend came in second place, which made me happy.
After blending, we were treated to an unbelievable divine lunch created my Chef Tara Watchel where we were able to spend more time chatting with Rick about all things wine and Rodney Strong.
Thank you to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting me in Santa Rosa and providing me the opportunity to learn more about winemaking. As always, all opinions are my own.
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