Having emerged from my tasting at Ramey Wine Cellars with Alexandra O’Gorman, I glanced at my watch and realized I had been there four hours. It was now 2:00 and I had another tasting at 2:30 just down the road at Rodney Strong Vineyards.
Earlier in the visit to Ramey, Alexandra pointed out that I would be meeting her husband, Chris O’Gorman at Rodney Strong, a fact that should have occurred to me when I made the appointments (after all, how many O’Gormans can there be in the wine world?). Of course, when she mentioned it, it made perfect sense and I passed off the comment as if I knew it all along (which, of course, I didn’t).
It was what she said next, however, that I found a bit more difficult to dismiss nonchalantly:
“Oh, and the HoseMaster will be giving you your tour.”
I have been blogging for four and a half years (I am not quite sure whether that means I am a “newbie” or more of a “veteran”), but I learned about the “HoseMaster” fairly early on after starting this blog. The HoseMaster, Ron Washam, describes himself as a satirist and I think it is safe to say that he has no problem lambasting anyone in the wine industry to point out hypocrisy, pretension, or simply stupidity.
I started reading his blog when we were both nominated for Best Writing on a Wine Blog in 2013 (Ron won) and I had envisioned him as a crusty curmudgeon at best and perhaps a misanthropic anarchist at worst.
So yeah, I was a little nervous, and I think it showed.
I was not really worried what he would think of me as I doubt I was even a blip on his radar. Rather, I wondered how the next couple of hours would go–I really had no idea what to expect.
Well, I had 30 minutes to figure it out.
I like to think that I do not get stressed out all that easily, but I have two certain stressors that I try to avoid at all costs: hunger and tardiness. Rodney Strong is only a few minutes down the road from Ramey, but I had little time to waste if I were to arrive at the next tasting with a bit of food in my belly.
After a few quick thumb strokes on my iPhone, I figured I had plenty of time to go up into Healdsburg and grab something quick to eat at Big John’s Market before heading back down to Rodney Strong.
Surprisingly, at least to me, I pulled into Rodney Strong right on time, having inhaled a bit of pasta salad in the process.
Chris O’Gorman was there to greet me and as he introduced me to Ron, he explained that he had only been in his position of Director of Communications at Rodney Strong for a couple of weeks so he was going to tag along on our tour, wanting to learn more about the winery himself.
As we strolled the grounds, Ron gave us a bit of the history of the winery: It was founded by the acclaimed American dancer, Rodney Strong, in the 1960s and purchased by the Klein family in 1989. Today, the winery boasts a production of over a million cases per year, but shortly after taking over the brand, the new owner Tom Klein was tired of Rodney Strong being referred to as a “supermarket brand.” So he started several new programs of smaller production that have received great acclaim.
As we started to taste through some of those wines, the three of us chatted a bit and I came to a rather unexpected realization: Ron was a perfectly nice guy.
I guess it is similar to bracing for a crash: you are sure that something harsh is going to happen, and when it doesn’t, there is a touch of disappointment followed instantly by intense relief.
Over the four and a half hour visit, I tasted through most of Rodney Strong’s elite wines but I didn’t have a ton of time to take notes as the conversation (which often slipped into cajoling) was far too interesting and entertaining.
2013 Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay Russian River Valley: Retail $25. Bright and good. Lemon and pineapple with a touch of oak. $25? A steal. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir:. Retail $55. Wine club and tasting room only. Red cherry a gogo. Dusty and fresh. Only 200 cases. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 777 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: Retail $55. Fruitier, footloose and fancy. Better out of the bottle. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir: Retail $45. Really nice. Surprisingly my favorite of the three Pinots–surprising since I have long been a fan of the Davis Bynum brand, but this was decidedly nicer. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Rodney Strong Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $40. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. For $40? Unreal. Concentrated dark berry fruit with a lingering finish. I doubt there are many Cabs at this price point that out-perform. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Rodney Strong Symmetry Heritage Red Blend: Retail $55. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 4% Merlot. There are several criteria that need to be met to classify a wine as a “Meritage” including the wine must be the first or second most expensive wine for the label. Regardless, even at $55 this is quite a wine. Great fruit and balance, a special wine. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $75. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma Vineyards Alexander’s Crown was in the first issue of the Wine Enthusiast and had the highest rating for a Cab. From the coolest end of the valley and all Clone 4. Quite herbal. 1800 cases produced. Some really fantastic fruit and depth, clearly a step up. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2012 Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $75. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. #59 in Wine Spectator Top 100. While the Alexander’s Crown exhibited mostly dark fruit flavors, this leans a bit more to the red fruit (cherry and red raspberry). Choosing between the two is like picking a favorite between my two boys–they are both incredible. Outstanding Plus (OK, I like this one slightly better). Whoa. 94-96 Points.
2012 Rodney Strong Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $75. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Outside Cloverdale from one of the higher vineyards, 1000 feet above sea level and quite windy. While this might have the most room to improve given its tannic profile, it was a bit harsh coming after the other two. I would like to revisit this wine in a few years as I am sure it will settle down a bit. Unrated for now.