Last year the old 11,500 square foot warehouse behind the main Rodney Strong Winery building was used exclusively for storage, but today it’s a state of the art winemaking facility nearly ready for harvest. Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld has meticulously researched and designed the details of the project that will be the home of a new high end Bordeaux varietal brand from Rodney Strong.
The centerpiece of the winery are the impressive square La Garde tanks; when all of them are installed, there will be fifty one 6,000 gallon tanks and six smaller tanks, all custom designed for the winery.
“We went through more than two dozen design changes before they were finalized,” explains Seidenfeld, “the square design increases the space efficiency by 28% and it could have been even more, but I didn’t want to sacrifice fermentation kinetics.”
Seidenfeld first encountered the La Garde tanks at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium a couple of years ago and is clearly excited about the craftsmanship of the tanks. “The interior of the tank is smooth and seamless, almost as if was made out of one solid piece,” says Seidenfeld, “it avoids build up and makes them easy to clean with hot water.”
Cellar operations and local constraints have been carefully considered throughout the project. Seidenfeld had first set his mind on a tile floor similar to facilities he toured in Bordeaux for his research, but the ground conditions put the tiles at risk of cracking, so he opted for an industrial coating solution.
The Lennova flooring, which consists of five separated coatings makes the floor booth both beautiful to look at and durable, slip secure, and easy to clean. Another detail made necessary by local conditions is a brace designed by a seismic expert that secures the tanks to the floor in case of earthquakes, but allows enough flexibility that the tanks do not sheer from the tremors.
The tanks are beautiful, but this is no vanity project. They are housed in an old gray warehouse, a sore sight compared to some of the iconic wineries of Napa and Sonoma, but it’s optimized for wine business. “The tanks are more expensive than other brands,” Seidenfeld admits, “but with the increased capacity, it’s an investment that pays itself off in one and a half year of winemaking.”
Eventually the building itself will be given a new facade, skylights will be installed, and possibly a large monitor, so touring guests can see the distant vineyards that will source the grapes for the new Bordeaux style brand.
Rodney Strong is growing 200 acres of red Bordeaux varietals on a high altitude part of the 19,000 acre Ag and Open Space preserve north east of Rockpile that used to be Cooley Ranch. This will be the second year that the vines carry fruit and will be used in Rodney Strong’s Sonoma wines. However, beginning next year, these grapes will form the base of the new brand.
The path from vine to wine is carefully designed and mapped for efficiency. The new installations at Rodney Strong will also include a crush pad with a Pellenc Selectiv’ Winery sorting system that will be able to process 20 tons of grapes an hour. Oversized pumps will be used to transfer the berries from a custom made transfer bin to the tanks very gently, and the entire construction project is a $6.5 million investment that promises to pay off.
“We will probably pick 3 weeks early this year,” says Seidenfeld, “but the crush pad will be ready, and we will be able to start using some of the tanks by then, though the winery will not be fully ready until September.”
By Kim Johannsen