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Obituary: Sonoma wine pioneer Frank Woods dies

Frank Woods, founder of Clos du Bois winery in Sonoma County and a leading advocate of the region and its wines, has died aged 81 in San Francisco.

Woods’ business background was in marketing, notably at Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest producers of consumer goods.

In 1971, he invested in vineyard land in the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. Grapes were not a primary crop in Sonoma, growing areas were scattered around the county, and there was as yet no formal appellation system. Only the Napa Valley had a coherent premium-wine identity.

Woods became a vintner by accident in 1974, when the winery that bought his grapes was unable to pay for them. The debt was settled with finished wine; he would have to sell it, which he discovered suited him well. ‘At the premium end of the business, marketing was in very short supply,’ he once remarked wryly.

He created a brand that played on his name, and an image based on his principal asset; the uniqueness of his vineyards.

‘We had a story to tell that most people can relate to,’ he recalled in an interview. That emphasis also diverted attention from the fact that for several years, there was no actual Clos du Bois winery; the wines were made at other facilities.

Inevitably, while travelling around the country presenting his wines, he found himself explaining Sonoma and its wine regions. Articulate and quietly forceful, he was a persuasive ambassador.

In the early 1980s, he inaugurated the Wine Institute of California’s International Committee, which brought the trade association into the US Foreign Agricultural Service program, establishing offices representing California wine in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In 1988, he sold the winery, which is now part of Constellation Brands, and retired.

Written by Brian St Pierre

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