The term “sustainable” in the wine making and wine growing space is more than just a popular buzzword for the sake of consumers. It’s a culture that’s written into the very fabric of a winery’s existence – from the team working the vineyards to the team working customer service – delivered from the very top of the chain at the ownership level.
There are few wineries that specifically stand out for their sustainable ethos. Each of the world’s wine regions seem to have those that are leading the way for others to follow. In California – and Sonoma County specifically – Rodney Strong Vineyards and Winery is that very place leading by example.
When Rodney Strong Vineyards and Winery was originally established by Rod Strong in 1959, it was just the 13th bonded winery in Sonoma County. Even then, Strong understood the potential that Sonoma County’s soil and climate held for producing world-class wines. His desire was to craft wines from a specific place, and he was the first to craft a single-vineyard Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, in addition to being one of the first to plant pinot noir in Russian River Valley and the first to produce a Chalk Hill appellation chardonnay.
In 1989, Strong passed the torch to the Klein family, fourth generation farmers who were equally committed to producing high quality wine from the ground up. Today, this family-owned and operated winery strives to be inventive and viable, standing strong as stewards of their land, through practices such as carbon neutral, soil and water conservation, solar energy, and wildlife protection.
“We all need to do our part to protect the environment. Rodney Strong Vineyards has been a leader in sustainability for decades and we will continue to remain passionate stewards of the land.” —Tom Klein, Proprietor
This three-decades old fully committed stance has set the bar for not just California’s wineries, but for wineries around the world to take notice and to act accordingly. Protecting and preserving the environment in both the vineyards and at the winery through sustainable and innovative practices has truly set them apart in the industry.
Officially a Certified Sustainable Winery, Rodney Strong has been assessed and verified under the Sustainable Winegrowing Practices workbook. This statewide certification program provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices.
“Rodney Strong has been a leader in Sustainability since the 1990s, about ten years before it became fashionable,” says Justin Seidenfeld, Director of Winemaking for the winery. “We were the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma County and we have one of the largest winery solar arrays in the world, which we’ve just renovated and upgraded. For us, it’s about doing the right thing, even when nobody is looking.”
In 2004, the winery received its top achievement in the area of sustainability with the Sustainable Winegrowing Green Medal Leadership Award, which is the highest sustainable certification possible. Areas that the winery has paid special attention to are listed below:
By leaving sensitive areas undeveloped, Rodney Strong have minimized adverse effects to threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species. In addition, since 2009, all vineyards have been certified by the Fish Friendly Farming program.
Rodney Strong Vineyards was the first winery in Sonoma County to offset its carbon footprint. By reducing their carbon footprint and carefully purchasing carbon credits, the winery and vineyards’ carbon impact is zero.
In 2004, Rodney Strong was awarded the Green Power Leadership award from the Environmental Protection Agency. The winery boasts one of the largest solar arrays in the world. At just over 1,468 Megawatts, this system supplies 49 percent of their overall electricity.
Rodney Strong conserves soil in two ways, by practicing runoff management and erosion control. They compost grape pumice to support the return of soil to organic matter. They utilize natural cover crops, such as peas and oats, which help avoid erosion during the long and potentially wet winter months.
The winery employs drip irrigation and practices regular deficit irrigation to lessen water usage in conjunction with Tule’s Evapo transpiration (ET) sensor, an advanced metering device that closely monitors water levels in soils and vines. They also take important steps to prevent erosion to keep silt and fertilizers out of the local watershed.
Are you a fan of California wines? These wines deserve a spot on your list. Best of all, they’re sustainably focused and always available at your local wine shop:
Rodney Strong 2019 ‘Chalk Hill’ Chardonnay
In 1965, winery founder, Rod Strong was the first to plant chardonnay in what would later be recognized as the Chalk Hill American Viticultural Area (AVA), established officially in 1983. He recognized the region as distinct from the rest of Russian River Valley for its unique volcanically derived, chalky white ash soils, which impart a subtle mineral character to wines grown there. A first-time try for me, this chard exudes appetizing lemon pie and custard aromas. Bright green apple and citrusy lemon balance out the smooth oak tones. The creamy mouthfeel leads to a bright finish of grapefruit zest and hints of tart apple. ($30.95)
Rodney Strong 2018 ‘Russian River Valley’ Pinot Noir
The Russian River Valley is well established as one of the premier pinot noir growing regions in the world, and Rodney Strong continues to rely on the 1968-planted River East Vineyard as a core contributor to its estate vineyard bottling. Vintage variation can play a big part in pinot noir, and so, not every edition has been successful (in my opinion). Some expressions have come across tasting jammy, overly bodied, or pack too much alcoholic heat. This 2018 pinot is one of the better expressions I’ve had, despite sticking to a high ABV of 14.5 percent. It has deep aromas of plum, brown sugar and ripening fruit. It’s floral and earthy, and that (high) ABV is practically untraceable in this more restrained style. The balance here is impressive. ($29.95)
Rodney Strong 2019 ‘Sonoma County’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Rodney Strong recognized in the late 1960s that Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley was an exceptional area for heat loving cabernet sauvignon. He planted the winery’s first cabernet vineyard in 1971, Alexander’s Crown, on a small hill in Jimtown, and the reputation for fine Sonoma County cabernet has never looked back. Today, they have three exceptional cabernet vineyards, from Jimtown to Geyserville, and all the way north to Cloverdale, planted in the well-drained alluvial, volcanic, and uplifted shale/sandstone soils that make Sonoma County an ideal place for this noble grape. This is the third time in recent years that I have tasted Rodney Strong’s cabernet and I’m always amazed by the consistency from one vintage to the next. This 2019 offering is expectedly rich with dark cherry, plum and baking spices. The delicious fruit is accompanied by black pepper notes, crushed violet and cassis. The palate has medium tannins, lingering spicy oak flavours, with a velvety lush finish. ($29.95)