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Copyright © 2012
Forkmedia LLC



by Fred McMillin
for April 28, 2000

 

Winery of the Week

Strong Stuff...

The Two Lives of
Rodney Strong Vineyards


Prologue

Eight years ago Rodney Strong came to my tasting of his wines, which I subsequently described in the San Francisco Independent newsaper. Later he wrote me, "You have a very fine touch with the information your tastings provide. I find it both erudite and informative...I think it is time we spend a little time tasting the entire line at the winery...etc."

Since flattery will get you everywhere, I followed up and here's what I learned about the two lives of Rodney Strong Vineyards.


Life Number One

Rodney Duane Strong could dance! The Rod Strong Dance Quartet appeared both on Broadway in N.Y.C. and at the Lido in Paris. Also, he was wise enough to marry his red-haired dancing partner, Charlotte.

That time in France included exposure to fine wines, so at age 33 he left the stage and opened a wine operation in a century-old railroadmen's boarding house on the waterfront in Tiburon, across the bay from San Francisco. First the couple bought bulk wine and sold it under the name Tiburon Vintners. Sales were sensational, quickly topping $l00,000.

So they leased a winery farther north near the town of Windsor...Windsor Vineyards was born. Rodney made the wines. Before long, demand exceeded the 50,000 case capacity Hence, in 1973 they built and opened what would become Rodney Strong Vineyards. The use of "Vineyards" in the name was appropriate, since Rodney had been busily acquiring premium property. One was the 177-acre Alexander's Crown Vineyard. Robert Balzer recalls that the debut 1994 Alexander Crown Cab was immediately recognized as "a true collectors' choice." It had the further distinction of being Sonoma County's FIRST vineyard-designated red wine...another indicator of the couple's marketing savvy. Now let's fast-forward to the second life.


Life Number Two

Stanford MBA grad Tom Klein liked working for the management consultant firm McKinsey and Co...because he was assigned to work with Rodney Strong and his new winemaker, Rick Sayre. In fact, when the winery-vineyards later came on the market in 1989, he bought it. He has kept Rick as winemaker, and gave a lifetime consulting contract to Rodney.

Good decision? When I last checked, annual sales had increased from 60,000 cases to about 300,000!


Only the Facts

Rodney Strong Vineyards Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma County
11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Owner—Tom Klein. Third-generation Central Valley family that farms 10,000 acres of veggies, fruit, and nuts.
Production—About the above 300,000 case sales figure. I just received the 1999 number...460,000 cases. Wow! (Maybe we shouldn't be surprised, since Rodney is still marketing consultant.)
Contact—Office of Lee Hondo, Director of Communications, (707) 433-6521, FAX (707) 433-0939
The Wines—There's lots of them. The Chardonnay won Best White at my tasting in 1992. The Cabs, Merlot and Zins do well in my tastings. Robert Parker Jr. finds the Sauvignon Blanc and Russian River Pinot Noir also are good values.
Last, but far from least, The Winemaker—Rick will see his 21st Strong vintage this year. He trained with such stars as Zelma Long and Andre Tchelistcheff. Not so long ago, Wine & Spirits named him "Chardonnay Winemaker of the Year!"


Postscript—Dog Bites Man?

A few years back Frank Prial of the New York Times phoned Rodney Strong to learn how much damage an on-going flood was doing to the Sonoma vineyards. Rodney said he and Charlette were trapped in their home by the water, but the vineyards were doing alright. However, there was a problem. "With the roads blocked off, we're running low on food. Charlotte breeds champion mastiffs and I don't like the way they are looking at me."

Credits:
Leon Adams, The Wines of America, 4th Ed.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created April 2000

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