Rodney Strong, a dancer turned winemaker who was a renowned champion of Northern California's Sonoma County wine-growing region, died Sunday in Healdsburg, Calif. He was 78.
Strong died of complications from a stroke, said Michele Prinz, spokeswoman for Rodney Strong Vineyards.
Elegant and well-spoken, Strong was known for promoting high-quality winemaking practices in Sonoma County and for traveling the country to promote the region's wines.
"The guy just was phenomenally erudite," said Richard Arrowood, wine master of Arrowood Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma County, who remembered Strong as a generous mentor and a tough act to follow on the speaking circuit. "He just was a great artist, no two ways about it, and was a heck of a friend to boot."
Born March 8, 1927, in Camas, Wash., Strong trained as a dancer and spent four years in Paris, where he developed an interest in fine wines. He concentrated on the latter, he was known to say, after realizing it was easier to be an old winemaker than an old dancer.
He retired from dance in 1959, married his partner, Charlotte Ann Winson, and moved to Northern California. After opening a wine-tasting business on the Tiburon waterfront, he established Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1961. Although he later lost control of the winery because of financial troubles, Strong went on to serve as a consultant and spokesman with the firm, said Tom Klein, whose family purchased the business.
"There are a lot of emotional swings in the business of wine," Strong told The Times that year. "It's all like a game. If you are mature at all, you realize what that score is and go forward. If you are immature, you allow your personality to take over, and that ruins you."
Charlotte Strong died of brain cancer in 2003; the couple had no children.
Memorial services are being planned.