A few days ago, Crush Wine Bar hosted a dinner paired with wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards, a winery based out of Sonoma County in California. The evening was hosted by Stefen Soltysiak of Rodney Strong Vineyards and Mark Moffat of Crush.
Prior to becoming opening a winery, Rodney Strong was a talented and well respected professional dancer who trained at the school of American Ballet in New York. After falling in love with wine in Paris, he decided to move to California with his dancing partner and wife, Charlotte, to open Rodney Strong Vineyards. This was in the early ‘60s, and since then, Rodney has pioneered the wine industry in Sonoma County. You can read more about Rodney here.
Stefen Soltysiak, director of wine operations at Rodney Strong, spared no details in explaining the winery’s history and wine making process, “Sonoma County is a beautiful place. We all look out our windows every day, whether we’re looking at Redwoods or the pacific ocean, vineyards or our gardens, we love it there, and we don’t want to screw it up. The backbone of Rodney Strong (Vineyards) is our commitment to our environment. We have slowly become aware of how we fit into our environment because after all, we’re farmers.”
Sonoma has over 200 different soil types, technically that’s more than France. It’s a relatively cool climate region, with the Pacific Ocean providing for much of the air conditioning every night.
Today, the owners of Rodney Strong Vineyards are fourth generation farmers that operate 14 vineyards in Sonoma County. Each vineyard has its unique climate and soil conditions. This year, the company joined the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, to solidify their commitment to sustainable farming practices. In addition, all of the vineyards are certified Fish Friendly Farming certified as well.
The commitment to FFF certification is because of the Russian River, a southward-flowing river that cuts through the middle of the county. The river is a host for Steelhead rainbow trout and two endangered species of Salmon. As part of the FFF certification, the vineyard crew pays special attention to the tributaries that go into the land, which end up in the water. Maintaining a low carbon footprint has also been a priority (the winery is the 2nd in the U.S to achieve carbon neutrality) and the company produces 35% of their own power and the remainder bought is green.
We gathered in the private dining room of Crush, as glasses of Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($13.50) were poured. This single vineyard wine is made from a small plot that Rodney first planted in 1971. A fresh wine with ripe pear and lingering acidity.
After we settled down, executive chef Michael Wilson and his team delivered a series of delicately tuned dishes that married with the wines from Rodney Strong.
First, a plate dressed with chunks of artic char that were smoked in-house, along with sweet beets, and drizzles of crème fraiche. The plate was topped off with Wild Canadian sturgeon caviar paired alongside Chardonnay 2008 ($20) from the chalk hill vineyard, a site rich with volcanic ash. Three main components in the wine and plate that brought it all together, minerality, creaminess, and oak.
Next, we were served slices of perfectly cooked duck breast with stains of spiced cherry compote with glass of Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 ($40) from the Russian River Valley region. Rodney was one of the first to plant Pinot in this region that is attributed to cooler conditions. Stefen explained that this Pinot Noir is a composed of grapes from two different clones, 115 and 777, both with individual characters that create a mellow pinot that is literally bursting with cocoa and ripe fruit. Spice in the cherry compote, the tender meat, wonderful with the wine.
The main, thick slices of seared bison, perfectly tender, topped with a lobe of foie gras. Shavings of black truffle on top while parsnip and celeriac puree hold it on all in place. This dish was the highlight of the night, from top to bottom, paired elegantly with Reserve Symmetry 2007 ($55) from the warm Alexander Valley site. Symmetry is a meritage blend blasting again with ripe dark fruit and spice.
A cheese course followed, local artisanal cheeses, along with Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($75) from the Rockaway vineyard. The rockaway vineyard is meticulously hand picked and sorted, and processed at its own micro site. The result is a balanced wine with ample fruit.
The LCBO carries the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
Rodney Strong Vineyards
11455 Old Redwood Highway
Crush Wine Bar
455 King Street West, Toronto