Rodney Strong Dies

One of Sonoma's most respected vintners passes at age 78.


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Rodney Strong, the former Broadway dancer whose forty-year career in the wine business made him one of the most respected vintners in Sonoma County, died March 5 in a convalescent hospital in Healdsburg, California.

He was 78, and had been in failing health for years.

Strong's first winery (in 1961) was the old Tiburon Vintners, which over time morphed into Windsor Vineyards and then Sonoma Vineyards. The idea was for the varietal wines to be sold as gifts with labels that read "Personally selected by (name of giver)." These were popular as wedding gifts and for other special occasions.  In addition to his duties at Sonoma Vineyards, Strong also became winemaker for Piper-Sonoma.

With the desire to create a more upscale expensive wine, The Rodney Strong brand was established in 1982. With no formal enological training, Strong had an instinctual feeling of what grapes to plant. His Alexander's Crown Cabernet Sauvignon, which was first released in 1974, was in its day one of the top examples of that variety in California, and an early example of a vineyard-designated wine.  Strong sold Rodney Strong Vineyards to the Klein family in 1989.

Strong helped Sonoma County overcome its jug wine image to become a premium powerhouse second only to Napa Valley. "Back in the 1970s it was Rodney Strong in Sonoma County and Robert Mondavi in Napa County," Rick Sayre, the winemaker at Rodney Strong Vineyards, said last year when Strong was honored for his contributions to the wine industry.

 Strong's wife, Charlotte Strong, died in 2003 and they leave no children.

 

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