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Woodenhead Vintners

Zina Bower Lori and I came across the Woodenhead tasting room a couple of years ago, just wandering through the Russian River area along River Road. The tasting room had recently opened, we hadn’t heard of the winery before, and we had some extra time. So we stopped and tasted. First of all, this tasting room has a great view north across the Russian River Valley up towards Dry Creek Valley. Second, it’s a very comfortable tasting room, with a nice roomy bar inside and a great patio/deck outside (with that great view). The people there are knowledgeable and friendly too. Third, the wines are (our opinion) really tasty. So when we met Zina Bower, co-owner of Woodenhead, at Pinot Days in San Francisco in June, we made arrangements to come meet her at the tasting room and get more information on this wonderful little winery.

Wine-Food pairing with Woodenhead wines What/when was the first vintage for Woodenhead?
Zina Bower: In 1999 we did one barrel each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Now we're up to 3,500 - 4,000 cases per year total for all our wines.

VV: Zina, what's your background?
ZB: In 1992 I was living in Southern California (Hollywood!), but I had always wanted to live in Northern California. When a relationship ended, I took the opportunity to move up to the Bay Area.

VV: Where does the name "Woodenhead" come from?
ZB: One of Nick's (Nikolai Stez, co-owner and winemaker of Woodenhead) early girlfriends gave him Woodenhead as his nickname, because he was so stubborn about certain things. The nickname stuck around long enough to be used for the winery name.

VV: What is Nick's background in wine?
ZB: Nick is a Bay Area guy, who was first exposed to winemaking when his mother made meade at home. Then, after a couple of years of community college, Nick met Bert Willem just as he and Ed Selyem were getting Willem Selyem going in their garage. Nick spent 17 years working for them, learning how to make Pinot Noir, before striking out on his own with Woodenhead.

VV: Where does the focus on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel come from? And why source grapes from various different areas of Northern California?
ZB: Well, first of all Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are our favorite varietals. Second, Nick really likes to cook, and has a great palate for pairing food and wine, and finds Pinot and Zin the best to pair with the things he likes to cook. And third, we don't want to get stuck in a rut with one type of wine from one specific area. The Russian River Valley, Mendocino County and Anderson Valley, and Humboldt County all offer different flavor profiles that are just plain fun to work with.

VV: How do you get consistent quality in your wines?
ZB: It starts with the grapes. Nick spends a lot of time with the growers. Then we take a lot of care with the grapes when they come in, hand sorting to remove leaves, stems, bad grapes or anything else that might negatively affect the wine. We ferment both the Pinot and Zin in open top fermenters, and from there move the wines only with gravity feed or gas pressure so that the wines aren't stressed any more than necessary. After that it's 14-16 months in the barrel, then we bottle and hold the bottles for a few months, until it is ready to face the world.

Woodenhead View VV: Your tasting room has a great view north over the Russian River Valley. How did you get this site?
ZB: Actually, we don't own the tasting room, we just lease it. We opened up this tasting room about 2 years ago, after serendipitously meeting the owner of the property and finding out that he was converting the property from a private residence back to a tasting room, which it was already zoned for. And we were looking for a tasting room at the time. We'd love to own our tasting room, and winery facility, but we just don't have the million dollars or more that it would take to make it happen. But if you know someone ....

VV: If we knew someone like that, we would have knocked on their door for ourselves first! Last question: which is your favorite wine at this time?
ZB: The 2006 Buena Tierra Vineyard Pinot Noir, grown on what pass for old Pinot grapes, about 30 years old. But we're quite proud of all our wines.

Woodenhead Vintners
5700 River Road
Forestville, CA 95436
Woodenhead Vintners