Tom's blog

Labels are meant for more than government warnings

One of my pet peeves in wine is the business of labels. I get that in a sea of competition it is important for a producer to distinguish his wine from the others. Ever since Far Niente introduced its embossed 50-cent label in the 1980s, there has been a rush to out-do each other.

Consumers can be attracted to a wine’s label if they have little knowledge of what is actually in the bottle. So, makers of such ridiculous wine as “Cheap Wine” or “Mommy’s Time Out” know that shoppers find a label funny and just enough to convince them to buy it for themselves or as a gift for someone else.

The front label of Rodney Strong’s Upshot blend.

The front label of Rodney Strong’s Upshot blend.

Most producers, however, even squander the opportunity to help the consumer with the contents on the back label. Warnings about sulfites, alcohol content, where the wine is made, etc. fulfill government regulations — but there’s often nothing about grape varieties, oak aging or tasting descriptions.

Producers should use as a model a new label from Rodney Strong. Upshot — a red blend — is more than a pretty face. Its front label has the blend, time in barrel, specs,  harvest date, timeline and more.   Credit this to director of winemaking Justin Seidenfeld who gets it.

One can make the claim it’s more information that he or she needs to know, but who can complain? Not me.

Rodney Strong is turning a page

I’ve been drinking Rodney Strong wines for decades and until recently it seemed to have fallen into a pattern of making generic wine for the masses. In recent years, however, its emphasis on its premium reds has shown that its proprietor Rick Klein is capable of producing top-shelf wines.

Now comes Justin Seidenfeld who Klein has given a lot of liberty as director of winemaking. Seidenfeld has control of both vineyards and winemaking in this family-owned operation. In a recent meeting with him, he said 2019 would be an important year of innovation.

Justin Seidenfeld, director of winemaking

Justin Seidenfeld, director of winemaking

Seidenfeld knows the science of winemaking and his unabridged explanations can make the head swim, but I could at least understand that he is precise in making balanced, consistent and technically correct wines.

For instance, while most growers will focus on yield per vineyard, he has shifted to yield per vine. Vigor and ripening can vary from vine to vine. He maps each one so that pickers can harvest them at perfect ripeness. This brings consistency and quality to the grapes.

Similarly, the staves in an oak barrel are inconsistent because of the vagaries of a tree. However, Seidenfeld spends inordinate amount of time matching up the staves to bring consistency to the aging and fermentation process.

He has introduced a delicious rose and red blend to the broad portfolio as a means to grow production. And, Kleiin has created a new toy for him: a seperate label called Rowen. Putting a new name on the label allows for it to succeed without the influence of Rodney Strong’s public image. It’s a delicious Bordeaux blend with deceiving tannins.

My favorite is still the big Alexander’s Crown cabernet sauvignon, but the chardonnay is more appealing than ever because of its bu rgundian-like profile.