A Tale of Two Chardonnays: Part 2 (Rodney Strong)

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Yesterday I made a confession: I like oaky Chardonnay. Not the “two by four in your mouth” kind of oaky, but I definitely like some richness and toast. I won’t take you through my diatribe again: you can read the story if you really want to hear it. Let me just cut to the chase and talk about one of the two great everyday Chardonnays I’ve enjoyed recently.

Rodney Strong Vineyards has been a bastion of Sonoma County wine culture since it was established in 1959. Rodney was one of the first to believe in the potential of a Northern California wine region that was Not Napa. He explored the micro-climates of the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and what is known now as the Sonoma Coast, and identified the best vineyard sites for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other classic varietals.

He realized that Chardonnay would thrive in the cool-climate regions in western and southwestern Sonoma County, where the influence of the Pacific Ocean allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and develop great flavors and acid.

Thirty years later, Tom Klein, fourth generation California agriculturalist, took the reins at Rodney Strong and continued the program of single vineyard, reserve and blended bottlings.

The Chard I tasted, Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay 2009, is part of their entry-level series. Grapes are sourced from vineyards in the Russian River, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast and blended to create — my favorite style of Chardonnay.

It says it right there in the technical notes: only 60% of the fruit is barrel fermented and then aged in barrel for four months. The balance is cold-fermented, which allows the fruit to retain its fresh, bright flavors and natural acidity. When these two lots are blended, you get — balance!

I liked the fruit that was right upfront: a taste of lush, juicy tropical flavors with some tangy apple/pear.Then it got richer, as the toasty oak started to creep in and a rich roundness took over. And just when I thought it might get too rich, a hit of tangy acid snapped through the finish.

Can you tell I liked it? It’s all about balance, with richness and crispness enjoying a happy mixed marriage.

And oh yeah — it’s a steal right now. In some states this Rodney Strong is on sale for around $12, and that’s tremendous value for a Chard that’s this well-made.

There’s one final achievement at Rodney Strong Vineyards that shouldn’t be overlooked. They’ve made a huge commitment to Sustainable Farming, and became the first winery in Sonoma County to become Carbon Neutral. That means they’re not only conserving our resources, but they’re improving the land for future generations while¬†creating fruit (and wine) that’s as pure and tasteful as it can be. I thank them for that. Cheers!

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