Ask a Winemaker: Rodney Strong’s Justin Seidenfeld

Rodney Strong & SHARP

Not even a decade after starting work at the legendary, family-owned Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, California, winemaker Justin Seidenfeld is already bringing home 90-point-plus wine scores, plenty of medals, and, most importantly, personal notes from loyal customers who thank him for making the wines they love, and that consistently mark their special occasions. As accomplished as this 36-year-old winemaker is, he’s not resting on his laurels — this is really the beginning of his journey.

How did you know you wanted to work in wine?

When I was growing up in Denver, Colorado, I worked for a fine-dining restaurant that had a deep wine cellar, so I had the opportunity to watch people’s reactions to wines and how much it meant to their experience. At school, the interaction between science and nature and being able to be creative with a product that brings people together was really appealing.

Which wine gives you the best chance to get creative?

The Symmetry Meritage is my chance to weave together a wine that’s in balance. It has structure, complexity, density, a bit of sensuality, and a lot of fleshy aromatics. Symmetry is a winemaker’s blend that allows me to show off technique more than some of our more place-focused wines. 

Do you think your relatively young age gives you any special insight into today’s shifting tastes?   

Absolutely. It gives me the ability to understand what the current wine-drinker wants and, at the end of the day, it’s important for me to provide a wine experience that is both memorable and educational. They also appreciate wines that taste great and come from a real place made by a real winery with values and integrity.

Given its sustainability initiatives, values and integrity
are the winery’s strong suit, right?  

Yes, but we’ve been sustainable for longer than I’ve worked at the winery. I love the philosophy, which I think is the most encompassing version of sustainability I’ve heard: we want to protect the environment, but there’s so much more to sustainability than that, which is why we make sure our workers have a living wage and we support the whole region so people can thrive in the community they live in.

What’s your favourite pairing? 

It’s from a cookbook we worked on with chef Josh Silver. There’s this dish that’s just a simple grilled salmon on a cedar plank with arugula, roasted corn, and sun-dried tomatoes. I like that with the Russian River Pinot Noir. 

What’s it like to be responsible for the next stage at such a storied and respected winery?

Rodney Strong is a brand with a lot of history, but it’s being revitalized and rejuvenated by the whole team, so it’s an exciting time for us. We’re almost done with the crush right now and you can feel the excitement in the cellar over the wines we’re bottling as we speak. I haven’t felt this much energy in the winery in the past nine years, so we’re really just hitting our stride, which is cool.