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Unfiltered Mourns Clos du Bois' Frank Woods and Domaine Weinbach's Laurence Faller

Plus, the Feds issue a sentencing recommendation for Rudy Kurniawan, the Colorado governor's mansion gets a wine keg, and another Willamette Valley vineyard purchase

Posted: May 15, 2014

Frank Woods, cofounder of Sonoma’s Clos du Bois winery, died Thursday, May 8, in San Francisco. He was 81. An Army veteran who served in Korea, Woods established vineyards in the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys in the 1970s and helped promote Sonoma as a world-class wine region. “He helped improve the style of [California] Chardonnay,” longtime friend Michael Mondavi told Unfiltered. “[He] did a very good job of marketing and promoting Sonoma Chardonnay as a rival to the best Chardonnays of the world.” Born in Tennessee, Woods earned a degree in hotel administration at Cornell University, where he became interested in wine. In 1956, he moved to California and started his own company, Marketing Continental. Woods was also deeply involved in politics and was tapped by former Pres. Ronald Reagan to help with his gubernatorial campaigns in California in the 1960s and 1970s. “He was incredibly interested in all sorts of subjects,” said his daughter Alexis Woods. “He always had other people’s interests in his mind.”

Woods joined the wine industry in 1970 when he and his wife, Kay, found a summer home near Healdsburg with a vineyard. Around the same time he bought land in Alexander Valley with his former classmate Tom Reed. In 1974, the partners launched Clos du Bois, focusing on Chardonnay and Bordeaux varieties. Woods served as a chairman of the Wine Institute and the International Organization of Viticulturists, and as a consultant to wine industries in Slovenia, Bulgaria and Hungary. Clos du Bois was sold to spirits company Hiram Walker in 1988. Woods retained the majority of the vineyards in the sale and continued to sell his grapes to local producers into his later years. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Unfiltered is also saddened by the untimely death of Laurence Faller, 47, of the prestigious Weinbach estate in Alsace, France. Although no official announcement has been offered, initial reports indicate that Faller suffered an apparent heart attack on Monday, May 12. A mother of two young children, Laurence worked alongside her sister, Catherine, and her mother, Colette, proprietor of the family-run winery following her husband’s death in 1979. Ultimately, Faller assumed the role of co-winemaker with Ghislain Berthiot, and her wines have annually been among Wine Spectator’s most highly recommended bottlings from the region. Faller’s passion and dedication will be missed.

• As a wine counterfeiter, Rudy Kurniawan had big ambition. Just how big became clear in the government’s sentencing memo, filed earlier this week. It reveals that Kurniawan once proposed to sell what he claimed was a $53,500,500 trove of iconic wines to real-estate titan Michael Fascitelli. In an e-mail dated April 21, 2008, Kurniawan offered to cut the price to just $30 million. “I think it’s more than fair to u [sic],” Kurniawan wrote Fascitelli, then CEO of Vornado Realty Trust. The 13-page list of wines, adorned with the greatest labels and vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy, included 220 bottles of Domaine Ponsot Clos-St.-Denis in vintages 1929 to 1971. One week after offering to “wrap up” the offer to Fascitelli, Kurniawan planned to sell 30 bottles of the same Burgundian grand cru, in vintages 1945 to 1971, at an Acker Merrall & Condit auction. But those wines, along with 55 additional bottles of Ponsot Clos de la Roche, were withdrawn from the sale at the demand of Laurent Ponsot, the domaine’s fourth-generation proprietor. His father, Ponsot said, had only gained access to Clos-St.-Denis in 1982. Ergo, earlier vintages could not exist.

Kurniawan never recovered from the Ponsot debacle and his deal with Fascitelli died. Sentencing for Kurniawan, who was convicted this past December on two fraud counts, is set for May 29. The government proposes a sentence of up to 12 years and a forfeiture money judgment of $20,730,000, the estimated amount of Kurniawan counterfeits never returned for refund. The defense has asked Judge Richard Berman to limit the sentence to 27 months—Kurniawan’s time already served since his arrest in March 2012.

• Governor nicknames generally range from neutral at best (The Governator) to vaguely derisive (Governor Moonbeam) to outright insulting (Governor Sandwiches), but with the signing of House Bill 14-1034 and the installation of a wine keg in the governor's mansion, Unfiltered votes to christen Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper with the thumbs-up moniker "The Honorable Governor Kegstand." The new law allows Colorado wineries to receive wine from out of state and keg, bottle, box or can it for distribution in Colorado and other states. Spearheaded by Denver-based winemaker Ben Parsons of The Infinite Monkey Theorem, which has become a strong advocate of kegging and canning its wines, the law "enables Colorado wineries to meet customer demand for more cost-effective, quality-controlled and environmentally-conscious packaging," said sponsoring Rep. Angela Williams. Hickenlooper signed the bill at Infinite Monkey, where Parsons presented him with a keg. "This law creates opportunity for winemakers across the state, allowing us all to diversify our winemaking operations and capture business from bigger producers across the country and distributors," said Parsons. "The state's wine industry has the same potential for growth as beer and distilling if we can be creative." The wine keg joins several beers in the gubernatorial kegerator rotation—Hickenlooper himself once brewed craft beer as a founder of Wynkoop Brewing Company.

• Concerned that several large Willamette Valley vineyards were recently snapped up by big wineries, David Adelsheim pounced at the chance to buy Bryan Creek, a key vineyard neighboring his own winery’s home vines. Adelsheim has been managing the 20-acre Bryan Creek vineyard under a 30-year lease since 1989, making a distinctly minerally single-vineyard Pinot Noir from it. Adelsheim announced this week that it bought the 59-acre property, owned by Joy Howell and her late husband, Jess . “I could see the writing on the wall,” Adelsheim told Unfiltered. “If someone else swooped in and bought that vineyard, we would miss it.” Added Adelsheim, “We needed to do this, in part because they are our neighbors and we wanted to do the right thing. But also we look around and see wineries scrambling to find grapes to replace what they had been getting from several large vineyards. There are five French wine companies in the game here too." Big vineyards totaling 1,500 acres (458 planted by Premier Pacific) recently sold to Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin, Washington’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and California’s Jackson Family, forcing wineries that had been buying significant portions of their grapes from these properties to look for other sources. Burgundy's Maison Louis Jadot purchased the 32-acre Resonance Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton this past August, and Oregon’s Elk Cove and Washington’s Precept Brands have made recent vineyard purchases as well.

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