Behind every bottle of Rodney Strong wine is a group of talented people dedicated to crafting premium wine and great experiences. Our wines represent the culmination of the knowledge and experience of our entire team – from our winemakers to winegrowers, bottling and cellar teams.
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.”
As an Air Force brat, Greg moved around throughout his childhood. His family eventually settled down in Sacramento, where he spent his formative years. Greg’s love of nature led him the University of Wyoming where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Natural Sciences. After graduating and returning home, he considered his life’s many options. Initially turning away from dentistry and the Peace Corps, and fatefully moving to Sonoma County to join his girlfriend, now wife, Mary, he landed in Santa Rosa. Intriguingly, many local lab jobs were in the wine industry, a career path he hadn’t anticipated. Greg quickly landed a position at Vinquiry in 1999, working for renowned winemakers Marty Bannister and MaryAnn Graf, who owned Vinquiry at the time. Four years later, after a sleepless night thinking about his future, Greg left Vinquiry for the Enologist position at Chalk Hill Winery. Two years after that he left Chalk Hill to take a position at Rodney Strong. Since that fateful day, his position has progressed from QC Lab Manager to Associate Winemaker to Winemaker, and he is now winemaker for Davis Bynum Winery, and the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines for Rodney Strong.
Asked to describe his approach to winemaking, Greg responds, “Mostly low impact, with the thinking that 98% of the work is done in the vineyard and at fermentation.” That’s perhaps a more humble answer than an accurate one, but Greg had the rare fortune to work alongside and learn from three of the legendary winemakers in California history: Rick Sayre, David Ramey and Davis Bynum. What does one learn from such highly regarded winemakers? “From Rick,” Greg says,” I learned to be honest about the wine, but find the positive and lend a voice to that. From David I learned to relax, don’t be too reactionary. And from Davis, to be humble and real and avoid telling the bookkeepers the true story if you need to.” There’s wisdom in that for just about every occupation.
Greg lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Mary and their two children Lucas and Cora. He claims to be an amateur backyard birdwatcher because in the front yard, “You have to be careful where you point the binoculars.” An avid hiker and mountain biker, he hopes one day to hike the length of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. That’s 2650 miles over about five months no matter where you point the binoculars. But from lab tech to winemaker for Rodney Strong Vineyards and Davis Bynum Winery, Greg is used to dreaming big.
“My desire is to make wines that are elegant and timeless,” states Olivia Wright. This is a lofty goal, but one for which Olivia is perfectly suited. Spending a few summers in Bordeaux as a child put her on the right path, if not the Right Bank, but it was attending UC Davis that launched her on her winemaking career for good. A 2009 freshman year visit to Spain and a tour of the Frank Gehry designed Marques de Riscal winery in Rioja led to her personal wine “Ah ha!” moment—a taste of Riscal’s famed Baron de Chirel bottling. Elegant and timeless. Watchwords for any aspiring winemaker.
Olivia’s winemaking path led her to working harvests at Mumm Napa and Isabel Estate in New Zealand, but it was in the Central Coast, at Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, “where I really learned and fell in love with winemaking and winegrowing.” Winemaker Tyler Thomas, Olivia noticed, “showed up every day to the winery genuinely SO excited to ferment stuff.” To anyone who knows Olivia, it’s apparent she shares Thomas’ excitement at fermenting stuff—usually grapes, but let’s not tie her hands. At Rodney Strong Vineyards, as Winemaker, previously Assistant Winemaker, as well as Winemaker for the Knotty Vines brand, she now works alongside Director of Winemaking Justin Seidenfeld who “has definitely taken me under his wing and made sure I have opportunities to learn, grow, and have my voice heard.” With her talent and love of winemaking, one day it will be Olivia taking young winemakers under her wing.
Olivia once flew to Russia just for dinner. Not a winemaker dinner, but dinner with cosmonauts in Star City, just outside of Moscow. “I received the invitation as a phone call from the space station,” she says without gravity. “I’m not sure at the time I realized how totally bonkers that was.” When she’s not taking calls from space, Olivia has a passion for hiking, playing piano, show jumping, and a bit of kickboxing. But it’s wine that rules her passions, and her excitement to ferment stuff. “Half the fun of being in the wine industry,” she notes, “is that there is always something more to learn.” And the best part of being a winemaker? “Hands down,” Olivia says, “it’s getting to share the wines with family and friends.” And maybe cosmonauts.
Manuel Villanueva began working in the wine industry right out of high school—Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa. His first full-time job was as a cellar hand at Clos Du Bois. Manny was soon promoted to Cellarmaster, overseeing a cellar with a capacity of 2.5 million gallons! It was while working tirelessly at Clos du Bois that Manny learned his considerable leadership skills along with what it takes to run a large and successful wine cellar on a daily basis.
From Clos du Bois, Manny worked at The Ranch Winery in Napa Valley, a custom crush facility that allowed him to work with many different winemakers from Napa Valley and Sonoma County. In a short time, he learned all of their individual styles, and what went into producing the many and varied wines he oversaw. After two years at The Ranch, Rodney Strong’s Director of Winemaking Justin Seidenfeld recruited Manny to become the Cellar Master for Rodney Strong Wine Estates. “Initially, Justin put me in charge of the tank cellars,” Manny reflects. “I quickly realized that I had one of the best production teams in the wine industry. The way we have all responded to the challenges presented in the past few years, and despite those challenges still made stellar wines, makes me proud of where I work, and with whom I work.”
Manny lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Lucia, who also works at Rodney Strong in the Quality Assurance Lab, and their three sons, Juan, Carlos, and Diego. Manny says, “I love to watch my boys play competitive soccer even if it means sitting in the bleachers during a winter storm or baking on a hot summer day. Dad is their number one fan.” The Villanueva family also loves to travel to National and State Parks, and “…we love to eat out. A lot!”
Allison and her family have been a part of the Rodney Strong tradition since the earliest days of the winery. Her father Rand worked for Sonoma County wine pioneer Rod Strong in the 1970s, helping to plant the iconic Chalk Hill and Alexander’s Crown Vineyards. Her mother, June, worked nearly 40 years in the company offices. Allison’s first job for Rodney Strong Vineyards was washing wine glasses in the tasting room when she was fifteen. Later, she worked as a temp in the Scale House, then as a winegrowing technician for the Grower Relations Team. She then moved up to Viticulturist and now as Estate Vineyard Manager, will oversee the very vineyards her father helped Rod Strong to plant.
Allison’s primary responsibilities will be to help implement the detailed and comprehensive vineyard development plan and oversee the approximately 825 acres of estate vineyards. “I feel really connected to this place,” Allison explains. “I grew up here among these vineyards. My parents and grandparents lived on the adjoining properties of the winery here in Healdsburg. I’m just really excited for this opportunity.”
In speaking about Allison, Senior Vice President of Winemaking & Winegrowing Seidenfeld says, “Allison has over-delivered on every aspect of what she has accomplished and done throughout her tenure at Rodney Strong. We are extremely excited to have her in this role and know that her passion and dedication to excellence will lead to the best quality fruit we have ever farmed and in turn, help us drive our wine quality in our pursuit of perfection.”