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Well, I shouldn't really say "unknown," because Woodenhead's wines are known to some people at least—but they ought to be known to more. I've thought this for some time, and the thought came at me again a while back when I was at the annual Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg, CA, that Charlie Palmer puts on. I was there as a judge for the Pinot Cup—a blind tasting of fifty Pinot Noirs from all over the world—and when our top choice was revealed to us, I was both pleasantly surprised and not that surprised at all.
© Charlie Gesell
Woodenhead's Winning Wine
The winning wine—against some extremely tough competition—was the 2007 Woodenhead Buena Terra Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60), a silky, seamless combination of sweet cherry and tangy raspberry notes, with a hint of cola and a light gaminess. It's sourced from a vineyard on Eastside Road across from Rochioli (which in Pinot-land is pretty much Park Avenue), and was made, as all the Woodenhead wines are, by Nikolai Stez.
Nick started off as cellarmaster at Williams Selyem during the early days of that winery, and has kept contact with original owner Burt Williams—in fact, buys fruit from Williams' Morning Dew Ranch vineyard for another terrific Pinot. The 2007 Woodenhead Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir lures you in with a fragrant spice note, resolving into graceful spiced berry flavors and a tangy fresh-orange acidity.
Finally, also worth looking into is the 2007 Woodenhead Humboldt County Pinot Noir ($42), about which I seem to have written "like a twisted wire of smoky herbal notes running through sweet raspberry, then crisp at the end." Evidently I was getting alarmingly poetic at that point in my tasting. Regardless, the vines this wine came from were apparently pulled out after this vintage, so this is the last of it to be had.
Woodenhead's wines are not easy to find in stores, since production is small, but they can be ordered directly from the winery (or bought from their tasting room, an extremely pleasant place where you can also chat with Nick and Zina Bower, his partner in both the winery and life). And that Pinot Cup-winning wine is still available, I believe.