Rodney Strong Vineyards is one of the single most important producers in Sonoma County. The breadth of their portfolio, consistency of quality and general availability of their wines across the country assure that wine lovers everywhere have releases they can count on. Some producers focus on a couple of small lot wines, others a wide array of offerings made in massive quantities and still others fall into places somewhere between that. In a sense Rodney Strong does a little bit of all of that and then some; the key though is that they do it all very well, almost impossibly so.
One of the concepts that they have embraced for a number of years now is the Winery within a Winery. I recently visited with winemaker Greg Morthole and toured this facility; getting an inside peek of what goes on there. Greg has been part of the winemaking team at Rodney Strong for 8 years and he provided some valuable insights into their operation. In a sense this sub-facility makes what one would think of as a reserve tier wines. The highest end, smaller lot wines are made there. By creating a smaller facility on the Rodney Strong property a team can dedicate themselves to shepherding these wines from vine to bottle. This includes offerings like the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons such as Brothers Ridge, Rockaway and Alexander’s Crown and their proprietary blend Symmetry, not to mention the Davis Bynum Wines which became part of the Rodney Strong family a few years back. Working in a smaller (but not small by any means) facility allows the team to focus on specific lots and highlight the best of the best for the most premium offerings in their portfolio. I spent a good chunk of time with Greg tasting through barrel samples and getting an idea of what they look for when they create the blends for these wines.
After my visit I then decided to take a look at some of the releases currently on the shelf, a way of backing up my work in the “classroom” with Greg by tasting current offerings of released wines. Wanting to have a bit of a common thread I chose three wines from the 2010 vintage; in each case Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant varietal. Each comes from a different tier in their lineup.
First up is the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering was produced from Cabernet fruit sourced in various parts of Sonoma County. After fermentation this wine spent 18 months aging in a combination of French and American oak barrels. This widely available release has a suggested retail price of $20. Red fruit aromas such as wild strawberry and cherry are prevelant on the nose along with bits of toast and vanilla. Those characteristics carry through the palate along with red raspberry, black cherry and hints of espresso. The solid finish shows off minerals, rhubarb, black pepper and clove. This Cabernet has soft, supple tannins. The Sonoma County Cabernet is an easy drinking wine in the best sense of that term, while showing off more than sufficient true varietal character and depth for its category. Also considering its most often available for closer to $12 this is a value that’s difficult to beat in California Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was from fruit sourced exclusively in the namesake appellation. After fermentation this wine spent close to 17 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $28. Deep, dark fruit aromas permeate the nose of this Alexander Valley Cabernet. On the palate black fruits continue to dominate but wisps of red fruit flavors pipe through here and there as well. The palate shows off a depth and purity of fruit with blackberry and black cherry leading the way. Chocolate, dust, spices galore and espresso are all part of the finish which has terrific length, depth and precision. The Alexander Valley Cabernet has firm, chewy tannins, terrific acidity and lots of delicious fruit wrapped up in a well proportioned package. This wine most often sells for right around $18. It’s a prime example of how Rodney Strong Vineyards hits it out of the park year after year. There are Cabernets in both Napa and Sonoma selling for $50 that simply aren’t as good as this wine is one vintage after the next. Quite simply it’s an awesome value and a terrific example of Alexander Valley Cabernet.
The Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Symmetry Red Meritage was produced from fruit sourced in Alexander Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (75%), this blend also contains Malbec (12%), Cabernet Franc (10%), Merlot (2%), and Petit Verdot 1%).The fruit was hand harvested and each lot was fermented and barreled separately. After it spent ½ a year in oak, each lot was tasted and from the best of the best, Symmetry was assembled and then returned to barrel for 15 additional months of oak aging. This offering has a suggested retail price of $60 but is often available for close to $45. Hints of crème fraiche support more vigorous aromas of plum and toast on the nose of the 2010 Symmetry. Blackberry and raspberry flavors are prominent on the palate along with an absolute avalanche of cherry flavors (both red and black). A host of sweet and savory spice notes are also present and carry through the lengthy finish along with chicory, chocolate sauce and hints of sour fruit. Symmetry has excellent, length, depth of palate and persistence of flavor from the first through the last sip. One vintage after another there is a consistency of quality and general style to this wine which makes it a wonderful sure-bet for a special occasion or relaxed Sunday Dinner with Family and Friends. The bottom line for me is that Symmetry really is a shining example of the small lot winemaking facility at Rodney Strong. All of the techniques such as hand harvesting, berry sorting, lot selection and more are utilized to make world class wines that speak of their origins within specific appellations of Sonoma County.
What continues to impress me about them as a producer is that whether it’s an under $10 Chardonnay or a $75 single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon you’re getting value and quality for your money. The intent of all of these wines is different and often so is the intended target audience but being able to count on one producer to offer so many good choices is quite frankly inspiring and a boon for consumers. For those of us who live close to great wine shops we’re often spoiled with a litany of selections from all over. Not everyone has that at their fingertips and therefore it’s a feather in their cap that you can walk into a decent wine shop just about anywhere in America and find quite a few of the Rodney Strong wines and count on the fact that they’re going to be delicious, quality wines that well represent their varietal and Sonoma County; as well as being sold at a fair price for what they represent. Some producers can do this on the low end of the spectrum and others do it in the premium or super premium category, Rodney Strong Vineyards manages to do this in all of those categories. It’s a notable feat that should be mentioned often, particularly in a world where we have so many choices; if it says Rodney Strong on it, spend your money with confidence!