As the crowd swayed to the soulful sounds of sax-man, Boney James, and sipped award-winning Rodney Strong wines, the 26th season of Rodney Strong Concerts kicked off in Sonoma County on June 18. A wine country summer ritual for many, including us, the concerts are well-known and well-loved for presenting top artists in an intimate setting amidst the vines. If you’ve never attended a Rodney Strong concert, or if it’s been a while since you visited, here’s why they deserve a place on your summer schedule.
Four-time Grammy nominated Boney James has an amazing stage presence and delivered a fabulous show in the early evening Sonoma summer sunshine.
Performing from his latest release, Futuresoul, along with some longtime crowd favorites, Boney continues to bring a fresh sound to his R&B and jazz style.
Backed by a phenomenal band, the clear evening sky was filled with sultry sounds and an energy that had the entire crowd participating in the experience.
Perhaps it’s the venue, perhaps it’s relaxed wine country atmosphere, but artists appear to enjoy the Rodney Strong Concerts experience almost as much as the crowd.
Having seen B.B. King, George Benson, Mindy Abair, Michael McDonald and more at the concerts of the years, each evening has always been an unforgettable experience.
After 26 years of hosting concerts, Rodney Strong has the process down. The events are professionally produced, with great sound quality and concert-goers’ needs considered and wants delivered. Local jazz radio station, KJZY sponsors the event and on-air personalities, such as Scott Mitchell, are on hand to MC the concert, enjoy the music and have been seen capturing a few shots themselves before and during the concerts.
One of our favorite concert venues anywhere, the Rodney Strong Concerts are hosted in a casual, intimate setting surrounded by vineyards. If that sounds ideal – it is and makes for a perfect summer evening!
Concert goers have the option of bringing low chairs or blankets for general admission or purchasing VIP tickets, which provide reserved seating in the front on white folding chairs provided by the winery. Regardless of which option you choose, the location is small and once the music starts, it’s all about the experience. We’ve had VIP seats up front and it was great. We’ve sat on the ground under a big shade tree and it was perfect. We’ve stood at the back for an entire evening, chatting with new friends, sipping wine, watching the crowd and grooving to the sounds – also, a fabulous evening.
Great music is only made better when a glass of amazing wine is in hand.
We usually start a summer evening with a crisp white, so we began the evening with a Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc. We fell in love with the Davis Bynum wines early this year when we were on the Rodney Strong Master Blender experience and, since then, that’s what’s in my glass many an evening.
Moving on to red, the line up was deserving of a sampling of more than one. We started with the Alexander Valley and ended the night with a bit of Symmetry.
While the winery is closed during the concert, the Rodney Strong tasting room is open daily and offers a complimentary tour of the vineyards and winery, subject to availability.
The tours are a perfect way to learn about the winery’s history and catch a behind-the-scenes view of how the wines are made, so be sure to either visit the winery earlier in the day before the concert or the following day after brunch.
The July – September Rodney Strong Concerts 2016 lineup
The legendary Smokey Robinson is next to appear in the 2016 concert series on July 23.
On August 13, Dave Koz and David Sanborn will perform together and on August 21, Huey Lewis and The News take the stage.
The B-52s close out the season on September 17.
Making the most of your Rodney Concert
Doors open an hour before showtime, however, the gates may open earlier. General admission attendees may start lining up hours before the doors open.
What not to bring
We’ll start with things not to bring to the concert since the list is shorter. No glass, video camera or alcohol can be brought into the venue. High back chairs and umbrellas are also not allowed.
What to bring
Concerts are held regardless of the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine. It can be warm, okay hot, in the late afternoon sun, so wear/bring sunscreen, comfortable clothing, and a hat. Toward the end of the show, it can cool off, so bringing a light jacket or sweater is always s a good plan. Bring a rain jacket if rain is in the forecast.
For those in the general admission area, chair legs cannot be taller than 12 inches and the overall chair should not exceed a maximum height of 32 inches. Otherwise, bring a blanket to sit on.
Water is provided free during the concert, so bring a plastic cup or water bottle (no glass) to fill. Coolers, ice, food and non-alcoholic beverages can be brought into the concert area. Beverages, including wine, can be purchased on site and local food vendors are on hand. Rodney Strong’s beverage sales locations accept cash or credit cards. The food vendors typically only accept cash.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is located at 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When one of our favorite wineries, Rodney Strong, called a couple of months ago to see if we’d like to come out for a few days to learn more about the winery and attend a blending seminar, we only had one question – when? Whatever the date, we would clear our calendar to attend such a unique experience.
Our Master Blender experience was scheduled for the first week of February and when we received the final agenda the week before – wow! Amazing food, wine tastings, luxury accommodations, visits led by the winery’s viticulturist to locations few get a chance to ever see, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, and a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, Rick Sayre.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 1: Arrival and welcome dinner
We arrived early in the afternoon at the Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa where we would be staying during the event. A four-diamond luxury hotel, the Vintner’s Inn is the epitome of wine country elegance, with stately rooms, elegant gardens, and one of our favorite restaurants, John Ash & Co.
With such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon at our disposal, we set out for a hike on the two-mile trail around the property while a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay chilled in the fridge – the perfect post-hike refreshment upon our return!
Our welcome dinner was at John Ash & Co. with winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, Rodney Strong’s social media manager, Laura Perret Fontana, and the four additional event attendees, Marlynn Jayme Schotland, Jana Seitzer, Annabelle Pericin and Robert Larsen.
As we worked our way through savory courses accompanied by Rodney Strong wines, Justin provided the background and details on each of the wines. Originally from Colorado, Justin graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology and has been making wine in Sonoma county since 2005, and at Rodney Strong since 2010.
Off to a great beginning to a fascinating week, we were eager to explore the vineyards and learn more about the winemaking process.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 2: Vineyard tours, barrel tasting, and an abundance of spectacular food & wine
Winegrower relations manager, Ryan Decker, was our guide for vineyard tours for the morning of day two. Our first stop – Chalk Hill in Windsor.
As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast prepared by Rodney Strong Winery Chef Tara Watchel amidst the vines, Ryan explained the unique properties of the Chalk Hill area, where the soil appears “chalky” due to ash deposits from a long-past volcanic eruption.
An excellent start to the day – learning about the vines that produced the very Chardonnay that was in my hand just the afternoon before.
First released in 1974, Alexander’s Crown was Sonoma’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, quickly gaining acclaim, including being named the highest rated Cabernet Sauvignon in Robert Parker’s first issue.
Situated on hills that rise 360 feet above the valley floor, 66 acres are planted at Alexander’s Crown, with Block 1 at the top of the hill producing the prime, most intensely flavored grapes. Listening to Ryan describe the meticulous grape growing processes, it became obvious there are no shortcuts in creating a spectacular bottle of wine.
Each detail is constantly analyzed in an effort to gain even a fraction of improvement. Grapes are picked in 1/2 ton sections to isolate the best blocks or sections of vines. Cross arms were added to the stakes a few years back to “add shade with dappled sunlight” as overexposure can result in too much tannin. And the list goes on, in pursuit of producing an even more perfect bottle of wine.
The Alexander’s Crown property is also the home of Rodney Strong’s owners, the Klein family, and the location of a former home of Rod and Charlotte Strong. Ryan explained that Charlotte bred Bull Mastifs and would frequently take the dogs down to play in an area between Alexander’s Crown and the Russian River. That same area, where she spent so much time, now produces a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, called Charlotte’s Home.
Rockaway at Rockaway
As we drove through the back roads of Sonoma County on our way from Alexander’s Crown to our next destination, Rockaway, Ryan would point out highlights along the way. Given that his family first settled in the Alexander Valley in 1858, it’s understandable that he knows the area like the back of his hand.
Along the way, Ryan explained that the Pine Flat vineyards next to Sausal Creek produced some of the best Merlot of all the vineyards and it was one of the few that could be dry farmed, meaning no supplemental water was required. Dry farming requires a high vigor, deep rooting stock.
Entering the Rockaway vineyards, we began to climb up through the rolling, vine-covered hills which rise to an elevation of 750 feet. Rodney Strong purchased the property, which grows mostly Bordeaux varietals, in 2003. It produces the grapes for the single vineyard Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we passed a few olive trees, just barely visible from the road, Ryan explained there were more – he’d found an olive orchard on the property. Following his discovery, he’d torn out the brush and pruned the trees and, in 2014, they produced their first batch of oil from the orchard.
Arriving near the top of the hill, we left the car and climbed to the summit, where sweeping views of the Sonoma Valley and a bottle of Rockaway awaited our arrival.
Such an appropriate ending to our morning vineyards tour – sipping an amazing wine at such an amazing place. Standing atop Rockaway, gazing out over the Alexander Valley with its many vineyards, farms and ranches, it re-emphasized the importance that Rodney Strong places on location in artisan winemaking.
From such a vast amount of potential spots to grow grapes, narrowed down to the very place where we stood, then artfully created into a spectacular wine that made its way back again to this spot to be enjoyed with this stunning view – Rockaway at Rockaway is not your average morning.
Lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville, California
Lunch was just a few minutes down the road at Catelli’s in Geyserville. Originally opened by Santi and Virginia Catelli in 1936, the restaurant is now owned and operated by third generation Catellis and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, and specializes in local and organic creations served in the historic location.
A variety of appetizers, salads, and bottles of wine quickly appeared at the table, including our first sampling of a Davis Bynum wine. Rodney Strong acquired the Davis Bynum winery in 2007, and the commitment to preserving Bynum’s passion for quality winemaking is apparent throughout Rodney Strong.
Ryan recommended the kale salad with blood oranges, which was delectable, and then we selected the award winning 10-layer layer lasagna with the slightly spicy Domenica’s sauce. Pasta perfection. For dessert, Catelli’s delivered “grown up” root beer floats to the table. One taste and Annabelle exclaimed, “That will put chest on your hair!”
An afternoon wine tasting touring with Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and Ron Washam
Arriving back at Rodney Strong Vineyards after lunch, it was time for a winery tour and some wine tasting. Our guide for the afternoon was Ron Washam, whose 35 years in the wine industry have included twice being named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers’ Association and who also judges at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Each step of winemaking at Rodney Strong is a combination of art and science, with industry-leading techniques deployed where appropriate to assist in crafting world-class wines. Meeting up with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld in the tank room, Justin walked us through the conversion process that brought square fermentation tanks to the winery.
The square tanks allow more wine to be stored in a given space as compared to traditional cylindrical tanks. The tanks can be monitored and controlled by an app on a smart phone or tablet, complete with alerts, from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the interior surface of the square tanks is easier to clean, reducing water waste, which supports Rodney Strong Vineyard’s commitment to protecting the environment. Rodney Strong Vineyards operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making it the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma.
Next stop, the barrel rooms and barrel tasting of the Symmetry 2014 and the 2014 Rockaway. Barrel tasting is like getting to open a present before it’s actually your birthday. Sampling from a barrel provides a glimpse of the future wine – a glimpse in that the wine changes as it matures and the winemakers may adjust the blend as well. While the primary purpose of barrel tasting by the public is for purchasing futures, a private barrel tasting in the warehouse is an entirely different experience and a great chance to learn more about the winemaking process.
Following our barrel tasting, we headed to the tasting room to do some finished works sampling, which culminated with a side by side tasting of the three 2012 Rodney Strong single vineyards wines: Alexander’s Crown, Rockaway and Brothers.
With 2012 having been an excellent vintage for Sonoma County, all three are remarkable wines. Which was best? As head winemaker, Rick Sayre, would comment the next day – it’s about taste preference. Describing a side-by side tasting, he stated favorites were nearly always split 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.
Dinner at Jackson’s Bar and Oven with Winemaker Greg Morthole
After an hour’s rest at the hotel, our ride picked us up for a dinner at Jackson’s Bar in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Owned and operated by Chef Josh Silvers, Jackson’s is a casual, wine country eatery, serving comfort food crafted from seasonal, organic Sonoma ingredients. Our winemaker host for the evening was Greg Morthole, who oversees the Reserve and Single Vineyard wine making.
The evening was a wonderful blend of wine, food and conversation, ending with amazing beignets served with chocolate sauce, vanilla anglaise, and a fresh raspberry sauce.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 3: Blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre
Just when you think it wouldn’t be possible to eat or drink anything ever again, the next day dawns and breakfast sounded pretty good.
The group met at the Vintner’s Inn Café for a healthy start to the day, then it was off to the winery for a blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre, who joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979 and Rachel Voorhees, director of education for the winery.
Morning blending seminar with head winemaker Rick Sayre and director of education Rachel Voorhees
Heading into the blending seminar, we had no idea what a cool morning we were going to experience. Rounding the corner to the room, each place was set with tasting glasses of each of the varietals used in the 2012 Symmetry, and a glass of the actual 2012 Symmetry. Historic vintages of wines lined the walls of the room, including some bottles with hand written labels by Rod Strong dating back to 1970.
Symmetry is a Meritage (pronounced like heritage), with the wine being crafted like a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A Meritage must not contain more than 90% of any one single grape type.
Rachel and Rick walked us through a brief overview of Rodney Strong Vineyards, the history of Meritage, and the properties each grape brings to the blend. Then it was time to blend some wine.
Armed with bottles of the varietals, beakers, and pipettes, we each set out to blend our own version of the wine. When finished, Rick tasted our creations, commenting on our blends, and awarded an overall winner.
I called mine “A Secret.” As in, “What are you drinking?” “It’s A Secret.” I went with the 80/20 rule, as in 80% Cab and 20% of the others (it donned on me later that I should have named it Pareto). My blend consisted of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.
My blend ended up 2nd runner up, with Annabelle’s winning the day. The experience was fun, educational and truly a cool adventure!
Lunch prepared by Rodney Strong winery chef Tara Watchel with head winemaker Rick Sayre
Our time at Rodney Strong ended with a lunch with Rick Sayres in a dining room above the tasting room.
The lunch, prepared by winery chef, Tara Wachtel, was exquisite, served with perfect wines and some of the olive oil from the orchard Ryan had discovered at Rockaway. The group chatted about fishing in Alaska, Sonoma county, and Rodney Strong’s history, savoring the time remaining in our amazing visit.
Huge thanks to Laura Perret Fontana, Justin Seidenfeld, Ryan Decker, Greg Morthole, Ron Washam, Rachel Voorhees, Tara Wachtel, Rick Sayre and everyone at Rodney Strong Vineyards for such a wonderful experience.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
I knew I couldn’t be an old dancer, but I could be an old winemaker.”
– Rodney Strong
In 1959, after a successful career in dance, Rod Strong married his partner, Charlotte Ann Winson, moved to northern California, and became a winemaker. The couple purchased an old boarding house and began making their first wines using bulk wine Strong purchased, then blended to his taste.
In 1962, Strong acquired a 159-acre vineyard and winery in Windsor, California, acquired additional vineyards in the Russian River Valley in 1968, and then, in 1970, began construction on a winery.
Strong was one of the first to plant vineyards in Sonoma, where fruit orchards were prominent at the time. An early advocate of single vineyard wines, his wines were were both of high quality and an excellent value.
That winery is now the site of the tasting room for Rodney Strong Vineyards – a beautiful location where visitors can sample the world-class wines for which Rodney Strong has become known over the decades, take a tour of the winery or attend one of the many events held throughout the year.
In 1979, Rick Sayre, the winery’s current head winemaker, joined Rodney Strong as a winemaker.
Tom Klein, who had met both Rod Strong and Rick Sayre in 1979 as a consultant to the winery, acquired the winery in 1989. Since that time, they have installed state of the art facilities and employed leading edge winemaking techniques in their pursuit of crafting world-class wines.
The Klein family also has a commitment to protecting the environment and operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making Rodney Strong Vineyards the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma. Additionally, the winery was officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrower’s Alliance for its continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices.
Rodney Strong Tastings
From complimentary tastings to the estate and reserve tastings, Rodney Strong Vineyards offers visitors a wide variety of options for sampling their wines. Friday through Sunday, The Terrace’s tranquil setting is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy wine flights or food & wine pairings (reservations are recommended).
Rodney Strong Events and the Summer Concert Series
Throughout the year, Rodney Strong hosts a variety of events from its harvest party and grape stomp to the highly acclaimed Summer Concert Series.
For over two decades, the Summer Concert Series has entertained wine and music lovers in a spectacular, intimate vineyard setting. Learn more about the Rodney Strong Summer Concert Series »
Rodney Strong Tours
Rodney Strong offers a complimentary tour of the vineyards and winery, subject to availability. The tours are a perfect way to learn about the winery’s history and catch a behind-the-scenes view of how the wines are made. Tours are offered daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
Getting to Rodney Strong Vineyards
Rodney Strong offers tastings and tours to its visitors daily throughout the year. Check the Rodney Strong Vineyards website for hours, events and to schedule reservations.
Rodney Strong is located just off the 101 near Healdsburg, California.
11455 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nothing goes with great wine like fabulous music in an intimate setting.
With a wide range of world-class performers, a stunning venue surrounded by vineyards and, of course, their superb wines, the Rodney Strong Summer Concert Series delivers that and re, and deserves a place on everyone’s must-visit list.
In 2015, the Rodney Strong Concert Series celebrated their 25th anniversary of wine country summer concerts and we were on hand to close out the season with ten-time Grammy winner, George Benson.
It wasn’t our first visit to the series – over the years we’ve seen Mindi Abair, Michael McDonald, and the late, B.B. King.
Before the Summer Concert Series was created, the tasting room manager would put on impromptu concerts every once in a while and based on the success of those weekday shows, the Rodney Strong team decided it was a great idea to create an official concert series. We started with good, local talent covering many different types of music.”
As the years went by the series grew and, as they say… the rest is history.
Today, the Summer Concert Series is a must-see event. Surrounded by acres of beautiful vineyards, guests are treated to top performers in contemporary music while enjoying the winery’s intimate concert venue, The Green. There is no bad seat on The Green! Fans can bring a picnic to enjoy with friends or purchase an assortment of prepared foods from local purveyors on site. Rodney Strong Vineyards’ wines are available for purchase as well as non-alcoholic beverages.
Guests can purchase general admission tickets and bring a blanket and/or low back chair to enjoy the concert from The Green. VIP tickets are also available with up front seating directly in front of the stage with fantastic direct view of the performers.”
George Benson on the Green
We plan a visit to Sonoma every year in conjunction with the concerts and that always includes a Rodney Strong tour and tasting. This year was no exception and even included a stop by the stage during set up for the show.
Then, in the evening, after grabbing a few shots of the fabulous George Benson, we progressed to sipping the fine Rodney Strong wines while enjoying the smooth sounds of the jazz master as he delivered a fantastic performance to a sold-out crowd of over 1000.
Rodney Strong Concert Series 2016
What’s ahead for the series in 2016? The Rodney Strong team begins looking for artists for the upcoming season around the first of the year and announces the concert series lineup in late spring. To stay in the know about the concert series and all events, check the Rodney Strong Concerts and Special Events page.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.