Rodney Strong Wine Estate was founded in 1959. Rodney himself was a pioneer in Sonoma, only the 13th winery to list there, and a visionary in wine terms too - he was the first to make an Alexander Valley Cabernet, one of the first to grow Pinot in the Russian River Valley, and the first make a Chalk Hill Chardonnay. His is a name synonymous with Sonoma County. This wine is a California labeled Chardonnay.
What does ‘California labelled’ mean?
Within California there are many ways of labelling a wine. But every bottle produced there must include a geographical indicator telling the consumer where the grapes were grown. This place name can be as specific or very general as follows.
- Vineyard designation - a wine can name the specific vineyard from which the grapes are grown - e.g. Durell Vineyard
- Specific sub-AVA - a specific plot within another, larger AVA e.g. Sonoma Coast AVA
- A county or territory - grapes picked across a defined grape growing territory or county - e.g. Sonoma County
- A large, general region - a part of California home to numerous counties or territories - e.g. North Coast
- California- simply means the grapes are picked from across the state.
In this example, each designation sits within the following one.
Are ‘California’ wines lesser quality?
Wines labelled as California are certainly not necessarily of lesser quality, although there is less of a guarantee of quality. A wine labelled as ‘To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley’ is guaranteed to be of spectacular quality (and price), but with California wine, anything produced in the state can be labelled as such, from the cheapest commercial wines to great blends from iconic producers. Therefore the buying decision tends to come down to the producer. Another consideration is that California labelled wines tend to be the entry level for a lot of brands, and therefore the ones they sell the most of. Long story short, a winery may not have enough of their own grapes to produce the volume required, or to hit the price point they desire, so they go elsewhere to hit both volume and economic requirements.
With this wine from Rodney Strong, they pick grapes from vineyards in Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara, 3 of the best Chardonnay locations in California - so while it has to be a California labelled wine, it’s of great provenance.
The wine itself is phenomenal value for money. It tows the line between weight and finesse with aplomb - the flavours darting between creamy lemon curd, fresh pear and acidic apple. It’s like a buttery, oaky fruit bomb with the volume turned down - the oak character is present and unapologetic, but it never dominates, it never defines the texture of the wine - which remains fresh without losing any Californian charm. Basically this wine is a confident, utterly delicious and approachable Californian Chardonnay ready to drink right now, either with or without food - special and versatile.