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Winery to Watch: Rowen

Robert Whitley on

A few years back, the now-retired Rick Sayre described a novel concept for Rodney Strong Vineyards, where he presided as winemaker for more than three decades. Sayre called it a "winery within a winery."

The winery within the winery at Rodney Strong is called Rowen. The Rowen brand utilizes a unique new source of grapes, the Cooley Ranch in northern Sonoma County. What makes the 20,000-acre property unique is the rugged terrain, with steep hillsides and peak elevations above 2,000 feet.

The Rowen vineyards cover about 200 acres of the property, with plots planted at elevations between 500 and 2,040 feet. The vineyards are mostly above the fog line (the Pacific Ocean is just a few miles to the west, as the crow flies) and therefore get plenty of sun. Ryan Decker, director of Estate Vineyards at Rodney Strong, adds, "the high altitude changes the vines, they produce more leaves and more leaves give you more ripening power."

The vineyards aren't the only unique aspect of the Rowen red blend. Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld, who succeeded Sayre, has crafted a unique blend with the 2015 vintage. With 55 percent cabernet sauvignon and 26 percent malbec, it has all the best characteristics of a classic Bordeaux-style blend. The twist is a shot of syrah (17 percent) and viognier (2 percent) that has been co-fermented, a practice that is common in France's Cote-Rotie district in the northern Rhone.

The result is a suave red blend that is beautifully structured and shows complex layers of red and black fruits, beautifully integrated tannins and a scintillating thread of minerality. It is a stunning wine that retails for a modest (given the ambitious nature of the project) $55. And well worth it.

The 2015 Rowen red wine is supple enough to enjoy now, yet it possesses the structure and depth to improve over 20 years in the cellar. Rowen produced 2,250 cases in 2015.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Vino dei Fratelli 2017 Moscato d'Asti DOCG, Italy ($17.99) -- This is a classic moscato from Piemonte, a wine best served with Italian cookies and cakes or soft cheeses. This vintage is intensely floral, showing notes of tropical fruit and spice, with a soft palate that is slightly frizzante. Beautifully balanced so the sweetness is hardly overwhelming, it also can be served as a refreshing aperitif on a warm summer day. Rating: 90.


Georges Duboeuf 2017 Merlot, Pays d'Oc IGP, France ($11.99) -- This is a merlot for the masses, a fruity merlot that delivers juicy notes of plum and bing cherry, a touch of spice and supple tannins. Though hardly profound or even exceptionally complex, it is an enjoyable, impeccably made wine that should please any crowd. It's perfect for a summer gathering around the barbecue. Rating: 86.

Tasting Notes

Frankland Estate 2017 Riesling, Poison Hill Vineyard, Frankland River, Australia ($34.99) -- This beautiful winery in western Australia has a long and glorious track record with dry riesling. The 2017 Poison Hill is a glowing reference point, showing complex aromas of lime zest, green tea and spice. Impeccably made and beautifully balanced, it's a winner whether you drink it now or wait a few years until the secondary aromas that come with age elevate it to another level altogether. Rating: 94.

J. Lohr 2016 'Gesture' Syrah, Paso Robles ($30) -- The Gesture series is specially made for the J. Lohr wine club, which anyone can join. The wines across the lineup are rich and juicy, typical of Paso Robles, beautifully balanced and inviting. The syrah is a standout in the lineup, showing layered flavor complexity with notes of blueberry and blackberry, a touch of wood spice and firm but nicely integrated tannins. Rating: 93.

J. Lohr 2016 'Gesture' Mourvedre, Paso Robles ($30) -- This grape variety, popular in the southern Rhone Valley of France and in eastern Spain, is typically used as a blending grape to add color. On its own, however, it can be quite appealing. The 2016 Gesture is darkly colored, exhibiting intense aromas of blackberry and spice with relatively moderate tannins. Rating: 91.


Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Email Robert at



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