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Woodenhead Vintners

Woodenhead Vintners remains the last vestige of the original Williams Selyem Winery, WesMar, and Burt Williams’ Morning Dew Ranch have ceased to make wine. The owner and winemaker of Woodenhead Vintners, Nikolai Stez, worked 17 harvests at Williams Selyem as an assistant winemaker for Burt Williams. With the sale of Williams Selyem Winery in 1997, Nikolai started his own Woodenhead label.

Nikolai continues the Williams Selyem tradition of sourcing grapes from only top-quality vineyards and his vinification regimen duplicates that performed at Williams Selyem during the winery’s pre-sale glory years.

I have tasted along with Nikolai on a number of occasions and can highly recommend his Pinot Noir lineup. He is the longtime principal vintner sourcing Pinot Noir from the renowned Ritchie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The Woodenhead wines are sold through a mailing list and the website at An inviting tasting room is located in a converted home at 5700 River Road in Santa Rosa (reservations are not required but recommended). Older vintages are available for sale on the website, several of which I have previously reviewed at

2016 Woodenhead Ritchie Vineyard “Cinder Cone” Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., $N/A. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark garnet color in the glass. A complex nose offers aromas of black cherry, cocoa, Herbs de Provence, warn leather and toasty oak. On the palate, the wine is taking on an aged, tertiary character. Cherry-driven, with notes of cola and smoke backed by bright acidity. The fruit intensity is modest allowing both tannin and acidity to stick out a small amount. Score: 90

2017 Woodenhead Ritchie Vineyard “Cinder Cone” Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.42, TA 0.646, 116 cases, $70. Cinder Block contains both Martini 58 and Pommard 5 clones. There is a total of 910 vines planted in 1972., making it one of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the North Coast. The unique soil consists of two feet of Goldridge loam on top of volcanic cinder cone material. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of black cherry, potpourri, red licorice and a hint of oak. Mid-weight in style, with the striking essence of black cherry and black raspberry fruit that saturates the mid-palate and carries through a remarkably lengthy finish. A thread of oak and earthiness adds interest. Outstanding balance. Score: 94

2017 Woodenhead Buena Terra Vineyard E Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.653, 154 cases, $70. Gold Medal at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and California State Fair in 2022. Vines planted in 1994. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Quintessential Russian River Valley Pinot Noir nose offering enticing aromas of Bing cherry, BBQ spice rub, cola, and earthy flora. Bright black cherry, spice, cola, and matcha tea flavors are shadowed with toasty oak. This beauty is expansive through the mid-palate and finish and an inviting cut of acidity brightens the finish. Score: 94

2019 Woodenhead Ritchie Vineyard Martini Clone Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., pH 3.57, TA 0.67, 158 cases, $56. The vines are 47 years old and Woodenhead has been purchasing Pinot Noir from Kent Ritchie since 2010. There are several Pinot Noir blocks in the Ritchie Vineyard: the Cinder Cone is Martini and Pommard clones, another bock is exclusively Swan clone and adjacent is a block solely planted to Martini clone. Most recently, Nikolai has sourced the Martini clone block for its superiority. Often the grapes are blended into the winery’s Russian River Valley bottling or the popular Wet Kiss Pinot Noir but in 2019 the grapes were exceptional. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very engaging aromas of purple and black berry fruits with a floral accent. Discretely rich in a mid-weight style, with earth- kissed blackberry and black currant fruit flavors. The tannins are well-proportioned and there is admirable length on the dry finish. This wine reflects the typical expression of the Martini clone. Score: 93

2020 Woodenhead Starbridge Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.51, TA 0.66, 161 cases, $66. Since 2010, Summa Vineyard, located on the extreme West Sonoma Coast, and a source for Williams Selyem Pinot Noir in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was sold to Thomas Rivers Brown and the grapes are used for Brown’s Rivers-Marie label. Scott and Joan Zeller, who own a property adjacent to the original plantings at Summa Vineyard, planted the 2-acre Starbridge Vineyard in 2000 using vine grafts for the original vines at adjacent Summa Vineyard. The clones are unknown and Zeller refers to them as the “Summa clones.” In 2020, the Starbridge Vineyard grapes did not suffer smoke taint from the wildfires. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Reserved but appealing aromas of purple grape, incense, forest path, and muddy earth. The dark red cherry fruit core is framed by savory notes of herbs and tobacco. Silky in texture, with very gracious tannins, redeeming acidity, and a persistent finish. Score: 92

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