The Demystified Vine

Taking the mystery out of wine exploration!

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The fires were definitely burning on the night of the Rodney Strong Vineyards dinner at Black + Blue Restaurant as part of the Vancouver International Wine Festival. As one proceeded off of the elevator onto the rooftop patio, a buzz of anticipation greeted eager wine loving guests.

About the Winery

Hailing from Sonoma County in California, Rodney Strong Vineyards makes crisp, white wines and delectable reds. Hence the theme for the night, “Fog and Fahrenheit”, attendees were able to experience how influential location is for grape growing and winemaking.

A story that began more than 50 years ago with a celebrated dancer named Rodney Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards owns land from north to south in Sonoma County. They source their grapes from a number of different vineyards, but watch for their wines coming out of Alexander’s Crown, Chalk Hill, and Russian River.

Furthermore, Rodney Strong Vineyards is leading the industry to shift perspectives with regards to energy consumption. The winery is energy and carbon neutral, as they use solar panels to cultivate electricity for the winery.

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Smoked bacon wrapper Diver scallop with jalapeno, burnt shallot, lemongrass salad with “Charlotte’s Home” Sauvignon Blanc 2015

While many wine consumers have experienced flabby Chardonnay or overly ripe Zinfandel at some point, wine lovers should know that place really does matter. Coastal areas of California have the added benefit of being near a large body of water which naturally assists grape growers with fine tuning the ripening of fruit. As we were informed mid-dinner, cool breezes sweeping down from Alaska greet the grapes in Sonoma County. The effect is that the grapes receive amazing sun and heat during daylight hours, but those northerly breezes keep acidity under control during the growing season and at night. Sonoma County could be considered similar to a “Mediterranean climate”.

Jasper grilled salmon, warm chicory green salad, chive emulsion, crispy potato with Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Additionally, Rodney Strong Vineyards is doing something very different with their Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Put aside visions of buttery Chardonnay that you could practically pour on your air-popped popcorn. Imagine, instead, the essence of oaked Chardonnay without the overbearing weight of wood.

In practice, Rodney Strong soaks the oak barrels for their Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in water to extract some bitterness from the staves. They then proceed to oak age the wine. The result is elegant. Honestly, I wish more California Chardonnays were like this very wine: refined and polished.

Cherry braised short rib, crispy onion, sour shallot jam, pave potato with Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

The star chef of the evening was Black + Blue’s own Executive Chef, Jason Labahn, who pulled out the stops on the food front. I’ve done a few of these wine dinners before, but I must say, kudos, Chef Labahn, you did a phenomenal job with the pairings! Every single dish so intricately paired with these Rodney Strong wines that both the wine and the food became one with the other without drowning out the flavours of each party.

Of particular note was the braised short rib with the Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon. This inky, blackcurrant, rosemary & sage driven wine was full of flavour and complexity. The cherry braising and sour shallot jam set off the black fruit notes on the palate, and the long finish left a lot to remember.

The grounds at Rodney Strong Vineyards. Photo courtesy of the winery.

Between courses, Rick Sayre, VP Director of Winemaking, told the audience stories of his early days working alongside Rodney Strong. The focus has, and will be for the foreseeable future, on the grapes. Sayre told an attentive audience that he has been with Rodney Strong Vineyards for 38 years. Sayre has learned that the “grapes come first, winemaking comes second [and] […] not all vineyards are the same”. He appreciates the opportunities to work with unique, small sites, or “sweet spots”, where he can focus in on bringing out the language of the land through the winemaking process.

With the tremendous variety of terroir at their fingertips, Daniel Wildermuth, Vice President for Marketing, reiterated that Rodney Strong Vineyards endeavors to “express the essence of Sonoma County. We try to let the land speak”.

Left: Head winemaker Rick Sayre examines fruit from the vineyards; Top right: Rodney Strong with his prized grapes; Bottom right: Rick Sayre takes a look at some barrel samples

A Few Other Words on the Wines

The ‘Charlotte’s Home’ Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was bright and citrus driven with perfect acidity. Hints of grapefruit pith and a mineral-driven finish made me want sip after sip. I definitely see why this white wine is a great companion for seafood. It went with both the canapes as well as the scallop, which I’m sure you drooled over in the photo above.

The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2014 was invigorating and crisp; its essences of lemon rind, yellow apple, hints of peach and baked apple crumble were delectable. I thoroughly enjoyed this classy Chard.

If you’re a Burgundy fan, you’ll definitely love the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. On the medium side of wines, this Pinot boasted of various types of cherries, lush raspberry, and the palate exuded darker fruit notes of plum, black tea, and spice. A classic, age-worthy Pinot.


The team at Black + Blue did a phenomenal job of hosting the dinner; they were not only attentive, but also on the ball with changing scraped-off dinner plates and silverware. The fluidity of the evening was impressive.

Keep your eyes peeled for more on Rodney Strong Vineyards on The Demystified Vine.

Many thanks to the Vancouver International Wine Festival for organizing such a fantastic winery dinner at such a chic establishment!

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