TRADITION AND INNOVATIONScott Chemick interviews Tom Klein and Rick Sayre of Rodney Strong Vineyards.
For February 2005, our featured wine is the 2001 Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet. In keeping with Grape Culture's dedication to sharing our passion of wines with our customers, we bring you an exclusive interview with Tom Klein, proprieter of Rodney Strong Vineyards, and Rick Sayre, winemaker at Rodney Strong. These two veterans of Sonoma County wine country are truly inspired by their love of wine and winemaking.
What makes you passionate about wine?
Rick Sayre: My passion is to have people enjoy what they're drinking enough to ask for a second glass. Having worked the last 35 vintages in Sonoma County, I've come to learn if you manage all the details from the soil to the bottle, you will be consistent. Every decision--from vineyard site selection, rootstock, clones, row orientation, irrigation, canopy management, grape sampling through the entire vinification process--involves daily decision-making. You need dedicated and passionate people growing the grapes, making the wines, all the way to the people putting it in the bottle. The secret is--just hard work.
Tom Klein: I love everything about wine, as it encompasses most things I truly enjoy. It’s normally grown best in beautiful places around the world, and has an element of romance. It involves history and tradition, as well as innovation. It’s a natural product grown, not manufactured, which appeals to me. Most of all, I love the way it tastes. I feel fortunate to have wine be a part of my life in so many ways.
Can you tell us a little bit about Rodney Strong Vineyards?
Rick Sayre: Located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, the winery was established in 1959 by former ballet dancer and wine industry pioneer Rod Strong. In 1989, the winery was purchased by Tom Klein and his family. Under the guidance of the Klein family, the winery has become one of the largest and most respected operations in Sonoma County--producing more than 500,000 cases of wine from the 12 estate vineyard sites it owns in four Sonoma County appellations (Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Coast). In addition, the winery has the distinction of producing the very first Single-Vineyard Cabernet in Sonoma County; the 1974 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery attracts 60,000 visitors annually to its handsomely landscaped grounds just outside the town of Healdsburg.
What varietals are you producing?
Rick Sayre: We produce three product lines: Sonoma County, Estates, and Reserves. Our Sonoma County series includes: Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. Our Estate series includes: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet. Our Reserve series includes: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and a meritage wine called Symmetry.
We're currently featuring Rodney Strong's 2001 Sonoma Cabernet in our store. Can you tell me about this particular vintage?
Rick Sayre: Our 2001 Sonoma Cabernet is the model of what I aim for when making this wine year after year. It should be a wine that you can drink alone or with food, express true varietal character, and be so delicious that you want another glass.
We grow and source fruit for this wine from our estate and specially selected vineyards primarily in the Alexander Valley. The Alexander Valley is recognized for an abundance of warm sunny days and cool nights combined with well-drained benchland, mountain, volcanic, and alluvial soils.
The 2001 growing season started off with a very cold early spring, followed by the warmest May on record. As a result of this, bloom occurred two weeks earlier than normal with a smaller than average fruit set. The summer and early fall temperatures cooled, allowing for excellent “hang-time,” resulting in full flavor maturity, ripe tannins and concentrated flavors.
Aromas of blackberries, black cherries, vanilla and cedar carry through into the flavor of this full-bodied wine. Additional layers of cassis and cocoa are enveloped by soft, mature tannins and a long, rich finish.
I've heard talk about there being a glut of California wines; is there any truth to this, and if so, does this affect all wines or just a specific group of wines?
Tom Klein: There is a surplus of wine in the world today. California experienced a typical cyclical oversupply in 2001 through 2003, but seems to be coming into balance now. Australia is still over-supplied, as are regions in Europe. This is not an oversupply anywhere of very good or exceptional grapes.
There has been much talk of the industry retooling to prepare for the screw cap revolution. Will Rodney Strong wines have screw caps on future vintages?
Tom Klein: We are experimenting with screw caps at Rodney Strong; we're currently evaluating their effect on white and red wines. Cork suppliers have also begun to respond to the challenge of T.C.A. [trichloroanisole]. Once we have formed our opinion on what is the best closure for Rodney Strong wines, we will make a decision.
Rodney Strong Vineyards have a history of producing highly acclaimed wines, with a strong--no pun intended--brand name recognition. What are some of the elements that have helped Rodney Strong achieve this?
Tom Klein: Our successes are based on the fact that we are family owned, privately held and care very deeply about the quality of our wines. We have a singular focus on Sonoma County, which is an exceptional place to grow world-class wines. We own 952 acres of vineyards on 12 outstanding sites in Sonoma County’s best appellations: Alexander Valley, Russian River, Chalk Hill and Sonoma Coast.
Many Grape Culture customers are frequent travelers to California. Do you offer tours of the winery?
Tom Klein: Yes. Our winery has an outstanding hospitality center, which is open seven days a week for tours and tasting. Visitors can enjoy sampling our medal-winning wines, a self-guided historical tour and balcony views of the winery's working centers, plus lush lawns for picnicking with vineyards as the backdrop. In addition, the winery hosts a popular long-running annual Smooth Jazz summer concert series, which draws sell-out crowds to each show. Dave Koz, Warren Hill, the Neville Brothers, and Craig Chaquico, along with many other well-known musicians, have headlined at the winery’s concert series.
What do you see in the future for Rodney Strong wines?
Tom Klein: Our wines will only improve in the future, as our best vineyards come into their prime. We've planted or acquired seven new outstanding sites over the past eight years; they're now maturing and beginning to produce outstanding wines. We're very excited about what is to come. X