Rodney Strong Vineyards – Changing the world one bulb at a time

Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light

Earth Day was April 22nd, 2011, and leading up to it was a wine blogger tasting of Rodney Strong Vineyards wines. The idea behind the tasting, besides trying four of their wines, was to learn about the earth friendly initiatives Rodney Strong Vineyards have been participating in. As part of their Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light program, which I’ll talk a bit about below, the folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards provided each of with with a CFL blub to start our own earth friendly initiatives. Oh, and the wine was pretty good too.

Rodney D. Strong founded the winery in 1959 as the 13th bonded Sonoma County winery. The Klein family, a fourth generation California agricultural family, are the current private owners. The family has implemented some environmentally friendly initiatives, such as installing a solar electric system on the top of their barrel warehouse in 2003. The system generates enough energy to power 800 homes, and their dependence on the power grid decreased by 35%. Additionally, they have installed a lighting system that uses motion sensors and energy efficient light fixtures to reduce energy use, minimizing heat output, and optimize light quality. They also own the distinction of becoming Sonoma County’s first carbon neutral winery in 2009.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc

While the environmentally friendly projects are exciting, we were equally excited to taste the wines. The wine tasting was a mix of two white and two red wines. First up was the Rodney Strong 2009 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc. With a retail price of $13.50, this crisp white is all estate fruit, from a vineyard planted in 1971 in honor of Rodney Strong’s wife, Charlotte. This white wine, as well as the chardonnay I will talk about next, needed time to open up. I’m finding more white wines lately that need to sit and breathe, or aerate, to really express their nuances. Initially the wine was very grassy and green on both the nose and palate. However, after 15 minutes of opening in the glass, the nose was still a bit grassy, but tropical and grapefruit notes began to show. The palate of of the Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and light, with grapefruit and a touch of herbaceous or grassy note.  About 10% of the wine sees French oak when fermented, with malolactic fermentation giving it a rounder, more full mouth feel. The remainder of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with no malolactic fermentation, retaining it’s crisp taste. An interesting wine, especially if you don’t want a fruit salad in your glass.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009

Next up was the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. In 1965, Rodney Strong was the first to plant chardonnay in what would later be recognized as the Chalk Hill American Viticultural Area (AVA). Made from 100% estate chardonnay, 86% of the wine sees malolactic fermentation and French oak aged 10 months. This gives it the rounder mouth feel and buttery quality while still retaining a portion of crisp chardonnay for balance. The nose is a buttery tropical fruit salad, and the mouth feel was indeed round, fully and silky. Up front, the palate was a subtle papaya with a tinge of oaked vanilla and spice on the finish. After over 20 minutes in the glass aerating, the palate was a bit more fruit forward, and the spice well integrated, with vanilla highlighting the fruit, rather than competing with it. Again, the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay benefited from opening and breathing, just like the sauvignon blanc. Right out of the bottle, I would have passed on both of these whites. However, with time to open, they became very interesting and enjoyable.The Rodney Strong 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay retails for about $20, and while this isn’t necessarily a budget white wine, it’s certainly interesting enough to try.

Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

This brings us to the red portion of our program, starting with the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. With a suggested retail of $40, this red wine needed about 30 minutes of decanting, or really aerating, to show it’s full potential. The nose has great dark strawberries and a hint of cocoa on it. I loved the complexity of the wine’s bouquet. There is delicious red fruit on the palate, a burst of it at first, followed by dark and earthy on the midpalate. It was not sweet, but it was just beautiful and fresh fruit. There were secondary notes of smoke as well, which added to the complexity and enjoyment. The Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir had great acidity as well, and I would happily pair this wine with anything from salmon to steak, as it truly would work with that range. The wine is aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels, has 14.9% Alcohol by Volume, and is certainly a big, but delicious RRV Pinot Noir.

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We finished up the evening of wine tasting strong, pun intended, with the Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage. First, meritage is pronounced similar to heritage. The inclination is to add some French accent to the word, but don’t. Wine geeks will quickly point out the error. Second, meritage is a proprietary term used to denote red and white Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the Bordeaux (France) region’s legally protected designation of origin. The Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry is a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec, 3% merlot, 1% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. It’s aged 26 months in French oak barrels, and has 15.1% ABV.

Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Now that the wine geekery is behind us, this wine was fantastic. At a suggested retail price (SRP) of $55, it’s hard for me to say you must try this wine, as it may be outside of the budget of many wine lovers. However, if you find yourself looking to splurge, or if $55 is in your wheelhouse, swing for the fences and try this wine, you’ll thank me. The bouquet of the Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry Red Meritage at first is perfume and floral, which blows off shortly and shows dark red cherries and briar or brambles on the nose. The palate shows complex layers of blackberry, coffee, dark chocolate and spices. Tim Elliot of Wine Cast reviewed the wine recently and felt the oak was a bit generous and made a strong appearance. However, he mentions that with aging, the oak will integrate well. Perhaps our palates are different, as I felt the oak was nice on this, and didn’t need to pull any splinters from my tongue.

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Overall I thought the wines were well done, and enjoyed what they had to offer. I also enjoyed the follow up from the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards, saying that their Compact Florescent Light initiative had tremendous success. They had over 85,000 pledges to switch from an incandescent bulb to a CFL, and caused the program to end over two week earlier than originally expected.  I’m a big believe in CFL bulbs, and have replaced all but 4 bulbs in my house with them. I did not use the CFL that the nice folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards sent me as part of their project, and will instead find a nice home for it in a family member’s home. We all need to do our part!