Our approach is for the grapes from each vineyard and growing region to express their intrinsic character in the special wines we craft. Gentle handling, careful use of barrel and stainless steel fermentation, and proper oak aging enhance the natural characteristics of the fruit.
A fourth generation California farmer, Tom earned a business degree from Stanford and spent the first part of his career as a management consultant at the San Francisco office of the prestigious global management firm McKinsey & Company. One project during this time was evaluating a small winery in the Russian River Valley called Rodney Strong Vineyards and, in a chance meeting, he was introduced to founder Rod Strong and winemaker Rick Sayre. Already developing an interest in wine, this encounter planted a seed that would grow into a lifelong passion.
Vice President of Winemaking
Rick began his winemaking career at the age of 19 as an assistant winemaker and cellar master at Simi Winery in Sonoma County. He had the opportunity to train under the world-renowned winemaster André Tchelistcheff, who instilled in his young trainee a deep passion for the art of winemaking and a desire to not only master his craft, but continually push the boundaries of creativity. “André taught me that a winemaker must live with his wine,” Rick recalls, “from walking the vineyards to the careful craft of guiding the wine into bottle. Even the smallest details can have a lasting effect.”
When Rod Strong decided to take a step back from the demanding role of winemaker, he called upon Rick Sayre, who joined the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979. In more than three decades in the cellars, Rick has guided the wine collection to include world-class Reserve, Symmetry and Single-Vineyard releases, an outstanding line of Estate wines and best-in-class Sonoma County wines that continue to please vintage after vintage. His voracious appetite for new winemaking knowledge has taken him around the world, including trips to the wine regions of France, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.
Widely acknowledged as a true wine pioneer, David Ramey’s efforts over the years have helped raise the bar for all American winemakers, and brought California to the forefront of the international wine world. His groundbreaking work with indigenous yeasts and malolactic and barrel fermentation techniques yielded a new California wine style that was richer, more lush and silky smooth – creating a benchmark now emulated by winemakers throughout the state.
David helped establish a number of wineries now considered exceptional: Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Today, David makes his own wines under the name Ramey Wine Cellars and continues to consult for a number of wineries. “Working with Tom Klein and the Rodney Strong team is such a pleasure because of their total dedication to wine quality,” he says. “Couple that with their outstanding vineyards in the eastern hills of Alexander Valley and you have a truly winning combination.”
Director of Winegrowing
Like many on Rodney Strong’s team, Doug McIlroy grew up in Sonoma County agriculture. With a B.S. in Plant Science and a B.A. in Economics from the University of California at Davis, Doug has more than 30 years of winegrowing experience, and has honed his knowledge and skills as a grower relations representative at some of Sonoma and Mendocino counties’ finest wineries. Doug joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 2001 and now oversees all viticultural practices at our fourteen estate vineyards as well as grower relations and long-term contracts with neighboring vineyards.
Doug’s relentless pursuit of quality has him out walking the vineyards on a regular basis. A constant evaluation of wine lots with winemaker Rick Sayre allows him to work closely with the winemaking team to assess the fruit, quality benchmarks and adapt growing practices. “Every vineyard site has a maximum potential for quality and I’m driven to achieve that through viticulture,” he shares. “I believe that tending vines should be based on a strong understanding of plant physiology, which in turn will produce significant and meaningful increases in wine quality.”
Doug is also the winery’s quiet champion in the area of sustainability. He has instituted numerous green practices in our estate vineyards, initiated grower sustainability compliance and helped lead the winery to carbon neutrality in 2009.
Working on his parents’ raisin farm in Fresno, California, Bob Steinhauer developed a love for grapes at an early age. Today, Bob brings more than 40 years of winegrowing experience as a consultant to the Rodney Strong team, as well as a Masters in Plant Science from Fresno State and numerous accolades in the industry. Bob’s expertise and extensive knowledge of the Sonoma County wine region has been tapped for the Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon releases as well as other Reserve wines.
Bob spent a good part of his career at Beringer as Senior Vice President of Vineyard Operations. He managed grape acquisition from more than 400 growers throughout the state before leaving Beringer to consult for multiple winegrowing programs in both Napa and Sonoma County. In 2008, Bob was honored by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture for his contributions, earning a prestigious Merit Award.
Raised in Sacramento, Greg Morthole attended the University of Wyoming, where he earned a B.S. in Natural Sciences. He entered the wine industry as a Laboratory Analyst at Vinquiry in Windsor, California, then moved to Chalk Hill Winery in 2003 to become an Enologist. Greg joined the Rodney Strong Vineyards team in 2005, when he accepted a position as Lab Director. His innate acumen for winemaking became immediately clear to his peers, and he quickly ascended to an appointment as Associate Winemaker in late 2007. In the spring of 2010, he was promoted to Winemaker, overseeing all aspects of operations and winemaking in our Artisan, “Winery Within the Winery.”
With a quiet demeanor and a determined attitude, Greg’s energetic style illustrates how enjoyable he finds winemaking to be. “Making the Reserve and Single-Vineyard wines here is an honor,” he says.
Justin Seidenfeld serves as Winemaker for Rodney Strong Vineyards, the iconic Sonoma County Winery that was founded in 1959 by namesake Rod Strong. Justin’s winemaking career began in Sebastopol, California, where he was an intern at Iron Horse winery in 2005. He quickly rose from cellar hand to taking on winemaking responsibilities which led to a position in 2006 at the venerable Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley.
As a harvest enologist at Mondavi, Seidenfeld walked some of California’s premiere vineyards and gained a comprehensive understanding of quality land and viticulture. Continuing on to become an enologist, he took that experience into winemaking and supervised the winemaking of Estancia, Clos du Bois, Simi, and others within the Constellation portfolio. Additional responsibilities included overseeing small lot Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir winemaking.
Justin graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology. He lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Dena and daughters Madison, Lila and Reagan. Justin enjoys golfing, playing with his daughters and working on his home. As to his inspiration to a career in winemaking, Justin notes, “people recalling the occasions that wine makes better and memorable is the reason I make wine. Hearing about how and when someone enjoyed a wine I made inspires me.”
Like many on our team, Ryan Decker’s family history in farming extends back generations. His great-great grandfather came to California during the Gold Rush, then settled in Alexander Valley in 1858 as a rancher and farmer. Five generations later, the passion for working the land is alive and well in the Decker family. Raised in Healdsburg, Ryan began work for Rodney Strong in 2002 as part of the hospitality crew. He honed his palate and returned to Fresno State to earn a B.S. in Viticulture in 2006.
Ryan returned to Rodney Strong in 2006 as Vineyard Specialist for the winegrowing department. Working directly with Doug McIlroy, he helps develop and implement the farming plan on all 12 of our estate vineyards. He collects and analyzes all viticultural data used to make daily farming decisions. As the point person for our sustainability program, Ryan guided the winery and vineyards through the California Certified Sustainable Winegrowing program that led to Rodney Strong Vineyards becoming one of the first Certified Sustainable wineries in the state.
Chef Tara Wachtel grew up in West Sonoma County, and began her culinary education at the Santa Rosa Junior College in 1996. She spent the following 20 years traveling to work in places like Alaska and Hawaii; which solidified her love of travel and food culture. She spent the next several years cooking for and working at some of Sonoma County’s finest dining establishments; Syrah, Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, and Madrona Manor.
Wanting to branch out, Tara spent a year working for Cowgirl Creamery, making their award winning cheeses out of Marin County. She also lived in Paris as a Private Chef, and New Zealand as Executive Chef for an eco-resort, before returning home to work alongside Duskie Estes and John Stewart of Zazu Restaurant + Farm for the following five years.
Chef Tara currently oversees the culinary department for Rodney Strong Vineyards, and manages ‘The Terrace’ at Rodney Strong Vineyards, which focuses on wine tastings, food and wine pairings, and cheese and charcuterie.
Director of Wine Education
Rachel Voorhees is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, where she graduated at the top of her class. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by Old World wine collectors, Rachel found a passion for wine and food early in life and credits her father for her palate and her mother for her culinary skills. Rachel studied at the International Culinary Center in 2012 where she continued to hone her wine pairing skills and wine knowledge.
She was the food & wine writer for BevMo! and Wine.com before coming to Rodney Strong in December 2013. Rachel’s focus is to educate people about wine, Sonoma County and Rodney Strong Vineyards. She travels throughout the country entertaining key members of the trade, conducting classes and seminars and sharing the wonders of wine and food.
After receiving her B.A. in Communications and Psychology from Vanderbilt University, she continued her education at Notre Dame de Namur where she received her Masters of Education. She is currently studying for her Certified Wine Educator and Advanced Sommelier credentials. In her free time, Rachel loves spending time with her two children, creating unique food and wine pairings and gardening.