Explore Over 60 Years of Winemaking
What started with Rod’s vision over 60 years segued to an almost four-decade long career of Winemaker Emeritus Rick Sayre at Rodney Strong. Rick passed the baton in 2018 to current Director of Winemaking Justin Seidenfeld, who today leads the passionate winemaking team that creates critically acclaimed wines vintage after vintage with an eye towards the future. That future is led by innovative new products like ROWEN Wine Company, the 15-year passion project on our remote and rugged Cooley Ranch Vineyard.
For over 30 years, RSWE has flourished under the leadership of the Klein Family, 4th generation California farmers. The Klein family is committed to protecting and preserving the environment in both the vineyards and at the winery through sustainable farming and winemaking.
The history of Rodney Strong Vineyards has roots that stretch back more than 100 years; a tale of families in pursuit of an abiding passion: wine.
Proprietor Tom Klein’s great-grandfather relocates from New York City to San Francisco with his three sons. They struggle after the historic 1906 Earthquake, which destroyed their home and all their possessions. The boys are placed in an orphanage. After graduation, the boys enlist in the U.S. Navy to serve in WW1.
After a brief stint in the Navy at the end of WW2, Rod leaves for New York City, where he has the great fortune of studying at the American School of Ballet under two of the greatest figures in the history of dance: George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Soon, Rod is dancing on Broadway, and, a few years later, producing shows at The Lido in Paris, where he falls in love with fine wine.
Rod retires from dancing, marries his dance partner Charlotte Ann Winson, and begins his new career in winemaking. “I knew I couldn’t be an old dancer,” he would say, “but I could be an old winemaker.”
After searching California and meeting with UC Davis scientists, Rod and Charlotte settle on Sonoma County due to its world class quality and unmatched diversity of the wines grown here.
Rod breaks ground on a new winery near the original River West Vineyard. Based on the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, the winery is innovative and cutting edge in design, in the shape of a cross, with each wing providing a function, from fermentation, to racking, to barrel storage, with the Tasting Room perched above.
A watershed year in the history of wine, it was the year of the Judgementof Paris that thrust California vineyards and wines onto the world stage.
Rodney Strong releases the 1974 Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County’s first single vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine catches the eye of young wine critic Robert Parker, who rates it above all five Bordeaux First Growths in his very first Wine Advocate newsletter, where he declares it “…one of the finest cabernets ever made in California. If you can find it, consider yourself lucky.”
Rod takes a step back from the demanding daily activities of winemaking and chooses Rick Sayre as the new winemaker for Rodney Strong Vineyards.
Tom Klein completes his Stanford MBA and begins working for international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. His team is hired to evaluate the potential of a well-known Sonoma County winery−Rodney Strong Vineyards. During this time Tom Klein meets Rod Strong and Rick Sayre
The Klein Family purchases Rodney Strong Vineyards. Tom realizes that he truly loves the wine business and decides to combine this love with his professional training.
Over the next decade, the Klein Family makes significant investments in innovation in the cellar, including the purchase of fermentation tanks, state-of-the-art wine presses, custom barrel equipment, and a 100,000 square foot temperature-controlled barrel aging building.
Rodney Strong Vineyards continues to stay at the forefront of winemaking innovation, adding whole-cluster presses and rotary fermenters in 1998. The following year, the Barrel House is completed.
The investment in the winery dramatically improves quality, consumer popularity, and media attention.
In his relentless pursuit of crafting world-class wines, Tom conceives the iconic Symmetry, a Bordeaux-style red blend that garners wide acclaim.
The Klein Family acquires seven new vineyards throughout the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Coast appellations.
Requiring careful viticulture stewardship, the winery hires veteran winegrower Doug McIlroy as Director of Winegrowing.
The Klein Family implements a number of practices that define the winery in the 21st century, beginning with the largest solar array of any winery in the world.
To protect and preserve the environment, the winery formalizes its commitment to Sustainability, becoming a Fish Friendly Farming grape-grower and earning many Green Business Awards.
A year of milestones with the winery celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, Rick Sayre’s 30th year as winemaker, and the Klein Family’s 20th year as proprietors of Rodney Strong Vineyards.
That same year, Rodney Strong becomes the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma County.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is named Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “American Winery of the Year”, recognizing almost a half century of leadership, innovation, and commitment to quality Sonoma County wines.
COMMITTED TO COMMUNITY SINCE 1959 Rodney Strong is a family of passionate people committed to crafting premium wines, great experiences and delivering a vision for sustainability in Sonoma County. We are united by our passion for wine and the belief that nothing brings people together better than sharing a great bottle of Rodney Strong wine.