Frank Woods, whose Clos du Bois vineyard helped to establish Sonoma County, California, as a center for world-class winemaking, has died. He was 81.
He collapsed and died on May 8 of unknown causes at a gym near his San Francisco home, according to his daughter, Alexis Woods.
A former Procter & Gamble Co. advertising and marketing employee who went on to help introduce the Shell No-Pest Strip insect repellant and other products, Woods co-founded Clos du Bois to make wine of the caliber he had fallen in love with on trips to France.
More a marketer than a winemaker, Woods set out in the early 1970s to emulate the success of Robert Mondavi, whose Napa Valley winery helped establish California as a source of vintages that could compete on the world market.
“It took an outsider like him to see that there was potential to make great wines, that this wine can compete with the great wines of the world, particularly the chardonnays,” Michael Mondavi, who co-founded a family vineyard with his father, Robert Mondavi, said of his friend, Woods, in a telephone interview. “In Sonoma in the 1960s and 1970s the majority of wine was sold in tank trucks.”
Woods and his partner, Cornell University classmate Thomas C. Reed, bought vineyard property near Healdsburg, California, in the Alexander Valley along the Russian River. Reed later became secretary of the Air Force under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Woods started growing grapes for sale to the vintner Rodney Strong.
In 1974, when Strong met with business difficulties, Woods made his own wine under the Clos du Bois label, a play on his own name in French, according to a transcript of an oral history he provided in 1988 to the University of California at Berkeley.
Woods helped pioneer the practice of appellation and vineyard labeling, marketing small batches of wine from named places rather than under brand names like Gallo or Almaden. Unlike other vintners of the day, he traveled the country to promote Clos du Bois, meeting with chefs at upscale restaurants, holding tastings and distributing store shelf cards listing competition medals.
“We had to develop uniqueness that could be sold by the person that was hand-selling that wine in the wine shop or the sommelier that was recommending the wine in his restaurant,” Woods said in the oral history.
The Clos du Bois 1979 vintage chardonnay won the International Wine & Spirit Competition’s gold award in a 1981 blind tasting. The average price of the winery’s 2012 North Coast Chardonnay is $10 a bottle, according to Wine-searcher.com.
By then Woods had moved on. In 1988, he sold the winery to the Hiram Walker unit of U.K.-based Allied Lyons Plc for $40 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Today, Clos du Bois, in Geyserville, California, is owned by Victor, New York-based Constellation Brands Inc. (STZ:US), the world’s largest maker of premium wines, including Robert Mondavi. It acquired Clos du Bois along with other labels when it purchased the wine division of Fortune Brands Inc. for $885 million in 2007. Clos du Bois accounted for three-fourths of the 2.6 million cases the unit sold the previous year.
Frank Montgomery Woods Jr. was born on March 31, 1933, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Frank Woods Sr. and Josephine Roberts Woods. His parents were hoteliers and Woods grew up in the penthouse of a hotel they managed in Birmingham, Alabama, and later moved to Orlando, Florida, and to Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated from high school, according to his oral history.
Woods enrolled in Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. After graduating in 1954, he entered the U.S. Army, serving in Korea as a second lieutenant. In 1956, he joined Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company moved him to San Francisco to work on its Clorox brand. Woods left P&G in the early 1960s to form Marketing Continental, where he helped introduce the Shell No-Pest Strip.
After selling Clos du Bois, he stayed in the wine business, consulting with eastern European countries about how to market their wines in the west following the fall of the Iron Curtain, his daughter said in a telephone interview. In addition, he served as chairman of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute and helped represent the industry in trade negotiations, she said.
Woods also sat on the boards of cultural institutions and was a trustee at the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation in San Francisco, where his wife, Kay Harrigan Woods, served as president. The group’s mission is to promote knowledge about human origins and evolution.
Woods’s survivors include his wife; his daughter, Alexis Woods, who co-founded with her husband, Daniel Donahoe, the Sonoma vineyard Teira Wines; a second daughter, Dorine Woods Towle; a son, Frank Montgomery Woods;, and six grandchildren. He also is survived by a brother, Bill Woods, and his sister, Rhoda Reyner.
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