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Winemaker boldly treads lightly

Published on October 15, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on November 12, 2010 7:20AM

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press
Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Wine Estates in Sonoma County, believes in promoting California tourism, “green power” and sustainable farming practices.

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Wine Estates in Sonoma County, believes in promoting California tourism, “green power” and sustainable farming practices.

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Rodney Strong Wine Estates to become carbon neutral


For the Capital Press

HEALDSBURG, Calif. -- When Tom Klein and his family took over the Rodney Strong Wine Estates in 1989 they made a commitment to stay on the leading edge of California's wine community.

From growing and making wines that exemplify the state's variety of wine to becoming a leader in the sustainable wine movement, Klein has helped lead the way.

"We built the largest solar energy plan in the world of wine in 2003 and we received the Green Power Energy Award," Klein said. "We've been very dedicated to doing the right things for the environment and we have everything we need -- enough sun to ripen the grapes, flat buildings for storing equipment and solar energy. We're also a certified California sustainable winegrower and we practice Fish Friendly Farming, which means we watch erosion and other things that could damage their habitat."

Last year the winery's managers also decided to become carbon neutral, which required keeping lots of data on energy use and signing on with a carbon registry to keep track of how much carbon they use.

Lex McCorvey, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, acknowledged Klein's contributions.

"They have been a trendsetter and leader in developing environmental and sustainable agricultural programs within their vineyards and winery that others can follow," he said.

Bobby Koch, president and CEO California Wine Institute, praised Klein for his stewardship.

"Tom is one of California's strong wine industry leaders," he said. "His winery has set a fine example in sustainable wine growing that others can emulate."

Klein grew up in a Stockton farming family.

"I worked on our ranch each summer doing everything from driving a water truck to harvesting tomatoes and painting barns," he said. "I took a keen interest in wine while in Stanford business school. In the late '70s I traveled internationally and took every opportunity to taste more wine and developed a deep appreciation."

The family took ownership of Rodney Strong Vineyards from Guinness in 1989, when the company decided to exit the wine business and focus on beer.

Klein had done some work as a management consultant and knew some of the people involved in the industry. He also felt it was an opportunity to help turn the winery around and into something his family would be proud of.

"We make very good California wine and each varietal defines itself," Klein said. "Our varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. We concentrate on those varietals and use the right vineyards to support quality."

Klein acknowledges there have been major changes in the wine industry over the past 30 years.

He said the 1980s was the decade of winemaking experimentation with barrels and new types of oak.

The 1990s was the decade of the vineyards and the importance of getting the right rootstock and clones in the right locations.

This last decade has been a marriage of the two -- winemaking and viticulture.

Rodney Strong Winery has also received a California Travel and Tourism Commission award for its concert series, self-guided tour and promoting tourism in Sonoma County.

Tom Klein

Age: 58

Hometown: San Francisco.

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees, Stanford University

Occupation: Owner, Rodney Strong Vineyards

Family: Married, wife Kate, and two teenage sons

Quote: "Making fine wine is a never ending challenge. It's always exciting to make the best wines possible from each unique vintage. I don't think I will ever lose my passion or excitement to see the next harvest. I've never been satisfied that we have done our best work yet."


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